Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending won the Man Booker in 2011. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it (obviously I understood the words, they just weren’t linked up in a way that made such an accolade rational) plus, it was boring. I don’t need wizard schools or dragons, but shouldn’t something happen in a book? Isn’t that what ‘plot’ means? Don’t you hate worthy books that make you feel like a thickie? There’s something Emperor’s new clothes about them: “Everyone else understands this astonishing work of fiction, except you, you low-brow gimp.”
Critical reception only served to underscore my stupidity. “Do not be misled by its brevity,” said Anna Brookner of The Telegraph, “its mystery is as deeply embedded as the most archaic of memories.” I don’t know what that means either. Sense of an Ending is however, being rather wee, perfect for stabilizing a wonky desk.
Anyway, I’m no Jim Flynn − far be it for me to suggest anyone’s torchlight list, it’s just that I am currently experiencing my own sense of an ending, packing up the house where I have lived for 15 years. It seems you can only leave the Crime Triangle in a police car, a coffin or a divorce. Either way, you’re going to go through a lot of tissues.
Putting your life in boxes is hard. I find its best to just look at things out of the corner of your eye, lest you be overwhelmed by the recollection of when and where you bought them (as a side note, what is up with Facebook Memories? Every single bloody morning Facebook says, ‘We care about you Lisa,’ and then whacks me in the head with a picture taken in happier times. I’m starting to feel that you do NOT care about me, Facebook. I think you might be a frenemy, and if a person, the kind who tells you you’d look awesome if you dyed your hair red using henna, because they want to ugly you up with some permanency.
Anyone who’s been through this knows it’s the most miserable thing in the world (not the henna, although that is regrettable and almost impossible to get rid of, short of shaving your head) apart from a death. And it is a death really, you become a ghost in your own life. A haggard one, because the end of a long-term relationship is dreadfully ageing. Your face looks like an unmade bed, yet friends (breaking up is a great way to find out how many colossal numpties you know, and that some of them − spoiler alert − never liked you anyway) will declare, “You’ll be on the Tinder” when you can hardly manage to apply lipstick.
In recent years there has being a growing trend for house-cooling parties and divorce parties, even mid-life crisis parties. Given how fleeting our passage through this world, how short our beautiful butterfly lives, it’s only human to celebrate things: beginnings, endings. My wise friend Alex G said in some ways all celebrations are commiserations. Funerals: everyone gets to eat those fabulous little sandwiches while you lie there with the wrong makeup on, rotting. Weddings: a public commitment to only have sex with one other person for the rest of your life. Birthdays: hahaha you’re older. Anniversaries: congratulations, you’ve left the toilet seat up for forty years. Retirement: welcome to end-times levels of boredom, here’s a watch.
Life is naturally full of endings and beginnings as we change and grow, shed our skins and emerge new creatures time and time again. Of course, beginnings are a lot less scary when you’re young; finding yourself far from the finish line in your forties (as if a giant hand had plucked you off the chessboard and tossed you on the carpet) is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Beginnings are wonderful, soap operas and sagas waiting to be written. Endings are a different story entirely, and the end of something very, very good is the saddest story ever. But that’s the thing about fairy tales: sometimes you don’t get a happily-ever-after, sometimes the witch gets her way.
So take one last look at the place where so many happy memories were made. Raise a mental toast. Leave your key on the kitchen windowsill and pull the front door closed. You’re not coming back. There’s nothing more to be said here than, “The End.”