The Sense of an Ending – Review

Book: The Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
Year: 2011

“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.” 
 Julian BarnesThe Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending
Book cover

Recommended to me by a friend, this Booker Prize winning novel, packs a punch in just 150 pages. Spanning the life and impressions of Tony Webster narrated in first person, this novel works its way from brazen childhoods to muddled old age. The novel is divided into 2 parts and collectively it took me just 4 hours to read, which is to say that the writing is fluid and captivating. The Sense of an Ending is the 14th novel of British author Julian Barnes, and in this one he chronicles the life of Tony first narrating the story forward from teenage to adulthood and then backward from old age to adulthood. The events of his life and their interpretations meet somewhere in the middle. And how this is done is fascinating to watch.

Tony Webster is a part of a “group” in school when in comes Adrian Finn. Adrian’s tangential, confident, and lateral views not only find much intrigue with Tony and his friends but also the teachers. Adrian is not much of a talker, but when he does talk everyone hangs on to every word he says. History classes pass by, slowly Adrian becomes a part of Tony’s clique, and for all practical purposes he becomes the unsaid leader of the group. They share world views, exchange notes, take off on boyhood excursions and swear to remain in touch all their lives. The boys then move on to practical vocations, join college, and write letters to each other with an intensity. Tony says that notwithstanding the others, he wrote to Adrian religiously and waited with anticipation for his reply. So far so good, and the writing is so effortless you’re almost reminded of your own school-time clan or find yourself wishing you had one (depending on how your life went, really). Thus ends Part 1.

In the second part,  Tony is an adult with a past that he never thought he’d regret. He “had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded” in his own words until one day when he receives a package from his ex-girlfriend Veronica’s mother – 5oo pounds and the diary of his friend Adrian. How she comes in possession of his diary. How Veronica’s life turned out after she parted ways with Tony and how the past comes unraveling at it is worth reading. What’s more that all these events of his life appear more intertwined with each sliver of recollection from the basin of his memory. This is when the fickleness of human memory, the importance of perception, and the huge debt of the things that you don’t know comes into play.

The Sense of an Ending makes you look at the start of life from the end, and while you are at it, it is good to consider that life is dynamic, perspective is nothing but a peek into a kaleidoscope, and even though you wish you had had an easy life, it never is.

This is a wonderfully simple read that will convolute the way you think. Do come back and let us know what you think really happened in the end. And remember, remember to read the first page of the book again after you finish. It will surprise you. 😉



5 thoughts on “The Sense of an Ending – Review

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  1. The choice of quotation as the beginning point of the review is wonderful. That one quote, among others, captures the essence of the eloquence and poetry in the book – reflections on life, memory, nostalgia and the nature of perception.

    Other quotes which I think are worthwhile selling points to prospective readers (while not spoiling the reading experience in any way):
    Some selected poetic eloquent quotes from the book:
    >> “This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.”

    >> “It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

    >> “When you’re young – when I was young – you want your emotions to be like the ones you read about in books. You want them to overturn your life, create and define a new reality. Later, I think, you want them to do something milder, something more practical: you want them to support your life as it is and has become. You want them to tell you that things are OK. And is there anything wrong with that?”

    >> “We live in time – it holds us and molds us – but I never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.”

    >> “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

  2. This was a solid 4-star read . I had vaguely heard of Julian Barnes , but his quality of writing is very nice
    I am going to see if there might be another of his books to put on my 2021 to-read list .

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