I read Talking It Over fifteen years ago (five years after it had originally been written, which will be important later). I read its sequel, Love, etc. about ten years ago when it came out. I am rereading it now. I meant to start with the original and rework my way into the sequel, but I haven’t a clue where it is. Either way the second book really captures the tone of both, so I don’t mind. But reading it now I realize just how much perspective changes. Which is really what is being evoked in the novel. The whole point of the work is introducing three characters, watching their lives unravel from a most voyeuristic point of view, and then leaving them, unresolved. In this sense the whole thing reminded me of Pinter’s The Collection. In fact, it is just like that, except perhaps a bit more witty, and a little less ambiguous. Unlike Stella in The Collection, no one wonders about Gillian in Talking It Over. The question isn’t whether she did. Or even why she did. It it not the type of work that asks questions, or at least not directly. It simply shows, exposes the narrative for what it is, and then moves on.
Ten years later, in Love, etc. the same three characters are revisited. If the books are read as they were written, with a reader returning ten years after having read the first book, then the beauty of perspective as Barnes intended is truly achieved. As the characters lay out their stories it becomes obvious that they too have changed. The story does not pick up where it left off, but rather in real time. Whatever opinions you have of Stuart, Oliver or Gillian, and whatever beliefs they may have had, have been altered in time. The characters and the reader have undergone a series of permutations, and the first story can be looked at retrospectively, as a meditation on the past, simultaneously experienced by the characters and the reader.
As the characters can discuss the events of the first book among themselves and with the reader (yes, it is that sort of book), so too can the reader think back, and in doing so compare perspectives and reactions. What was then? What is now? What happened in the meantime?
When I said I read the first book fifteen years ago, and then the second only ten, I did not allow a full ten years to pass between readings. But I could not have read the first book when it first came out. I was too young. But the five year difference didn’t affect anything. I was still too young. Yet there is where the shift of perspective comes in. At the time I didn’t know I was too young. I made perfect sense of everything. After all, I was literate and understood all the words on the page. What more was there?Reading it now, I can understand things I never even knew existed back then. The references were lost on me. Better put, the finer connotations were lost. I could read perfectly what was on the page, but did not grasp what remained unsaid. And sometimes, what is unsaid has the most meaning.
Yet what is even more interesting is my own curiosity at what will be my reaction in another ten or fifteen years. How will I read it then? What will it mean? What happens in the meantime?