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The Sense of an Ending (2011)

by Julian Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,703480974 (3.81)1 / 711
Follows a middle-aged man as he reflects on a past he thought was behind him, until he is presented with a legacy that forces him to reconsider different decisions, and to revise his place in the world.
Recently added byprivate library, Arina40, ranbarnes, diamond84, kotowitch, NathanielStoll
  1. 113
    On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Cariola, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    Cariola: Another brief but powerful novel that explores how our perceptions vary and memories change over time, as well as regrets over lost oppotunities. McEwan is, like Barnes, a master of words and character development. On Chesil Beach made the Booker short list in 2007--and should have won!… (more)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These brief, intricately plotted novels are reflective, character-driven stories that examine a pivotal event from different perspectives. In a complex narrative that shifts between past and present, individuals who grew up in 1960s England discover that memory can be unreliable.… (more)
  2. 71
    The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch (Queenofcups)
    Queenofcups: I found myself thinking of Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea as I read this book. There is some affinity in theme and story. Murdoch is expansive, where Barnes is elegant and economical. It won the Booker in 1978, and it's well worth another look.
  3. 104
    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Laura400)
  4. 20
    Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (unlucky)
  5. 21
    The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe (freddlerabbit)
  6. 32
    The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (AlexBr)
    AlexBr: If you like unreliable narrators.
  7. 00
    Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (sweetiegherkin)
    sweetiegherkin: Two short and seemingly simple, quiet novels that both have a lot to unpack & would be good for book club to discuss the deeper meanings.
  8. 11
    A Partisan's Daughter by Louis De Bernières (jayne_charles)
    jayne_charles: Intelligently written account of an old guy reminiscing, with the added bonus in this case of an education in Balkan history along the way
  9. 01
    The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (yokai)
  10. 24
    The Sea by John Banville (bookmomo)
    bookmomo: Men looking back on their youth, similar issues with memories. Both beautiful reads.
  11. 03
    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (kara.shamy)
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English (432)  Dutch (11)  Spanish (8)  Italian (6)  German (5)  French (4)  Norwegian (3)  Danish (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (475)
Showing 1-5 of 432 (next | show all)
As annoying as I hope this review will be. ( )
1 vote Mercef | Jul 3, 2020 |
Young and self-absorbed
almost willfully obtuse
now old, but not grown. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending tells the story of Tony Webster, a deeply ordinary person. He went to school, worked a normal office job, got married, had a kid, got divorced, and remained on good terms with his ex into their retirement years. But a mysterious bequest drags him back towards most tumultuous time of his life. As schoolboys, Tony and his friends absorbed into their ranks the new kid in town, Adrian. Adrian was different than them: smarter, more serious. The group starts to fracture after graduation, everyone going their own separate ways to different schools or workplaces. At university, Tony meets and starts dating Veronica.

It is this ultimately short-lived relationship that changes lives. Veronica is mysterious and aloof, and Tony has a hard time knowing where he stands with her. They get serious enough that she takes him home to meet her family, but the only one that's nice to him once he gets there is her mother. They break up shortly after that trip, and not a particularly long time later Adrian writes to Tony to tell him that he's started dating Veronica. Tony is hurt, and writes back angrily. Then he goes on an extended jaunt to America, and it's not until he gets back to England that he hears that Adrian has committed suicide. Tony is, of course, upset, but his life goes on fairly smoothly until that bequest arrives: Veronica's mother has passed and left him a small sum of money and Adrian's diary. The money gets to Tony, but the diary is with Veronica.

Tony's journey to try to understand why he was left anything at all and attempts to get the diary comprise the balance of this slim novel. In its less-than-200 pages, it explores powerful themes: the difference between what we chose to remember and the truth, the impossibility of taking back something that's been said, how we change even though we feel like the same person we've always been. Barnes is a talented writer, and reflects on these with clear, emotionally resonant language that puts into words things that we (or at least I) have thought about but never really been able to distill. The mystery behind it all keeps the plot moving forward, but it never feels tantalizing just to inspire page-turning. Rather, the interesting thing is how Tony reacts to each new twist.

