Barnes uses the first section of the book to set the reader up for a big "reveal" in the second section. The narrator (main character) sets up the argument that history is "the lies of the victors, as long as you remember that it is also the self delusions of the defeated." with curious, philosophical boys at "public" school. Although, as a sociologist, I see Merton's self fullfiling prophesy and the whole school of reflexivity as more relevant this his slightly weaker framework using perspective of historians. Either way, it is interesting to think about how the novel develops as Tony changes his point of view.
Barnes manages to weave class consciousness (Tony is not as "posh" as Veronica's family and this clearly impacts his insecurities), male/female power roles, and intellectual insecurities together in this story of not just a love triangle, but a complete rectangle. Tony just "doesn't get it" and really, neither did I until the very end. Maybe I should have been paying closer attention, but I just wasn't prepared to feel sorry for Veronica until it happened. Not only was Barnes able to make some profound and interesting statements throughout, but he did pull a fast one on me in the end.
As a "muddling through" almost middle aged person myself, questions of the "purpose of life" and the "quest for happiness" do come up relatively frequently in the household. Barnes' take seems to be a bit too cynical for me. Clearly Adrian's suicide as virtuous act presents the reader with the picture that we are all not doing enough with our lives: "just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn't all it's cracked up to be." Tony starts by defending his choices and ultimately apologies for living the boring, mundane path; he tries to chase a dream with Veronica as a 60-something, and ends with "any responsible, thinking individual should have the right to reject this gift that had never been asked for--and whose noble gesture re-emphasised with each passing decade the compromise and littleness that most lives consist of. 'Most lives': my life." Until, of course he determines that Adrian's suicide is not some noble comment on the uselessness of mundacity, but is a cowardly escape from parenthood. Not that parenthood is easy, mind you. Bravo (again) for the sleight of hand; my attention was well diverted.
In passing, I wanted to throw out his definition of literature. It melds nicely with my comments on James Frey's A Million Little Pieces a few weeks ago: "Real literature was about psychological, emotional and social truth as demonstrated by the actions and reflections of its protagonists; the novel was about character developed over time."