“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
If we read the statement closely, we can observe an anomaly in it. It says history is a certainty that is produced from uncertain memories and uncertain documented knowledge. How can two uncertainties produce a certainty? It probably indicates the subjective nature of history.
This definition of history is made by Adrian, a character in Julian Barnes Booker Prize winning novel, The Sense of an Ending. What I read in the novel was an elaboration of this statement. One is certain of what happened in past because he remember certain things he saw and also because there are certain documents that he gets to know, through written or oral accounts. But how much absolutely true is this certainty, that he feels? How reliable are our memory and how correctly we have documented events?
One day Tony, an old retired, divorced guy knows that he is named in the will of Sarah, his ex-girlfriend Veronica's mother. According to the will he is entitled for some money and two documents. He couldn't possess one of it, the personal diary of Adrian, once his close friend, who went on to date Veronica after Tony broke up with her when he was young. Adrian took his life months after their relationship started.
The will makes Tony know certain things associated with his past, which he has totally forgotten and to complete the jigsaw puzzle, he contacts Veronica for the first time after decades. Why is Veronica so angry with him? What else has he forgotten? Why is he named in the will of a lady whom he met just once decades before? Why did Adrian kill himself?
The Sense of An Ending is a rumination on old age and memory. It deals with how our psyche makes us forget uncomfortable events. It tries to remind us that we are always on a process to interpret events in our lives according to our convenience and also use the help of incomplete data available to us for this purpose. It makes us aware of the uneasy reality that we never tries to reach out for truth that us painful and would rather bury it in the past to go on with our lives.
The Sense of an Ending, the Booker Prize winner of 2011, is a very short novel, but one which is crafted beautifully. With precise words and situations and with delicate characters, Julian Barnes creates an amazing tale, after reading which we ourselves will be forced to examine our own past and wonder what all lies buried in there, forgotten conveniently...