I was so happy to have been pushed to read The Sense of an Ending by my book club. It has been on my TBR for a while and on my shelves for about 6 months. I enjoyed this book so much that I’ll be holding it up as an example of why short, sweet, and precise is a lot better than long-winded winding and vague. What a brilliant book!
The Sense of an Ending is the story of Anthony, nickname Tony. It ranges from his life as a 15-year-old boy at school till he’s a man in his sixties. We see how the events of our past aren’t always remembered accurately and are sometimes even completely forgotten. Barnes constructs a simple story of friendship, love, and life, which gradually becomes something a lot more surprising. The writing style is simply ingenious and each word was obviously chosen conscientiously. Some may find Tony a bit of a wimp always complaining and never facing any of the difficulties he was confronted with. From his failed marriage with Margaret, to his daughter Sophie, and his ex-girlfriend Veronica, frankly, he’s not very reactive. “He just doesn’t get it.” The phrase that’s repeated constantly the last quarter of the book. In spite of all of his whining, I still liked him. He seemed to be a man trying to lead a very normal life no matter what, which is what most people do.
The ending left me bewildered so my first reflex was to reread the last 20 pages. That still didn’t help me understand. At that point I felt that the interaction between Veronica and Tony was a way to fuel the end of the story, particularly Veronica repeating “you just don’t get it” all the time. Well at my book club discussion we finally worked out the mystery and then things seemed to fall into place a lot better for me. The Sense of an Ending made sense, however I can see how some people might completely pass over the ending and not getting it. The clues are in Tony’s past and it’s for the reader to find the sense of the ending.
The only other book I’ve read about the fragmentary nature of memory is Marcel Prout’s Swann’s Way from the series In Search of Lost Time. Julian Barnes goes about it in a different way but I feel it’s worth the read and simply special in its own way. Barnes is English and is known for writing novels, memoirs, short stories, and essays. He won the Man Booker Prize in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending. He’s also well-known for having written other memorable novels such as Arthur & George, Flaubert’s Parrot, and England, England, which were all shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He won the Prix Médicis Étranger for Flaubert’s Parrot and the Prix Femina Étranger for Talking it Over.