The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

If you are planning to read this novel, I think its best to read it with a fresh mind i.e. don’t read too many reviews,analysis,etc because I feel it would dilute the effect. Luckily, I knew nothing of the plot when I picked it up so I was quite surprised as some of the details unfolded. It is for this very reason that I have included only sparse details in this review.

The Sense of an Ending is the story of Tony Webster – he is now in his sixties, divorced but on good terms with his ex-wife and his daughter, generally leading an uneventful life when a letter from a solicitor changes everything.

The book is just over a 100 pages and is divided into 2 sections – the first section dealing with Tony’s past and the second one dealing with his present. The story is narrated in first person by Tony and it starts off with an introduction of his “clique” in school – Alex and Colin – and how a new boy Adrian Finn becomes a part of their clique. It then goes on to illustrate their relationship and their school years – how they view various events, their approach to philosophy, their physical relationships (or rather the lack of it) and so on. It is in this section that we are introduced to a quote that becomes the central theme of the story …..

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

The second section starts after a jump in time of 40 years. It is at this point that Tony receives a letter that changes his memories of the past dramatically. He is always someone trying to corroborate his memories but not out of nostalgia. To quote him …..

“What possible evolutionary purpose can nostalgia serve ?”

I don’t want to reveal things beyond this point and ruin it so let me write about how I felt about this book.

First, and there is no denying this, the writing is absolutely wonderful. At some points it is honest and in-your-face and at other points its deeply philosophical and forces you to think. Or rather, challenges your existing ideas.

Coming to the ending, I was initially a little flummoxed after reading the concluding paragraphs. After which I had to go back and re-read several pages to understand and construct the ending in my mind. This was slightly off-putting for me at first but then I was lying on my bed and working out all the details in my head late into the night and that is when it struck me how beautiful the novel was. Without realising it, I had been forced to think and think hard. Further more, when I did a Google search and came across so many people writing their interpretations I was really awe-struck. To achieve all this in 100+ pages is truly genius !

So yes, initially I had mixed feelings about the book. But now I am a complete fan. Hours after reading it, I’m still working things out 🙂

If you are someone who has already read the book, then I am planning to write a post with my take of the ending so join me for a discussion there ! 🙂

Update : I’ve written the above mentioned post (warning: has spoilers !) and you can check it out here.