Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending is simple and sensational. It is full of beautiful writing. I have a page full of quotes in my book journal to prove it.
First there is Tony and his two school friends. Then the enigmatic and philosophical Adrian enters the picture, turning the trio of friends into a quad. Tony's life follows the usual course, hitting the typical highlights: high school (or the British equivalent), college, marriage, mortgage, kid, divorce, retirement. During college he meets a girl. It doesn't end well. There's bitterness and anger, and then life continues.
It wasn't the story itself that got me; it was the language. This book is the reason I prefer to buy books instead of borrowing them. I can write and underline in a book I own, marking favorite passages I want to revisit and re-experience. The Sense of an Ending was full of underline worthy quotes. Here are some of my favorites.
"This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn't turn out to be like Literature." (pg. 16)
"What was the point of having a situation worthy of fiction if the protagonist didn't behave as he would have done in a book." (pg. 17)
"History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation." (pg. 18)
"History...[I]t's more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated." (pg. 61)
"...to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life." (pg. 104)
"...that when we are young and sensitive, we are also at our most hurtful." (pg. 108)