Title: The Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
First Publication: 2011
Setting Place: Bristol; Chislehurst; London, England
Major Characters: Anthony “Tony” Webster, Veronica Mary Ford, Adrian Finn, Colin Simpson, Joe Hunt, Phil Dixon, Sarah Ford.
Theme: death, regret, and reminiscence.
Narrator: Narrated in First person through a retired man named Anthony Webster.
Book Summary: The Sense of an Ending
The Sense of an Ending follows a sexagenarian man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about – until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present.
Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
Book Review: The Sense of an Ending
Imagine you’re at a cafe or taking a walk in a park and you bump into an elderly man. And let’s just say he starts to share his memories from school and the days after with you. Someone who is living all by himself after retiring and is also divorced. Now, don’t roll your eyes. Let’s just hypothetically say he offers to share his memories with you. Would you patiently sit and listen to this old stranger? Maybe, for the sake of courtesy you would listen for a while and quickly pick a reason from your quiver to slip away. Now, imagine the same memories are shared through the pen of Julian Barnes; Well, there’s no way you would ignore. Doesn’t sound convincing? Give this a quote a glance from Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending before you read on:
“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”
Now that I have your attention, follow me while I share my take on this literary masterpiece that’s only 150 pages long. That’s right, it’s a short read and split into two parts conveniently. The first part opens with a group of three school friends, who are joined by a fourth. All seem quite intelligent and arrogant as it’s quite “philosophically evident”. And amidst them Adrian Finn seems a lot more intelligent. The first part is strewn with scenes at school and how he reflects on each one’s reaction. Especially the suicide of a classmate named Robson leaves quite an impact.
They part ways once they finish school with a promise to sustain a lifelong friendship. At college, Tony meets Veronica Mary Ford, who becomes his girlfriend. And one weekend, she actually takes him to her house to meet her parents and a brother. Well, I’ll leave this here and let you discover what happened at the Ford’s. What happened to Veronica and Tony’s relationship after that weekend? And more importantly, what led to Adrian’s untimely death?
“This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.”
The second part is where Tony gets a letter from the Lawyer of Mrs Sarah Ford (Veronica’s mother). Surprisingly, the letter reads she has left behind some blood money and the diary of Adrian as a part of her will. Now, this takes the story to a whole new level. Why after all these years, Veronica’s mother had to leave him some money. How did she get the diary of his friend Adrian? Here it’s up to you, alongside Tony, to figure out why she left behind the money; and how she got the diary of Adrian. What makes the plot even more interesting? The pursuit to claim Adrian’s Diary which is now in Veronica’s custody.
To sum it up, Julian Barnes’ masterpiece, The Sense of an Ending, which was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2011, is absorbing and makes the reader think. Unlike other memoirs or novels based on nostalgia, this is split into two parts for a reason. In part one where the narrator is piecing the puzzle and displaying a picture to the reader as per his recollection. And in second part where he is slowly taking the pieces apart and forming another picture which he thinks it should have been. A curious case of construction vs. deconstruction. That said, it’s up to you, the reader to conclude what could have been “The Sense of an Ending”.
Review by Amit Charles