It’s the first Saturday of March, so it’s Six Degrees of Separation day. This meme, hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest involves mental association of six book titles from the starting book that Kate provides each month. It might be on the basis of the title alone, or the themes that it deals with, or author, or location or…. anything that springs to mind. This month’s starting book is Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. Yet another book I haven’t read. So, I’ve gone by title, focussing on the word ‘End’, with no mental gymnastics or creative insight. What a gloomy road I have been taken down!
I started with fiction first. Naguib Mafouz’s The Beginning and the End is a stand alone novel from 1949, and precedes his better-known Cairo Trilogy. I read it before I started blogging but here is what I wrote about it in my reading journal at the time. I gave it a score of 7/10.
Set in Egypt, a family is plunged into penury when the father dies. The eldest brother continues his life of idleness and becomes involved with criminals. Hussein sacrifices his own hopes to study to put his younger brother through army college. The youngest brother, selfish to the last, encourages his sister, disgraced when caught in a brothel, to suicide, then follows her. Reminiscent of Zola or Hardy in its lurching from one disaster to the next, but in its values quite Arabic.
From 1930s Cairo to the American Civil War, the next book I thought of was Irish writer Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End (2017) In my review, I wrote:
In reading this book, there were flashes of Cold Mountain and unexpected echoes of Blood Meridian. There is certainly violence, but somehow it is dream-like and disconnected. The narrative voice in this book, speaking in the present tense throughout, in my head sounded to be a completely American accent, without even a trace of Irishness. It is, essentially, a love story, with beautiful descriptions of landscape and climate. I don’t often read a book with a film in mind, but I expect to see this on the screen one day, as it has a very filmic, epic quality. (See my review here)
Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending (2011)gives us just what the title suggests -a vague uneasiness about the ending. The main character, Tony, who writes in the first person in the first section of the book, receives a letter which causes him to go back to revisit his memories from the past, challenging his sense of life-narrative. Here’s what I wrote in my review
The title of the book is The Sense of an Ending, and it’s truly only a ‘sense’ that you are left with. Tony, too, thinks that he has found an ending to his story, but “there is unrest. There is great unrest.”
I thought that I had reached the end of the book, and had my own certainty that I’d finished with the story. In planning to write this post, I looked at a few other reviews in newspapers and blogs- only to find that perhaps I hadn’t finished it at all. Read this review that explains the ending, then keep on going through the comments -ye Gods, 423 of them!- and the real cleverness of the book reveals itself. It has sent me back to the start again! (See my review here)
My fiction titles exhausted, I turned to non-fiction . My word, historians and political commentators are very fond of the word “end”, finding “ends” to everything. Most of these I read before starting blogging, so either there are fewer books with “end” in the title now (it does seem rather presumptuous to declare the end of anything, really, given that we don’t know what is ahead of us) or I tired of reading them.
A book from 1992 (and hence pre 9/11) is The End of the Twentieth Century and the end of the Modern Age written by one of my favourite historians John Lukacs. Given the current events in Europe right now, it’s interesting to look at his interpretation written from the 1990s. Again, I read this pre-blog, but this is what I wrote about it at the time.
Lukacs argues that the twentieth century was a short one, starting with the guns of 1914 and ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. He argues that the defining nature of the twentieth century was not the Cold War, but instead nationalism, which led to Nazism and explains why the USSR fractured. He clearly distinguishes between nationalism (i.e. ‘the people) and patriotism (‘i.e. ‘the country’). He predicts the re-emergence of Germany as a world power after a period of contrition, and expresses scepticism over the idea of a pan-stage, pan-national Europe. This is a mixture of history and the personal as he writes in the first person about his return to his native Hungary after the fall of the Soviet Union. Quite difficult to read, perhaps because he is a historian’s historian.
It seems that I wasn’t too impressed with Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2004). How interesting- I now actually pay to subscribe to his meditation and philosophy podcast ‘Waking Up’. However, I wrote in my reading journal back in September 2005:
A book full of the piss and vinegar of self-conviction, Harris characterizes all religions as lacking reason, and moderates as culpable as fundamentalists in their acceptance of the inconsistency of ‘sacred’ texts. All religions are criticized, but especially Islam, which he sees as particularly provocative of violence. He does not deny that there is a ‘spiritual’, as distinct from ‘religious’ impulse, but argues that this comes from meditation rather than text. While I agreed with much of his argument, I found his know-it-allness and intolerance of nuance to be off-putting, and his trenchant criticism of Islam in particular to be too strident.
Finally I end up back in my own country and current politics with Katharine Murphy’s The End of Certainty: Scott Morrison and Pandemic Politics (2020). This is part of the Quarterly Essay publishing stable, and as Politics Editor for The Guardian, she writes from a current events political perspective. This meant that she had to jettison her original plans for this issue:
Journalism has long been described as the first draft of history and that’s certainly the case with Katharine Murphy’s latest Quarterly Essay The End of Certainty: Scott Morrison and Pandemic Politics. The arrangements for the Quarterly Essays are usually locked in a year ahead of time, and Katharine Murphy thought at first that she would be writing a profile of Australia’s unexpected Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. But in this Year of Madness, events overtook her and instead of writing an essay based solely on his personality, she interweaves it with a chronology of the unfolding of the COVID pandemic and the politics it has engendered. (See my review here)
Economic dislocation, war, terrorism, plague…. what a list!