52 weeks – September 16, 2012

Book

Only last weekend, I wrote that Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending left me dissatisfied — mainly because of my lack of interest in the main character and narrator, Tony. But I had a feeling of unfairness and incompleteness about that rather-too-hasty summing up. The writing is clean and tightly edited; the structure is good; the theme of looking back on a life and taking stock is poignant. If I could just set Tony aside and look at the rest of it, maybe I would find it more rewarding.

As expected, I have come to see much more in the book after discussing it with my book club. (It turned out to be excellent fodder for discussion.)

Tony relates that, in the final history lesson of his high school days, Adrian Finn quotes Patrick Lagrange:  “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” (and that is certainly a great definition, worthy of a conversation in itself). The relatively sophisticated Adrian illustrates the truth of this statement by dissecting a recent event concerning another schoolboy who has committed suicide.

This awareness that we know less than we think is at the core of the book. Tony is not finely attuned to nuances and doesn’t understand the undercurrents in his social circle or in Veronica’s family, so he is an inadequate narrator who misses or misinterprets things. For an author, taking on an unreliable narrator is a balancing act. We are hampered by seeing the world only through Tony’s eyes, so basically we have to plod along with him as some of the facts are later revealed. The author’s risk is that shallow readers like me will just get annoyed. His achievement is that he is disciplined about keeping the narrative honest.

There is much that remains unknown at the end of the story. We can speculate on the characters’ motives but there simply isn’t enough evidence to explain certain actions and statements — much is still a mystery. And presumably Barnes intends it to stay that way to illustrate the view that history — whether ancient, world events or recent, personal events — remains a puzzle with many pieces missing.

Food

The always mouth-watering display at Terra Breads. I am a big fan of this bakery cafe. I love the sandwiches; I buy the granola, and I buy the olive bread. Pastry favourites vary from time to time. This year, whenever I drop by for coffee I always get the peach and rosemary rustic tart. It’s hard to adequately convey the bliss of this combination.

Movie

I knew that Waterworld was not considered a good movie, so why did I buy it? Well, it was in a going-out-of-business sale at a local CD rental place and I thought it might be interesting. They must have spent that $175 million (in 1995 dollars) on something.

And I didn’t think it was too bad. The main problems, for me, were the uneasy mix of genres and the seesawing between drama and high camp. Kevin Costner (the Mariner) plays it straight throughout, with that brooding hero look and a lot of narrowing of the eyes and gazing into the distance. The bad guys, headed by Dennis Hopper, remind me of a combination of Pirates of the Caribbean and Mad Max. The clothing and props are another odd combination. Jeanne Tripplehorn is fetching in some prehistoric-futuristic-apocalyptic clothing that includes a bustier cunningly laced with — presumably — reeds. The Mariner has adapted to his surroundings by rigging his trimaran out with all kinds of mad-scientist devices. The bad guys, bizarrely, ride jet skis.

The action is set some hundreds of years in the future when the polar ice caps have melted and the sea level has risen to cover most or all of the land. Many believe that Dryland exists somewhere. There is a young girl with a map supposedly showing the location of Dryland tattooed on her back (Tina Majorino, who turns in a great performance).

It was entertaining enough for a night when you’re willing to suspend disbelief more than usual.

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