I didn’t get a chance to write my thoughts about Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize winning novella, The Sense of an Ending, back when I actually finished it – which was in June. The book deserves a much more thoughtful review than I am likely to give it here.
Narrated by Tony Webster, a divorced father with a grown daughter, The Sense of an Ending is a meditation on youth and the ways in which our memories are often skewed by our desire to remember ourselves differently from how we actually were.
“We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well,” Tony says. He also tells the reader that he is “not very interested in his schooldays, and don’t feel any nostalgia for them. But school is where it all began…”
It is at school that Tony and his friends meet Adrian Finn, “a tall, shy boy who initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself.” Adrian is bright, clearly smarter than Tony and his friends – or perhaps just more thoughtful, more willing to question the subjects (particularly history) that he is being taught.
History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.
At the end of school, the four boys go their separate ways. Tony meets a girl, Veronica Ford, and it is this relationship which sets the story in motion. Things with Veronica end badly and when she ends up dating Adrian, Tony is hurt and angry.
How this threesome plays out makes up the bulk of the story, but it isn’t a traditional love triangle. This is really a story about who we were, who we become and how we alter our memories to accommodate our own version of ourselves.
The Sense of an Ending is one of those books which would certainly benefit from repeat readings – and trust me, it wouldn’t be a hardship. Barnes’ prose is precise and devastating. The book reads like a mystery and in a way it is – we are often mysteries to ourselves and it is only when our memories are challenged that we see the person we have been.