“…what if the opposite happened…”

Julian Barnes talked to Eleanor Wachtel of CBC Radio, shortly after winning the Man Booker Prize, for “The Sense of an Ending” in 2011:

” “I remember when I handed in the typescript of this novel, *The Sense of an Ending, to my editor in London. He read it and we talked a little bit about when to publish it and he said, ‘I’ve got a question — it may be a bit naive, but where did this come from?’ And I said, ‘Actually I don’t know.’ Then I thought back to this nonfiction book, Nothing To Be Frightened Of, that I’d written, in which I was thinking about what happens to the religious person who, toward the end of their life, suddenly ceases to believe? Or, what if the opposite happened — what if you got to your 60s or 70s as an atheist and suddenly you were converted to a form of religious practice?

“What would be the effect on your thinking about all your previous life? I think that fed into the impetus behind this book. You take someone who thinks his account is settled with life, that he’s safely negotiated it and then you throw something in with a long fuse that goes off with a loud explosion. What if he discovers that his memories are just customized to make him feel comfortable? What if his memories have only a certain percentage of self-serving truth in them and no real truth? What if he starts looking for corroboration and the corroboration he gets is extremely unhelpful and unwelcome to him?

“We are a narrative animal, aren’t we? We live by stories. Sometimes true, sometimes false. We want the news to be turned into stories. We want a narrative even when there’s no narrative. We want our human life on this planet to be turned into a narrative. Doctors, thanatologists, those dealing with the dying think that it’s a point where you can look back on your life and see the story of it, understand the narrative of your life. I’m much more skeptical of that. I think there are lots of instances where there is no narrative, or the narrative is one we wouldn’t want to accept because it’s too painful to bear. I think that, as we are a narrative animal and it would be boring to tell a story in exactly the same way, we’re bound to elaborate aren’t we? We’re bound to our side of the story.” ”

*In 2017, The Sense of an Ending was made into a film starring Charlotte Rampling and Jim Broadbent.

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