The Sense Of An Ending - Julians Barnes

Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.
Now Tony is retired. He's had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is about to prove.


Review: The Sense of an Ending is a novella, therefore short in length, but certainly not lacking in depth of prose. I actually took several days to read this story, wanting to make sure I didn't miss an iota of the beautiful writing. It meanders along at a gentle pace; a series of recollections by Tony Webster of his college days and his life thereafter. The best thing about this book is the subtle way it conveys the unreliability of memory, and the subjective nature of personal observation. Though we may interpret a thing in one way, or intend our expressions in another, the objective truth may very well be different; our own involvements more or less influential than we intended, expected, or later recall. Perhaps as a method of self-preservation, we rose tint our personal histories so as to soften the sharp edges of our actions and obscure their consequences. This is the realization that our narrator in his old age begins to arrive at, as he revisits his youth and attempts to unravel the cause behind the death of a friend.

None of the characters, except Tony himself, particularly drew me in, but I felt all characters but Tony were essentially secondary to the point of the story. It never would have been possible to fall completely in love with the characters, viewing them as we do through the biased lens of Tony's aged memory. That said, the desire to find out what happened to Adrian is quite compelling, and although the journey is a roundabout one, it is enjoyable. While much of the novella is comprised of a setup which leaves the reader feeling well-informed, ultimately we come to realise our perception is as skewed as that of the narrator, and wonder what could possibly have happened to Adrian that we should, apparently, so readily know. And then the answer comes, and it is tragic.

Although told from the perspective of a man who can only discover the impact of his actions in hindsight, his observations of the world are sharp, insightful and often witty. Many times I found myself highlighting whole passages in this novella, as they so beautifully captured and expressed their intended sentiments about aging, nostalgia, memory and subjectivity. Beautiful contemplation of our flawed human nature. Definitely recommended, but take your time reading it.

Rating: 4/5

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