May 02 2010

Staring at the Sun

Published by at 1:07 pm under Books,Speculative

by Julian Barnes

A “novel” that provides a story mainly as a basis for a ‘meditation’ on life and death. The main character is a British woman, Jean, born around 1920 who lives to be one hundred. Her life story is only sketched in as a basis for comments and observations about life and death and some mundane things along the way. Lots of it is about courage, fear, and about death and dying, but it is not at all a morbid book. A book of thoughts and explorations of ideas. Not an essay that argues for a position; it Just “talks” about things.
In addition to Jean, an uncle, a husband, an aviator who boarded with the family in WW II, and a son play roles in providing opportunities for observations. Events in the lives come in and out of the narrative in a way that seems very natural and smooth. Nicely written and interesting. As a bonus, if you choose to believe “Jean” at age 100, you’ll get definite answers to three BIG questions (No, not the meaning of life).
As an aside, the book was written in the early 1980’s and near the end it includes a dialog with a smart machine (TAT – for “The Absolute Truth”) that supposed to know everything, but doesn’t. No definite date associated but it would be somewhere about now. The characterization of the machine and interactions with it are very off: a green screen character based terminal. Missed widely on that one, but then the book is not at all about technology or prediction. Just about the human condition.

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