September 27, 2011 by markstani
Here’s an excerpt from the Booker-shortlisted ‘The Sense of An Ending’ by Julian Barnes, courtesy Jonathan Cape:
I could tell Veronica was perplexed by my approach. Sometimes she answered briefly and crossly, often not at all. Nor would she have been flattered to know the precedent for my plan. Towards the end of my marriage, the solid suburban villa Margaret and I lived in suffered a little subsidence. Cracks appeared here and there, bits of the porch and front wall began to crumble. (And no, I didn’t think of it as symbolic.) The insurance company ignored the fact that it had been a famously dry summer, and decided to blame the lime tree in our front garden. It wasn’t an especially beautiful tree, nor was I fond of it, for various reasons: it screened out light from the front room, dropped sticky stuff on the pavement, and overhung the street in a way that encouraged pigeons to perch there and crap on the cars parked beneath. Our car, especially.
My objection to cutting it down was based on principle: not the principle of maintaining the country’s stock of trees, but the principle of not kowtowing to unseen bureaucrats, baby-faced arborists, and current faddy theories of blame adduced by insurance companies. Also, Margaret quite liked the tree. So I prepared a long defensive campaign. I queried the arborist’s conclusions and requested the digging of extra inspection pits to confirm or disprove the presence of rootlets close to the house’s foundations; I argued over the weather patterns, the great London clay-belt, the imposition of a region-wide hosepipe ban, and so on. I was rigidly polite; I aped my opponents’ bureaucratic language; I annoyingly attached copies of previous correspondence to each new letter; I invited further site inspections and suggested extra use for their manpower. With each letter, I managed to come up with another query they would have to spend their time considering; if they failed to answer it, my next letter, instead of repeating the query, would refer them to the third or fourth paragraph of my communication of the 17th inst, so that they would have to look up their ever-fattening file. I was careful not to come across as a loony, but rather as a pedantic, unignorable bore. I liked to imagine the moaning and groaning as yet another of my letters arrived; and I knew that at a certain point it would make bean-counting sense for them to just close the case. Eventually, exasperatedly, they proposed a thirty per cent reduction in the lime tree’s canopy, a solution I accepted with deep expressions of regret and much inner exhilaration.