Title: The Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
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.
The Sense of an Ending is a novella chosen by one of our book group members, and not necessarily something I would have picked up to read myself, so I’d glad it was chosen. It’s short – obviously, as it’s a novella – but I feel like Julian Barnes manages to pack a lot of meaning in without actually packing in that much ‘action’.
Firstly, a lot of the characters in The Sense of an Ending are quite unlikeable – the main narrator, Tony, is – quite frankly- a self-absorbed and pretty selfish man. He’s reflecting back on his life with a whimsical filter, thinking about his friendships with the group of boys he was friends with – particularly Adrian – and about his first serious girlfriend, Veronica. The time during their posh English prep school really highlights the self-important feeling among young men particularly during that era and in that section of society – or so it is in this novel. They are quite irritating.
I did enjoy the reflection Tony gives on his life, and his marriage, finding it quite interesting to read. I felt that there’s a section in the middle where I lost interest a bit, but the end brought it back to my attention, as something actually happens, instead of focussing mainly on Tony’s memories (though that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading about some of Tony’s memories). There’s some unexpected twists and an ending that left me thinking about it after I’d put the book down. I think the writing is incredibly skilful and the fact that it focuses on what is essentially an ‘ordinary’ life, but the story shows that even when you think life has calmed down and become a little dull, the unexpected can made you rethink not only your current situation but all that came before it, often making you question the legitimacy of your memories. How much can we trust the narrator of a story, just because they have been assigned the role of narrator?
This is an enjoyable, interesting story. I do feel most of the interest for me lay in the start and end, but it was overall well worth a read and I can definitely see why it was awarded a Booker Prize! I would be interested to see the film now to compare, and see how they’ve made a short book into a feature length film.
Have you read the book, or seen the film? If so what did you think?