Book Reviews

Truth is Twisted in The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Tony Webster was supposed to lead an exciting life. As an intelligent teenager who regularly took the piss out of his professors, he did not envision the adulthood that he lives now. He has an adult daughter he barely speaks to, an ex-wife who finds him amusing at best, a string of “projects” that rarely materialize, and a volunteer job recommending books to the sick and the elderly. Events that he would deem novelistic only happen to the people around him, like his old friend Adrian who acted on what Camus believed to be the only serious philosophical problem. Ironically, Tony is the tragic protagonist of Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending. He finds himself picking up the pieces of his past through the filter of his unreliable memory.

The novel details an entire life but it is written economically and lyrically so that it never feels overlong. Even though it conveys the humdrum quality of an average existence successfully (“Every day is Sunday”) this is a book that you could read in a single sitting if you want to. Its scope is undoubtedly novel-worthy, but it also packs a punch like a self-contained short story.

Due to Tony’s murky memories, however, the narration is not as straightforward as some readers would prefer. There’s a free-form quality to it as Tony oscillates between past and present. Since this is in first-person and it’s immediately established that our narrator and protagonist is unreliable, events narrated early on are edited later with little to no certainty. Near the end, Tony reads a letter that he wrote, the content of which would have shed light on the characters’ relationships earlier. But since his memory is faulty, we only know its consequences and what is actually written in it just as the novel is coming to a close. This doesn’t make the novel an easy read, but it’s necessary to convey how we can trick ourselves with the memories that we choose to believe in.

Most of the characters you will meet here are as real as the people you know in real life. Tony exemplifies the promising young man who petered out in adulthood and is now filled with regrets and thoughts of what-if; Veronica is the woman who shrouds herself in mystery to hide the pain within; Adrian is the intellectual who wasn’t so headstrong after all. Unfortunately, not all characters end up as fleshed out as the main ones. Two characters whose presence I found lacking were Colin and Alex. Although their absence from the narrative is essential to the themes of the story, I believe a few more pages dedicated to their current whereabouts would have made the story even richer. Were they as miserable and “peaceable” as Tony was? We can never know for sure.

While the novel is introspective and is told through memories and philosophical reflections on life, the plot is surprisingly as exciting as a paperback thriller. While there are no dramatic reveals and exploitative murders, the way things unfold kept me at the edge of my seat. This is true especially when Veronica (in true Veronica fashion) introduces Tony to a group of misfits without explanation. However, it is here that the plot comes to a grinding halt as the writer’s hand becomes obvious in elongating the novel’s third act. Trust me when I say that Veronica’s refrain of “you still don’t get it” will just be as infuriating to readers as it is to Tony.

Luckily, the positives of The Sense of an Ending greatly outweigh its negatives. It’s a concise and powerful meditation on life, loss, memory, and human relationships. It’s about the consequences of our actions; how some can be forgiven and reversed, while others will become our legacy whether we like it or not. It’s about how we can fool ourselves with false memories and their tendency to bite years later. Although published in 2011, I have no doubts that this will still be read and treasured by generations to come. The pain of merely existing as well as the deceptive nature of memory are things that we will have to suffer as long as we continue to live. I believe we can never completely get past these dilemmas – human nature would never allow that – but at least this novel reassures us that although forged, memories and the sense of existence is all that we have to hold on to.

(8) Comments

  1. I hav found very interesting your article.It’s pretty worth enough for me.

    In my view, if all website owners and bloggers made
    good content as you did, the wweb will be a lott more useful than ever before.

  2. Ienjoy reading through your website. Thanks!

  3. Wow cuz this is great work!Congrats and keep it up!

  4. What’s up, I wish for to subscribe for this blog
    to take most recent updates, so where can i do it please help out.

    1. Hey, we are still working on the site and will soon come up with that option and newsletters. For now, you can bookmark the site. Have a great day.

  5. Great delivery. Great arguments. Keep uup the amazing spirit.

  6. Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful post. Thanks for
    providing this info.

  7. Well composed articles like yours renews my faith in today’s writers.You’ve written information I can finally agree on and also use.Many thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.