The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes has been on my ‘to read’ list ever since I saw that Barnes had at last won the Man Booker prize in 2011 after many years of being nominated and shortlisted. I already had on my bookshelf his ‘Arthur and George’ which I had started reading although the bookmark one fifth of the way in tells me that this one lost out to other books in the competition to sustain my interest. No such problem with The Sense .... with its mere 150 pages reminiscent of the Great Gatsby. Some books just do not need to be longer and The Sense .... is definitely one of those. The story is well paced and I read it in two sittings. The plot evolves through the nostalgic meanderings of one Tony Webster as he recalls his schooldays with three friends, only one of which will be referred to later in the story. ‘This is not part of this story’ is a phrase used often to indicate that some recalled event, feeling or conversation has no later relevance in the story that is unfolding before our eyes. As the book is about memory and seen only from one perspective, we would be foolish to think we can believe everything we read and in this respect Tony Webster is an unreliable narrator.
In the first part of the book he makes brief reference to writing a letter to his friend – a brilliant academic with a promising start at Cambridge university. The letter is prompted following the discovery that Adrian and Tony’s ex-girlfriend are now reported to be ‘an item’. His recap of the letter is short with some detrimental reference to Veronica. In part two he is presented with the actual letter which we now see is a lengthy piece of vitriolic sentiment written from the heart – a broken and revengeful heart. He sees it for what it is - a rant written in the heat of the moment and he is suitably humbled and eventually remorseful of his descent into the invective with such a diatribe. But the discovery of the letter and his increasing curiosity about his ex-girlfriend lead him down some unexpected paths and no-one is more surprised than Tony to discover on the last two pages what the letter may have triggered all those years ago. No-one, that is ... than the reader.
Such is the puzzling ending of this book – and note the title involves both the word ‘sense’ and ‘ending’ that great debates now rage on various literary blogs as to what might have really happened earlier in the narrator’s life and how the story takes the final twist. Some reviewers suggest a better ending than the one we have just read. One suggests the title should be No sense in the Ending and with that I do concur as we are never privy to the full truth of what happened on a crucial weekend many years past.
It is impossible here to give away the story, the plotline and the eventual outcome for the characters as there are so many questions unanswered and the book has left me wondering whether that was the author’s aim ie to stimulate the readers’ and leave them with an unsatisfactory ending upon which they can lay their own ideas.
The Sense of an Ending is beautifully written and deserves all the accolades it has received and I wouldn’t have missed reading it.
I suggest that you read the book yourself and then, and only then, consult the debate on