This is an excellently written book, but one that eventually made me angry because, first, it is more or less a direct rip off of MacEwan's Atonement in what it is trying to say and, second, that it goes into a death spiral in the last half of the book before imploding in an ending that was truly stupid.
When I first began to read this book it was incredibly exciting because it was so well written. The book is about memory about the difficulties in understanding the past and in the problems of interpretations of lives. I suppose it is meant to say something about truth and about morality as well.
The writing is truly superb, and the main character is a boring everyman who is questioning his past. He is a sort of wise fool, who occasionally thinks wise things, but is fundamentally a fool. That's the good part of the book.
We know that the main character does not know what is going on and is misinterpreting events, but as the events start to become clear the book slowly descends into stupidity. His initial interpretation of people gives them clear characters, but the muddle that follows on who those characters turn out to be, does not replace them with clear people. When the final mystery is revealed at the end, while it could happen, it just felt like a slap in the face to me. Its been foreshadowed and all that but it felt like an M. Night Shyamalan twist. Also, the main character is somehow meant to be responsible or something like that for what happened, but just is not and it shows that Barnes does not understand how morality works. While the plot, structure and writing style are nothing like Atonement, the whole metaphysical journey is a direct rip off of Atonement and all it did was make Atonement look a lot better to me.
Booker prize winning novels are often not that good. Be warned. Also there is a real group think going on in serious British Literature these days, which is the group think of English literature departments of universities. What irritates most, is these people think of themselves as rebels. I'm giving this three stars because the actual technique of the novel is great, but come on, wtf. On further consideration two stars. Just technique does not deserve three.