The Sense of an Ending is a 2011 short piece of fiction. It, in the beginning, seems like a description of a series of routine and regular events during the course of growing up. It also hurls you to-and-fro between understanding the protagonist’s feelings and being perplexed about what to make sense about. It’s a story about things your young blood might have done that your older self can’t cook an excuse for. A retired man has his life confronted with his college girlfriend and he ends up incessantly questioning his memories.
Julian Barnes is an English writer. He has written several stories, essays and novels in his writing career. He has been the recipient of the Man Booker Prize in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending, among other accolades. He has touched the idea of selective retention, event-warping human memory in several of his other works too.
Written in first person, the main character – Tony, finds himself remembering his youth. He recalls his close friend Adrian and what a gifted mind he had. He admires Adrian for his natural understanding of themes in philosophy. One of their classmates had committed suicide after getting a girl pregnant. He remembers their discussions about the ideas of teen suicide and the current education system.
He dates a girl in college, Veronica, who he introduces to his friends. He also meets her family, who are rich and condescending, except for her mother. Her mother is surprisingly friendly with him, and even warns him of her daughter. Veronica didn’t exactly “timely” open up with him sexually and they eventually have an ugly break-up. Few weeks later, he received a letter from Adrian informing him that he’s now going out with Veronica, hoping it wouldn’t affect their friendship and him. Only it does, he ends up writing a vindictive letter back.
Years later, he hears about their wedding and then about Adrian’s suicide. He knows Veronica must have made him lose his mental peace, since Adrian wouldn’t do anything without a proper reasoning behind it.
Now, in his retirement years, he receives a letter when he gets to know that Veronica’s mother has left him 500 pounds and Adrian’s diary. Confused, he gets in touch with Veronica. She claims to have burnt the diary and repeatedly drops him hints and claims, “You don’t get it, do you?” each time. Quickly, Tony finds himself meditating on her words incessantly and contacting her more often, only to find the ugly ruthless, truth.
The book affirms the subjectivity of truth, and the role memory plays in changing it to please our mental constructs. It can be slow in Part 1 and confusing in Part 2. However, the story is beautifully woven and you end up cursing yourself of missing the obvious clues dropped in the text as innocuous superfluous description. The enigma created by Veronica about the truth might frustrate an impatient reader. I remember myself screaming in the middle of the night, “Just say it already, missy!” Also, those of you looking for closure, at least understanding the unraveling of episodes may end up turning the pages even after the last page, taken aback by the abruptness of the end. I also confirmed my interpretation of the story online after finishing the book. Though some of other potential plots seemed brilliant too. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a story about fragility of human relationships, spite carried along for years, though I will prescribe patience to tread along the initial uneventful path and arguably ambiguous the end has to offer.
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