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The Sense of an Ending Book
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Jan Kirkpatrick30 October 2011
The Sense of an Ending was my book club choice for September and, as Julian Barnes has since gone on to win the Man Booker Prize for it, it proved to be a good choice. However, awards are necessarily a sign of greatest and so I'm pleased to say that the book does stand on its own merits.
The Sense of an Ending is narrated by Tony Webster, a man who has always been untroubled by the truth (or otherwise) of his own memories. Perhaps in keeping with his lack of interest in the past, Webster has never been a man who strived for success and now, late in life, he has certainly achieved his desired mediocrity. He had a straightforward career followed by a comfortable retirement and an amicable marriage followed by an amicable divorce.
But perhaps not everything in Webster's life has been mediocre. As his thoughts turn to the end of his life, Webster still harbours vivid recollections of his brilliant, tragic school friend Adrian Finn. After receiving a solicitor's letter informing him that he has inherited Adrian's diary, Webster is forced to re-examine everything that he thinks his life has been.
It is this concept of the 'real' past versus the past of memory that causes The Sense of an Ending to be a story in two parts: on one hand there is the tale of Webster's life and relationships that he has told himself and other people, while on the other hand there is the saga of what really went on during his awkward and repressed past.
The Sense of an Ending is a short novel, more of a novella really, but it certainly packs a lot in. The journey through Webster's life is at turns haunting and humorous, delightful and bleak. I have read quite a few of Julian Barnes' novels but I think that this is my favourite. Barnes manages to flesh out the trip through Webster's memory with insight and intelligence so that, ultimately, you do, as Webster himself does, come to understand his tendency to self-redaction.
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 in middle age. 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. The Sense of an Ending is the story of one man coming to terms with the mutable past. Laced with trademark precision, dexterity and insight, it is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers and has earned a place on the Man Booker Prize longlist 2011.
Julian Barnes scoops the Man Booker at last with his latest novel, described by Chair of the judges, Dame Stella Rimington as 'exquisitely written' and 'subtly plotted'.
- Julian Barnes
- 4 August 2011
- Jonathan Cape
- Hardcover (Book)
- First Edition First Impression
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