Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes


Synopsis (taken from the back of the book):

This intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.


My thoughts:

It takes a powerful book to render me speechless. I’ve been in a book coma for over a week, and I do not foresee a change anytime soon.  That being said, I have a lot to say about this book, and I’ve been trying for days now to think of how exactly I can do it justice. I am still trying to come to terms with the ending, which knocked me out of my seat and made me cry…then laugh, and then cry again.

Julian Barnes is a master storyteller. It takes a powerful writer to pack so much emotion, depth, and pain into such a short novel. 163 pages of pure, beautiful, heartbreaking literature.

The Sense of an Ending tells the story of Tony Webster, who, in his older age, looks back on his life, the decisions he made in his youth, and how they haunt him in the future. Without giving too much away, let me just say that his actions, which seem innocent at the time, come back to haunt him in ways that made my skin jump. Barnes demonstrates flawlessly how everything, sooner or later, comes around. You can never be sure how your past actions will affect your future for the good, or, in Tony’s case, the bad.

The way that Barnes focuses attention to the matter of time throughout the book was something I found to be unique and powerful. He continuously dropped the same (or similar phrase) about the ‘things’ that time does to a person; how it causes one to perceive their things differently, or judge a scenario differently. The concept was presented in a way that I have not seen before, at least not in a novel, which added to my overall enjoyment.

What I appreciated the most about this book was that it had the perfect balance of plot and character development. The deep, detailed characters did not take away from the picture perfect timeline and plot that Barnes built. The pace was even, the tone just dense enough. This was an absolutely electric read.


Favorite lines:

*In those days, we imagined ourselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to be released into our lives. And when that moment came, our lives-and time itself-would speed up. How were we to know that our lives had in any case begun, that come advantage had already been gained, some damage already inflicted? Also, that our release would only be into a larger holding pen, whose boundaries would be at first discernible.

*Yes, we were pretentious-what else is youth for?

* We knew from our reading of great literature that Love involved Suffering, and would happily have got in some practice at Suffering if there would be an implicit, perhaps even logical, promise that Love might be on its way.

*I’d read somewhere that if you want to make people pay attention to what you’re saying, you don’t raise your voice but lower it: this is what really commands attention.

* It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.

Over all:

Engaging, heart breaking, disturbing, chilling and marvelous.

Rating: 5 Stars

You can learn more about Julian Barnes by visiting his website.

Next week’s read: The Dinner by Herman Koch

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