The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

After reading Pulse, and this blog post by writer Andrew Blackman, I was curious enough to try and see what The Sense of an Ending was about.

Told from the point of view of the narrator, Anthony (Tony) Webster, the story is about his life. All through to the end I was under the impression of reading a personal journal – from Tony’s childhood all the way through his late years. It’s about those details that get stuck in our heads without us really knowing why, bits of memories floating on the river of life, resurfacing in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times. And while they might seem like inoffensive bits and pieces, they are actually part of a big puzzle called life. Tony’s life, to be more precise.

Describing himself as an average person who left life “happen” to him rather than make things happen, Tony is an average guy, with average friends and a somewhat ordinary life. Divorced but on good terms with his ex-wife, father of a daughter who is herself married and has a family, Tony starts thinking about the past, going all the way back to his childhood and through each story offering the reader more details about himself. From his school days – some funny dialogues come up in this section – to his first girlfriend, Veronica, to his happy gang of friends out of which Adrian, the philosopher, plays a central role, Tony starts putting together the pieces of the puzzle. There’s a suicide and a diary that might explain things. Veronica might explain them even better but after their breakup a long time ago, she’s not keen on meeting up again. All she does, apart from making Tony feel like a real dork, is to say “you don’t get it” to the point of becoming obnoxious. Maybe I felt this way because I didn’t get it either and so I found another reason to sympathize with Tony. What is there to get, what’s the mystery she’s not revealing, the information she’s holding back?
The whole book is a journey to the answer. Because, in the end, the writer does allow us that satisfaction. At first I was taken aback, then, thinking back at certain passages in the book, things started to come together. Those details, those bits floating around are not just debris, they are important, and as the memories change from bits to something more substantial, so does Tony’s understanding of the events.
Time has robbed him of the ability to change anything and it has turned him philosophical. After all, what’s left now after he’s almost reached the end of the road, but to examine his actions, his words, and think about what would have happened if he’d done (or hadn’t done) certain things? Would not sending an angry letter have changed things? Is it better to understand life, the futility of it and give up halfway through? Is it better not to expect too much so the disappointment won’t hurt too badly? These are just a few of the questions I was left with after I turned the last page. Imbued with a melancholy that only increases with each page, this book made me think of how we perceive things that happen to us and how we remember bits from our past and especially how those bits are connected to our present. A small but intense book written in an elegant style, worth spending your time and money on.

*Read in June, 2012

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17 Responses to The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

  1. Vishy says:

    Wonderful review, Delia! Liked reading it very much! I love the fact that Barnes leaves a lot of clues in the story – as memories of Tony – and things unravel in the end in a sophisticated way. I will look for this book and try to read it soon. Thanks for the review!

    • Delia says:

      And it’s a slim book as well, what was that saying, “good things come in small packages” or something like it?
      I hope you get to read the book, I’m curious to see what you make of it. It took me a while to “get it”, mostly because I almost didn’t want to believe the ending could be so different from what I imagined. But that’s always a good thing about a book, being surprised – it beats predictability any day.

      • Vishy says:

        Interesting to know that, Delia. It is difficult to write a book these days with an unpredictable ending. It is wonderful that Barnes has managed to do that. I will look for this book in the library when I go there next time.

        • Delia says:

          I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you find it soon. 🙂
          I’d like to read more books by Julian Barnes. There are a few out there in the bookshops, but none caught my eye. Yet.

  2. This sounds like a charming book, I would have interest if I knew the person. The bits of memories etc, sounds like a great executed book.

    I LOVE the title.

  3. Hmmm, after reading again I see Tony is the character, I first read it like a memoir. My mistake, I have more interest now 🙂 even though I do enjoy memoirs.

  4. JoV says:

    The more I read the review about this book, I feel it is one book that I might enjoy. Your review has convinced me!

  5. Jenners says:

    This book seems to get under people’s skin and make them a bit sad. I think I will read it as some point — perhaps in the autumn. It sounds like an autumn type of book.

  6. Delia says:

    It is rather melancholy but it has some funny moments, too. I can see why you would think about autumn as the best time to read it. After all, the main character is in the autumn of his life – a bit lonely, thinking about the past…
    No matter the season, I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it.

  7. Hi Delia

    I missed this as it came out while I was away, but glad I came across it now (thanks to your meme answers!). I had the same reaction to Veronica – what was Tony supposed to get? She really didn’t give him many clues! Even after the final revelation, I couldn’t piece together how he was possibly supposed to have “got it”. Some people in the comments to my post suggested that Veronica was still in love with Tony and always had been, and that was what he was supposed to get. I don’t really buy that, but what do you think? Nice review!

    • Delia says:

      Hi Andrew,

      I was annoyed with Veronica throughout the book, it felt like she just played with Tony, pushing his buttons just to see how he would react. I don’t think she was in love with him to the end, she just seemed like the kind of person who would hold a grudge for a long time. And that was a twisted ending!

  8. Pingback: Book Review – The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes « Vishy’s Blog

  9. Jenners says:

    Your review is good. I have to agree that the clues are there but it was very very subtle. (Like the equation … I would have NEVER gotten that.) It is full of melancholy … but I got so thrown off by the ending that I ending up not liking the book as much as you.)

    • Delia says:

      Funny enough, I don’t remember much about the equation. I think I just went over that part quickly. 🙂
      Subtle is good. I didn’t see it coming until the end, I guess the idea was in my head but I kept thinking no, this can’t be! What I liked the most though was the questions I was left with at the end. I love books that do that.

  10. Pingback: Books of 2012 – the great, the good, and the disappointing | Postcards from Asia

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