Monday, April 16, 2012

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes, a review

I just finished reading Julian Barnes's novel, The Sense of an Ending, and I loved how it kept me guessing. I love Barnes's writing, and here he really impressed me with his craftsmanship. It's the story of how a man, Tony Webster looks at his youth through the lens of late middle age, confronting his past, and changeable and unreliable memory, in the process. So as Tony examines his memories, and truths that he never knew about are revealed, the story, in Barnes's somewhat restrained style, becomes a bit of a mysterious page-turner. It was a nice combination of thought-provoking, subtle, and entertaining.

As a woman in middle age, I loved that the book made me really think about aging, regret, and remorse. It also made me ponder the idea that we are, at best, unreliable narrators of our own lives. And the book was disturbing in that it made me think about self-delusion, and how easy it is to think you are one kind of person, when maybe you are not. Ah, human frailty, how universal you are.

I did have one strange thing happen while reading it. I read it as an e-book, and because I was powering through it, I never checked how far I was actually getting in the book, and the ending took me by surprise. It felt a little abrupt, but I don't think I would have felt that way had I been reading a paper edition, and anticipating the ending as it got physically closer. And it was a book that I didn't want to end. Barnes left me there, wondering what effect the knowledge Tony gained would have on the rest of his life. The ending was elegant, and satisfying in that it left me sitting there, staring off into space, putting all the little pieces of the story back together in my head, armed as I now was with more knowledge. But it also left me wanting just a little bit more. And isn't that how the best books are?


Amy said...

I loved this book too. Same thing--I'm pushing 50 and it made me wonder what things I remember incorrectly, or have pushed out of memory altogether for my own convenience. I loved that it was so compact. Barnes didn't bulk it up to reach some traditional novel length, but just told the story in as many (or few) words as he needed.

Ti said...

That happens to me all the time with Kindle books. They count all the non-story pages in the percentage count so you think you have 3% left and then BAM, the book is over. LOL.

Alluria said...

I now was with more knowledge. But it also left me wanting just a little bit more.

Gentle Reader said...

Amy--I felt the same way--wondering what things I've pushed out of my memory, too!

Ti--It happens to me all the time with Kindle books, too. I'm sure at some point my brain will start anticipating the end sooner...

Alluria--I wanted more, also :)

Carole said...

I was wondering whether you would be happy to put up a link in my brand new monthly series called “Books You Love”. The idea is for people to link up posts about a book they loved – it doesn’t have to be one they just posted about. It could be an old fave. I am hoping we will end up with a nice collection of books that can go on our reading lists. Here is the link Books You Loved May Edition

Matthew Selwyn said...

It's interesting to hear the impressions of a reader who is looking back on their own life - I came at it from the other point of view - reading it as a warning about the life that is yet to unfold before me. Great review.

My review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Netherland said...

I found the book both fascinating and frustrating, as was no doubt the author's intention. It is undoubtedly a clever book, but to me, as with the same author's Flaubert's Parrot, rather too cerebral, lacking the warmth of real human relationships. There are so many things the narrator and reader do not `get'. Why, for instance, should Tony continually pursue a girl, then the girl as woman, who was only using him as a plaything? It makes no sense to him or the reader. Is it sufficient to say that it is the donnée on which the whole book rests, just as other obsessives, like for instance Kemal in The Museum of Innocence or Charles Arrowby in The Sea, The Sea, expend vast energies in pursuit hopeless causes? The difference is that both Pamuk's and Murdoch's novels delve deep into the psyches of their narrators. We understand, sympathise and forgive them, even when they are boring us. At least Barnes's novel is too short to be boring. It is indeed, extremely readable and. in its own way, strangely haunting.

John Michael Cummings said...

Dear Gentle Reader:

I'm the author of Ugly To Start With, a short story collection published by West Virginia University Press.

Can I interest you in reviewing it?

I've won awards for my writing.

If you write me back at, I'll send you some information about me and my book.

Thank you.


John Michael Cummings

devid said...

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it's a really interesting little book. There's a fascinating mother character in it--a mentally ill woman who was really unable to take care of her son when he was a child, and now that she's old, he's taking care of her. She's had a stroke that has basically restored her sanity, but left her so that she can't speak, so she writes her son wonderfully pithy post-it notes :)

Meera said...

The book is a worthy winner. It deconstructs the romanticism built around the concepts of 'memory' and 'nostalgia'. It is a book divided into two parts. The first part is a memory told by the protagonist. The second part is the anti-thesis. The memory receives a setback. And it is interestingly narrated. The end is poignant.

Hindi Jokes said...

Certainly did not deserve the MB Prize. A lot of unexplained premises. The ones which have been explained are mostly logic less. No reason for why do the people behave the way they do. I was disappointed. Writing style is very good and keeps you bound to itself until the last page where you will be left heartbroken for having wasted your time.

CashFund said...

Another fine review! I must admit that this is the first review I've read of this (audio)book. I agree that it would be difficult to listen to this a bit at a time.

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Neha said...

The story's facade is simple, refined almost to monotony and dependent on the revelation of a secret towards the ending. But what is hidden between the lines is far more chaotic—and likely to leave the reader anxious for days after finishing the book. I loved that the book made me really think about regret, and repentance. It also made me think about the idea that we are always dishonest narrators of our own lives. And the book was very disturbing that it made me think about how easy it is to think you are one kind of person, when you are actually not and how universal human frailty is.
The ending was excellent that it left me lost in the lines, sitting there, recollecting all the little pieces of story back together in my mind. And it left me chaotic and disturbed for days after finishing the book.

Seattle Divorce Lawyer website said...

Life is brutal, beautiful, and unexpected. I believe the author would like us to keep this in mind. We are not as great and powerful as we think ourselves to be, certainly not greater than our peers, but we also are not beneath the dignity we deserve as surviving on this planet day by day. And it's that dignity we should grant to each other.

Marlene Detierro said...

Throughout the latter part of the story, Tony is told repeatedly (and without explanation, of course), "You just don't understand!" Well, he thought he did, and I thought he did. But it isn't until the very final lines of the novella that the full truth is made clear. The Sense of an Ending is brief, and it is masterful, and if it wins the Man Booker Prize in a few minutes, it will be entirely deserving.

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فروشگاه اینترنتی said...

They count all the non-story pages in the percentage count so you .. I agree that it would be difficult to listen to this a bit at a time.
thanks alot

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