I’d only read one Barnes novel previous to this, the somewhat unexciting Arthur & George. I was intrigued by the premise of this and the accolades heaped upon it, but I’d recently been dissuaded from reading memory novels by a previous Booker winner, John Banville’s The Sea. I hated that book with the burning passion of 100o suns, and it left me with zero desire to read this one.
However, since it’s a slender little thing that cries out to be read in one sitting and I had a week of lazing on a sun lounger going on, I decided to banish The Sea and find out if I agreed with the Booker judges this time. I did. Telling the story of the entirely average Tony Webster and the decidedly un-average Adrian Finn who Tony and his clique befriend as pretentious sex starved 15 year olds. Finn burns bright and brief in their little gang, steals Tony’s girlfriend Veronica and leaves an indelible mark on the lives of all of them.
To say too much about the content of this book would be unfair. The effect Adrian had is drip fed throughout the 167 pages here, as the narrative flits about between past and present with a beautiful and precise economy of words. When the final piece of the puzzle drops into place, it’s genuinely unexpected and entirely moving. This is a deserved winner of its many literary prizes and proves beyond question that quality is always better than quantity.