This isn't new stuff: Proust understood as much, and since the 1990s it has been a hot topic in psychology, criminal science, and other disciplines. But it's also rich a vein for writers to explore. I am sure you can think of several examples -- the ones that come to my mind include The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Sea by John Banville, Out Stealing Horses by Per Pettersen, and now, The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes.
The Remains of the Day, of course, won the Booker Prize in 1989, The Sea won the Booker in 2005, and The Sense of an Ending is being tipped as the frontrunner for the 2011 award, which will be announced later tomorrow. If Pettersen had been a citizen of the British Commonwealth or Ireland, he no doubt would have been a contender as well.
I will say this: Barnes is the best writer about old age that we have today, far better than the repetitive, randy, Philip Roth. As his narrator, Tony Webster, delves into his past in 1960s England to make sense of a friend's suicide, Barnes (finally) shows that he is a master of such old-fashioned skills as atmosphere and plot. In short, I found this slim novel very difficult to put down; indeed, I nearly finished it in one sitting. But was it great? Barnes is treading territory that has been well-covered before, and he fails to use the device to connect to the greater concerns of, say, The Remains of the Day.
I've not yet read any of this year's other Booker contenders, so I can't say whether Barnes deserves the nod this year. I will say that this book is a fine way to spend an evening, and one that will leave you thinking about your own memories for some time after.
UPDATE: It has just been announced that Julian Barnes has won the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending. Congratulations!
Fall Reading List
Quote from "Out Stealing Horses"