Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Title: The Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 150
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Rating: 9/10
Format: Paperback

‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes is one of those books which you can read and re-read, and every time discover something new. The joy of a well-written, open-ended book is unparalleled. It is amazing how much is packed into this 150-page, fast-paced work of fiction with a twist at the end (though I got an idea about the twist somewhere towards the middle).

The book is divided into two parts. In part One, Tony Webster, now in his 60s, is trying to recall the memories of his past life. But as he often admits, memory is not always reliable. He says right at the beginning “… what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

Tony, Alex and Colin formed a clique in school, joined by Adrian later. Adrian was certainly more serious and intelligent than the rest, expected to win a scholarship and do well in life. Now retired, Tony considers his own life ordinary and uneventful – a normal career, single marriage, amicable divorce and cordial relations with his only daughter. In his twilight years, he says almost with regret: “I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded - and how pitiful that was.” 

He also talks about his ex-girlfriend Veronica, his attempts to impress her, her sense of superiority, and his memory of their relationship. The author never fails to tease you every now and then about ‘memory’ and ‘history’ – that they are not trustworthy and what we recall from past is just a perception of how things happened, may be selectively remembered.

Where part One takes time to establish Tony’s character and the dullness of his life, part Two is fast-paced till the end. Due to the turn of events, Tony comes in contact with Veronica, and it sparks a slew of memories pertaining to her. Veronica was an unfinished chapter of his life and now, almost 40 years later, he felt drawn to her. May be age and time mellowed him to empathize with her.

She keeps saying to Tony “you just don’t get it”, which some readers may find irritating but I felt her character is quite complex and I would expect her to say something like that without offering explanations.  On one hand this drives the reader to the wall while also creating a sense of urgency to uncover the mystery.   

The best part of the book is of course its writing. Despite its number of pages, the story is never rushed, the characters are leisurely developed, mystery is withheld and rationed out in bits and pieces creating suspense, phrases are delightfully crafted and the warmth of subtle humour makes you break into smiles every now and then. The narrative often gets philosophical but never boring.

Sample these beautifully constructed phrases:

“the small pleasures and large dullnesses of home”

But time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but we were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time...give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.” 

Need I say more? By all means, read it!

Note: I have consciously stayed away from discussing the story, and its twists and turns because reading it without any pre-conceived notions will be much more enjoyable experience, like I had.

Review Book courtesy: MySmartPrice Books - Get the Best Deal on Books!
Image source: Author Website


  1. Replies
    1. I never realised I could be that convincing ;-) I hope you will love it!

  2. Will be bumming it from someone at the next book-club meeting .. some of them found the book weird .. a lot of them liked it a lot.. you write really well!

    1. Thank you so much :-) I have also come across mixed reviews on the internet but I feel, it really depends on individual taste and preferences. I don't like the current popular genre in Indian writing but thousands of people love them. I can't tell them it is bad, it is something they prefer.
      Do recommend any book/s that you have loved. I am always on the look out of new books.

  3. Ok..I am also pitching in..not buying it right now..but it is on my wishlist in justbooks library :) Will let you know when I am done :)

  4. I loved this book very much too. Lovely writing, and some beautiful quotes that really made me think a lot. You are right, this is a book to read and re-read :)

    1. Oh I don't know why it took me so long to reply to you!
      I love the quotes too. And all of them are there on GoodReads.

  5. We seem to have more or less similar views on this one, Reema! A very well-written review. I would go out and buy the book if I hadn't already read it! :P Thanks for directing me to your review blog! :D

    1. That was really very flattering. Thank you.
      I am glad I found another book lover :-)