I love referring clients to Julian Barnes’ Sense of an Ending. To me, that pithy novella and winner of the Man Booker Prize 2011 represents all that is good about contemporary writing. Short enough for the poorest attention span (a gnat’s, I believe, being the present scientific medium of comparison), disarmingly sweet and simple, it is also a swollen river of thought-provoking undercurrents.
Yup, you guessed it—I like that book. But what I like about it most of all is the way Barnes has the reader believe the lifetime memories of the protagonist, until they are eventually completely shattered by someone else’s recollection of what happened.
Isn’t life just like that? Separately ask a number of witnesses to remember what happened at a particularly memorable event in the past and they will often come up with wildly differing accounts. Ask any experienced law-enforcement officer and they’ll confirm that obtaining corroborating evidence is extremely difficult. And how often does an after-dinner story become a lively discussion—OK, argument then—about whose version of that holiday incident is the more accurate? Let’s face it, the ways people remember things are, well, different.
So what’s this got to do with writing? Apply the exercise of recalling memories to writing a memoir. Which author gives the right version? The first one into print? The most famous?
When was the last time you totally disagreed with a version of events, and knew—just knew—you were right?