This book is one of the biggest hits of the year - critically and commercially. Not only that, but Julian Barnes has provoked discussion after he spoke in his Man Booker acceptance speech about the importance of the physical book. The physical copy is a beautiful object (important in the war against e-books, notes Barnes) and is matched equally by the beauty of the writing inside. The book deserves the recognition it has gained - I'd never read any Barnes but the quality and poignancy of this writing blew me away.
The book describes a man in his 'autumnal years', looking back at his Sixth Form days, which parallel strangely and are intrinsically linked with his first love, and his later marriage. Coming in at a short 150 pages, this is a quick read - but don't be fooled. Every page is rich in consequence and connection, and as 'Part 2' hurtles to its haunting conclusion, you will want to go back and re-read every single word. The novel interests itself in the sense one makes of a life, using more than just the human memory, as Death approaches.
The strange dichotomy between how we remember, recall and reveal our own histories and how History plays out in the classroom is torn apart by Barnes. He reveals the sad and the optimistic about old age, and the constraints of the British upper-lip. The novel shows our change from the repression of the Sixties to a freedom today. He delves into marriage, sex and the human condition, the philosophy of suicide - all in 150 pages. It's a book of surprises and a book that resonates intensely. I can't say anymore - read this book.