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The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Booker Prize

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Jul 27, 2011, 8:40am Top

This thread is for discussion of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which was selected for the 2011 Booker Prize longlist.

Edited: Aug 27, 2011, 10:39pm Top

Hi everyone

I have been very busy so have not kept up with my ambition of reading stacks for the Booker ....BUT....I have read this book...just now...polished it off in about...oh ...a day or two at the most.

It's very small....just 150 pages....and I'm dying to discuss it with someone. I really liked it.

I'll try and do a proper review but if you've read it can you please let me know what you thought....There'll be spoilers once I get going so don't read further until you've read it.....

Okay ...here is the review..

I am a complete shocker and always judge a book by its cover. This book was kept aside for me as requested at our shiny new library (oh allright eight months old now but I still think of it as shiny). The book was shiny too. I like to think that I'm the first to read it. The plastic is all new and clean, the pages most delightful to turn - also clean and quite sophisticated I thought - edged in black - haven't seen that before - nice touch - elegant.

At first I found it difficult to like the narrator who introduced us to himself and his "mates" as we would call them in Orstralia. The voice was, in a sense, self-deprecating, or at least acknowledging the awkwardness of adolescent youth - the need to belong and fit in, the desire to seem "cool", to be smart but not too smart, to be valued, to "score" - albeit in a 50s/60s awkward way with the threat of "pregnancy" ever-hovering.

The book is divided into two parts and I got a bit of a shock when I came to Part Two. For a second I thought I had a book of short stories and that was it; I wasn't going to find out what happened. Aha ! I was hooked. Be careful of what you wish for. It's not a book of short stories...you do, in a sense, get to find out what happened. Or do you? This little tome is pregnant with possibilities.

It's a bit difficult to say much more without giving away the plot but Barnes challenges us to examine our lives and our memory/opinions of ourselves and our conduct. I suspect this deceptively "small" tome is also a challenge to the British national character. And yes, I am talking about recent events though I'm not sure even Barnes could have envisaged or accounted for the latest batch of riots. But I reckon this book will go down a treat with bookclubs which need a good conversation starter.

I found it particularly fascinating as I am studying Recordkeeping and am mulling over a quote from one of the characters quoting Patrick Lagrange "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."

Interestingly (and perhaps I am bone lazy when it comes to research - think Google) I cannot find a Patrick Lagrange...only a Joseph Louis Legrange who was a French mathematician (or was he really Italian?) At any rate...the plot just got thicker and I now ask myself...who is Patrick? (5 stars )

Aug 28, 2011, 3:46am Top

As you advised, I didn't read your review of The Sense of an Ending, Alex, but I picked up the book yesterday and will read it in the next few days.

Aug 28, 2011, 2:56pm Top

Thank you Darryl - you are a godsend ! (then taps foot impatiently waiting for the most prolific reader she knows to read the book :) )

Aug 28, 2011, 4:06pm Top

Here's my review for The Sense of an Ending

Rating: 4.5 stars

Julian Barnes' short novel is a beautiful meditation on memory, and the parts of our lives that we choose to forget. Tony, the narrator, opens by describing his final year of high school. He and his two friends were typical cynical teenagers, thinking themselves much smarter than they actually were, full of grand plans for their lives. Into Tony's circle comes Adrian, smarter than the rest, a boy full of philosophy and big ideas. Following high school, each boy goes his separate way. Tony meets a girl, Veronica, and spends a weekend at her parents' house, where he feels out of place. Later, Veronica meets Tony's friends, and seems to like them all more than she likes Tony. Predictably, she breaks up with him and begins dating Adrian.

Years later, Veronica's mother leaves Tony a bit of money and some documents in her will. Mysteriously, Veronica refuses to give up one of the documents. As Tony attempts to get what is rightfully his, he begins to dredge up old memories. Did he ever love Veronica? What role did he play in Adrian's life? What, in the end, has been the point of his very mundane existence?

Honestly, as someone in her twenties, I'm not totally the correct audience for this book. Tony talks about being young and having all kinds of grand hopes for his life. He remembers waiting for his life to start, imagining the exciting things that are certain to happen to him. I identified with this quite a lot, but then when, in the next breath, he basically said that youth don't know what they are talking about, and that life never really "starts" - well, that I didn't understand so much. However, this distance between my experiences and that of the narrator did not hinder my enjoyment of the novel.

Barnes is a terrific writer; The Sense of an Ending is very rhythmic, with just the right amount of repetition. The whole thing fits together beautifully, and Tony's voice was never boring. It takes a lot for me to enjoy a first-person narrative, and Barnes won me over immediately. Tony wasn't perfect, but he also wasn't so flawed that he was unlikeable. He was at times very honest, and at other times totally unreliable, and it was fun trying to decipher what I could believe.

The Sense of an Ending is the first Booker novel this year that has struck me as worthy of the prize, and I would be very disappointed if it didn't at least make the shortlist. I will seek out more of Barnes' work in the future, and look forward to rereading The Sense of an Ending.

Aug 28, 2011, 7:52pm Top

THanks for the two very thought-provoking reviews. I also thought this book 'prize-worthy' - if it doesn't make the short list I will be annoyed!

Aug 29, 2011, 4:29am Top

Okay Cait and Karen....now for some clumsy and inarticulate questions about the book....what did you think of Veronica? Was she a cow? Or was Tony a useless git? What was the deal with the mother? What about Adrian Senior? Is this a kind of a new version of The Graduate ? And who is Patrick Legrange or is Barnes just testing our knowledge of history or proving a point that "truth" always gets distorted in the telling and who knows what the truth is?????

Aug 29, 2011, 6:02pm Top

Don't know about Patrick Legrange, but Tony a bit of a useless git, as you said. Now, most college/university students are kind of pretentious (and I say this as someone who is not far beyond that age, and recognize my own pretentiousness at the time), so it's not like Tony was a horrible person or anything. I think he was just a normal twenty-year-old guy. I don't know that we can ever objectively judge Veronica, because we only ever see her through Tony, and he admits to being a very unreliable narrator. He totally constructs her character, at least when he knew her in college. As an adult, I think her demeanor is a result of the trials of her youth - dead boyfriend, half-brother by said boyfriend, etc. She hasn't had an easy life. Again, though, we only get whatever Tony wants to give us.

Same with Veronica's mother. Was she rather inappropriate with Tony, as he claims? Or was he just wishing that she was? I don't know. I think, ultimately, it's like you said, Alex - truth always get distorted in the telling.

Group: Booker Prize

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