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The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending is a beautifully crafted novel (or more aptly, novella) by Julian Barnes. This book, Barnes’s 11th novel, won the Man Booker prize in 2011. This short work, less than 160 pages long, is an excellent example of economic, precise, and polished writing. A exceptional book from an author who is a master of his craft.

When reading the book, you will be equally mesmerized by the story as well as the way in which it is told. Each sentence of the book is crafted with care and cleverly put together to form crisp and beautiful paragraphs.

We live in time—it holds and moulds us—but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up; others slow it down; occasionally it seems to go missing—until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.

The Sense of an Ending is Tony Webster’s account—approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty—of the notable events of his life starting from his schooldays till his old age. In the first part of the book, Webster starts his narration from his schooldays where he and his friends are having a nice time. The odd man out among his three friends—by virtue of his intellectual superiority and knowledge—is Adrian Finn, the last member to join their group.

After school, the friends part ways. Three of them go on to different colleges to continue their studies and the fourth one into his family business. But they keep in touch through letters and occasional meetings. In college, after many attempts, Webster manages to get a girlfriend—Veronica, a girl who wraps Webster around her little finger. Their love affair is totally one sided where Veronica dictates the terms and Webster dancing to her tunes. After spending a rather humiliating vacation with Veronica’s family, Webster takes Veronica to meet his friends. To Webster’s annoyance and embarrassment, Veronica becomes fascinated by Adrian. After they return to college she breaks up with Webster and becomes Adrian’s lover. Webster finds about this only when Adrian asks his permission to go out with Veronica. Webster then concentrates on his studies, gets a degree and a job, gets married, becomes a father, gets a divorce, retires and is leading a peaceful retired life. The only noteworthy event that happened during this time is the suicide of Adrian Finn, the reason for it still remaining a mystery.

History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.

In the second part of the book, Webster gets five hundred pounds and two documents as per the will of Veronica’s deceased mother. Webster couldn’t understand why he is a beneficiary in the will of his ex-girlfriend’s mother. One of the documents is a letter from Veronica’s mother and the second is Adrian’s diary. But unfortunately the diary is in the possession of Veronica and she is not willing part with it. The remaining of the story is Webster’s attempts to get the diary from Veronica and how in the process he offers a different version of the story told in the first part.

There are many things in the book that I really loved. I read and re-read many pages to enjoy the language. The letter Webster wrote to Adrian and Veronica is a gem. There are many other treasures like that. Also the two parts of the book tells the same story, but from very different vantage points. This makes the book very interesting, absorbing and will keep the reader totally immersed and guessing till the very end. A must read for all book lovers.

Book Details:

  • Author: Julian Barnes
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Year: 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099564973
  • Cover & Page Count: Hardcover, 160 pages