Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

Good story. Shame about the characters.
 Review by Maryom

Tony Webster is in his sixties, now retired after an uneventful, unremarkable life - his career, marriage and even his divorce have been like mere ripples in his pond. His reminiscences take him back to his days in school sixth form when new boy Adrian joined his little clique. As they grow older, go their different ways to University, their friendship fades as may be expected.  It comes to an abrupt end though when Tony and his girlfriend, Veronica, split up and she almost immediately moves in with Adrian. Even this, possibly the most dramatic thing to happen in Tony's life, is looked back on with equanimity - until the day he receives a solicitor's letter - Veronica's mother has bequeathed him various items in her will. Making contact with Veronica, opens up these events and subjects them to new interpretations. 

I accidentally came across this book on the 'One Week Loan' rack in the library. It's one of those books I'd been meaning to read one day and as it had caught my eye - as a Booker Prize winner, an unread Julian Barnes novel and, most important for a 'one week loan' book, only 150 pages - I picked it up!
The Sense of an Ending is a fascinating tale of how we allow ourselves to re-write our past.
My reactions to this novel were rather mixed. The way the story unfolds pulled me in, in an almost thriller-type way. I soon realised that the past was not the bland emotionless place that Tony claimed it was and wanted to know what had really happened. Everything about it was great so far - unfortunately, and this is the big stumbling block, I couldn't bring myself to feel any sympathy for the people concerned. Tony - pompous, arrogant, all-round irritating - seems stuck in his sixth-form persona. What may be perhaps expected and excusable in the sixth-former is decidedly unlike-able in a man of 60. Veronica, although admittedly tainted by Tony's point of view, wasn't much better.  Maybe Barnes intended them to be unappealing - I wonder?

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Vintage
Genre - Adult Literary Fiction


  1. I think I was coming from much the same place with this one: Barne's writing is great, in places wonderful, but Tony didn't quite work as a character for me. I didn't believe in the sincerity of his faulty memory, although I think we were supposed to take it at face value.

  2. I just finished "A Sense of an Ending" and was left stunned and sorrowful. This beautifully written novella is one of the best books I have ever read and I may sit and read it again. The prose is beautiful and the story unfolds at a leisurely pace, in line with the narrator's unfolding memories. Perhaps someone who is about my age (about the same as Tony's age) will find more to savor and understand in this book, which addresses the unreliability of our memories and our efforts to make our lives have some sort of meaning. I often look back in amazement of how quickly the years have gone by, and how the girl I used to be seems like she lived in another lifetime. We chose what we remember of all the days of our lives, the mundane everyday things as well as the traumas and joys. Tony is the classic unreliable narrator, his memories cloudy, as he struggles to make sense of why his old friend Adrian committed suicide. The mystery unfolds slowly, and we as readers are given the same facts he is. Everything is filtered through Tony's fractured memories. This is a book that will stay with me a long time.

  3. I just finished "The Sense of an Ending" and was left stunned. There are books that leave the reader thinking about it for weeks, this is one of those. The mystery unfolds slowly, and we as readers are given the same facts as protagonist is. Everything is filtered through Tony's fractured memories. This is a book that will stay with me a long time.

    The story is in two parts. First, the protagonist's English schoolboy experiences with friends, love, debate, and doubt. Then second, his agonies in retirement of constantly reinterpreting past conversations, an enigmatic inheritance, a diary page, and his own forty-year old letter.

    "But time... how time first grinds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them."

    "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation," and "We make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense."

    With some of the most stunningly simple, illustrative sentences, Barnes tells a tale of youth and the outcome of it years later. Brings into questions of how we see, what is memory, is reality real, and life, is it worth living, or too hard? When is it so difficult that some take the exit door rather than the challenge--how much of a challenge is too much. Delightful read, quick and easy to read in a day or two; with much to ruminate about for weeks to come.