A Short Book You May Want to Read Twice
Please note that I am now an Affiliate Marketer on Amazon. This means my book reviews will include a link to the book on Amazon. If you purchase the book using my link, I will earn a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you. More details here. Thank you for supporting my Book Blog in this manner.
In 2011, The Sense of an Ending won the Booker Prize, a literary award for fiction written in English and published in the UK and Ireland. In 2017, it was also turned into a movie. As one may assume, author Julian Barnes is a British writer, and the movie had British stars. Jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, and Charlotte Rampling are featured in the film. I have not seen the film, but can tell you all about the book. For starters, it’s rather brief, less than two hundred pages, which is great because it’s the kind of book you may want to start reading again as soon as you finish the last page. In doing so, you would see how masterfully the story is put together.
The novel is written in two parts. The first part has Tony Webster, a retired Englishman, looking back on his pre-college school years. He has two good friends – Colin and Alex – and soon a new kid joins the gang – Adrian Finn.
We often go to class with these teens and learn the history and philosophy they are learning. For instance, they talk about “one of the central problems of history,” which is “the question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.” They discuss Camus’ belief that “suicide [is] the only true philosophical question.” And they wonder if T. S. Elliot is correct in his belief that “birth, and copulation, and death” are what life is all about.
We don’t realize until a second reading that this is not idle chatter. These are the explicit questions we need to apply to the novel.
Beyond what happens in the various classrooms, section one also tells us about Tony’s relationship with a young woman named Veronica Ford. After they broke up, she had a relationship with Adrian. And by the end of section one, one third of the way through the book, Adrian commits suicide at age 22.
In the second section of the book, which takes place when Tony is retired, he receives a letter from an attorney telling him of Veronica’s mother’s death. Since he had only met Mrs. Ford once, and since he is completely out of touch with Veronica, this is odd. Even more odd is the fact that she left him five hundred pounds and two “documents” in her will. The first document is a letter from Mrs. Ford and the second is Adrian’s journal. However, only the letter is currently available. The diary, it appears, is in the hands of Veronica, and she is not giving it up.
Thus ensues correspondence with Veronica. Ultimately, she releases bits of the diary to Tony. And they meet a few times. One of the things she gives him is a copy of the scathing letter he wrote to her and Adrian when he learned they were dating. Yes! He remembered sending a letter to them…but nothing like this! It throws all his other memories into question.
This was my favorite part of the book. The realization that if we could see a transcript of any conversation from long ago, we might find it vastly different from the way we remember it. And then I have to wonder, what does this tell us about the truths of our lives to which we cling? Does this make us – and Tony – unreliable narrators? Or does this quote from part one of the book say it all:
“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
This and other perfect quotes are right there in the first part of the book, I just didn’t realize how perfect they were until I started to read the book for a second time. You’ll probably want to do so too. Good thing the book’s so short!
Learn more about The Sense of an Ending here on Amazon.
I’m glad you found this book review and I hope you loved it. If so, check out my book blog – there are more than 150 reviews for you to explore, with more to come. I publish about three dozen reviews a year.