Then I thought more about Adrian. From the beginning, he had always seen more clearly than the rest of us. While we luxuriated in the doldrums of adolescence, imagining our routine discontent to be an original response to the human condition, Adrian was already looking farther ahead and wider around. He felt life more clearly too – even, perhaps especially, when he came to decide that it wasn’t worth the candle. Compared to him, I had always been a muddler, unable to learn much from the few lessons life provided me with. In my terms, I settled for the realities of life, and submitted to its necessities: if this, then that, and so the years passed. In Adrian’s terms, I gave up on life, gave up on examining it, took it as it came. And so, for the first time, I began to feel a more general remorse – a feeling somewhere between self-pity and self-hatred – about my whole life. All of it. I had lost the friends of my youth. I had lost the love of my wife. I had abandoned the ambitions I had entertained. I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded – and how pitiful that was.
Average, that’s what I’d been, ever since I left school. Average at university and work; average in friendship, loyalty, love; average, no doubt, at sex. There was a survey of British motorists a few years ago which showed that ninety-five per cent of those polled thought they were ‘better than average’ drivers. But by the law of averages, we’re most of us bound to be average. Not that this brought any comfort. The word resounded. Average at life; average at truth; morally average. Veronica’s first reaction to seeing me again had been to point out that I’d lost my hair. That was the least of it.
—Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending, p. -1