Maybe, like Tony, I just don't get it, but this was a whole lot of Man Booker-winning to-do about very little.
Pretentious, upper middle-class schoolboys behave badly, and -- through too much ego and too little self-knowledge and empathy, too many book smarts and not enough life experience -- inflict cruelty on ex-girlfriends and others as they cavalierly grow out of their coddled adolescence into a ho-hum average life. It then comes back to haunt them - or one of them, anyway - in late middle-age, and as memories are jogged and regrets bubble to the surface, insight is finally gained. Sort of. It's really a dull spark of understanding nested in about the same amount of egocentric self-pity that it started out disguised by.
I guess it's a clever character study, but I didn't and don't like Tony. I think that *is* the point. I really just wanted to give him a smack upside the head and tell him to stop whining and get over himself, kind of like his ex-wife did.
All life has tragedy - and some lives here have *true* tragedy, which Tony fails to recognize even as he seem to be recognizing it (so I guess that's pretty clever of Barnes, but sheesh ...).
Tony's real insight seems to be the recognition that he's failed to live up to his own pompous and overblown expectations of greatness for himself. He's led an average life. And along the way, through his own obtuseness and arrogance, he's inflicted a not-inconsiderable degree of harm, which seems to be of less consequence to him in the grand scheme of things than the fact that he's lived a life of complacent mediocrity.
But then, Barnes leaves us there, with this fellow sighing into his beer and chips. I feel myself asking - but what's next? What this guy does NEXT will tell the real story of his character. I feel ... short-changed; unfulfilled. Harumph.
Subject: The last chapter
Dear Tony: The cure for your loneliness and sense of ennui is to pull your head out of your ass and go out and do something of value with the time you have left. Turn that insight into action that will do someone some good (and I don't mean just leaving a sizeable tip at the pub, either).