Synopsis: 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.
Title: Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
Before I jump into the main part of my review for this book, I would like to state that The Sense of an Ending is probably one of the most beautiful books I have purchased this year. I know we shouldn’t judge books by their covers but whoever designed this one did a bloody good job!
On to the book itself; this is the first Julian Barnes book I have read and I can guarantee it won’t be my last. This is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read so far this year. At 160 pages, you’d be tempted to whizz through it; but I found myself taking my time – often pondering sentences for long periods before delving back into the beautiful prose. I think this is what I liked most about book; it’s one of the very few out there that makes you think – actually, really, properly think about the plot, the message, and your experience of it.
So what, you may ask, does The Sense of an Ending make you think so hard about? For me, it was this:
“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” (p.17)
“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves.” (p.95)
How many times have you exaggerated, fabricated or ‘photoshopped’ your memories?
I started of by vehemently replying “never!”. Then I remembered I might have exaggerated how far I managed to run in my last jog… OK, maybe I embellish things a little, but not the important stuff. But then recalled how much I skimmed over my part when recounting an argument with an old flame to friends… Suddenly, Tony, the protagonist’s existential crisis became my own.
I delighted in following Tony’s journey into his own history: part one gives us his passive-aggressive, elaborated account of what he believes happened; part two delves into the repercussions of his actions and leads him to question the very fabric of his memories.
The Sense of an Ending is an exquisitely written novel that questions our actions, our memories of those actions, and the consequences of fabricating those memories. Time, the novel makes clear, will eventually catch up with us and, if we are open to it, allows us to see what we were blind to at the time.