Barnes does brilliant characterization work with Tony, by the time things are wrapping up he feels like an old friend who has a way of dropping wistful bon mots about life. Both Adrian himself and Margaret (Tony's ex-wife) likewise feel realized despite appearing relatively infrequently in the narrative. But Veronica, who winds up being a significant factor, never really came together for me. The "clues" she gives Tony are maddening...if she really doesn't want to engage with him, she could have avoided him entirely, but for her to make just enough contact with him to drop cryptic references doesn't make sense. Either tell him what's going on, because he clearly doesn't get it, or ignore him. Her remoteness and Tony's inability to comprehend her are one thing, but I can't understand her own motives at all, which took away from my enjoyment of the book. As for the final resolution itself, I'm not sure I go all the way there with it. That being said, this is a lovely and powerful book, and I'd recommend it very highly. ( )
  GabbyHM | Jun 24, 2020 |
Having just finished this absolutely fantastic book, I cannot, nor will I ever be able to accurately detail how much I love this book. I have simultaneously reviewed my whole life, my loves, my regrets, and my failings and have come back feeling as if this singular author has not only bared his own soul, but has cleansed my own. Rarely do I come to tears with any novel, but even more telling is my sense of wonder through this journey. Even without the finality of the last pages, this is a novel that will remain close to my heart until I die. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Read quickly and enjoyably but very thoughtfully. Disappointed slightly by the ending but thoroughly satisfied by the journey to it. ( )
  DougLasT | Apr 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 432 (next | show all)
By now, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes has gained itself a reputation for being the novel you must read twice.....

Nearly every paragraph in this book has multiple interpretations. Once all the questions are answered, the reader is left in the same state that Tony is in the book’s final pages—floored at life’s essential mysteries, and frustrated that they cannot be relived. Fortunately for us, we can just read the book again.
added by Nickelini | editForbes, Geoff Mak (Mar 29, 2012)
 
Barnes' work is one in which, event-wise, not a whole lot happens. Unless we’re talking about the events of the brain and the tricks of time and memory. If that's the case, then Barnes has impressively condensed an undertaking of biblical proportions into a mere 163 pages.
added by WeeklyAlibi | editWeekly Alibi, Sam Adams (Nov 10, 2011)
 
A man's closest-held beliefs about a friend, former lover and himself are undone in a subtly devastating novella from Barnes. It's an intense exploration of how we write our own histories and how our actions in moments of anger can have consequences that stretch across decades. The novel's narrator, Anthony, is in late middle age, and recalling friendships from adolescence and early adulthood. What at first seems like a polite meditation on childhood and memory leaves the reader asking difficult questions about how often we strive to paint ourselves in the best possible light.
added by kthomp25 | editKirkus Reviews. (Nov. 1, 2011)
 

» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barnes, Julianprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Basso, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gombau i Arnau, AlexandreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hörmark, MatsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krueger, GertraudeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morant, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vlek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Dedication
for Pat
First words
I remember, in no particular order:
   -a shiny inner wrist;
   -steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
   -gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
   -a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
   -another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
   -bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
Quotations
"We could start perhaps with the seemingly simple question. What is History? Any thoughts, Webster?
'History is the lies of the victors,' I replied a little too quickly.'
Yes, I was rather afraid you'd say that. Well as long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated...' (p. 25, large print ed.)
We muddle along, we let life happen to us, we gradually build up a store of memories. There is the question of accumulation, but not in the sense that Adrian meant, just the simple adding up and adding on of life. And as the poet pointed out, there is a difference between addition and increase.
Indeed, isn’t the whole business of ascribing responsibility a kind of cop-out? We want to blame an individual so that everyone else is exculpated. Or we blame a historical process as a way of exonerating individuals. Or it’s all anarchic chaos, with the same consequence. It seems to be me that there is--was--a chain of individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary, but not so long a chain that everybody can simply blame everyone else. But of course, my desire to ascribe responsibility might be more a reflection of my own cast of mind than a fair analysis of what happened. That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.
That last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.
And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing--until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
By an acclaimed writer at the height of his powers, The Sense of an Ending extends a streak of extraordinary books that began with the best-selling Arthur & George and continued with Nothing to Be Frightened Of and, most recently, Pulse.

This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes’s oeuvre.
Haiku summary
Middle-age memories
of times past, both good and bad.
What is the meaning?
(sushitori)
Reflections on how
a life can be changed by a
careless turn of phrase.
(passion4reading)
Memory can be
tricky, showing not what was,
but how one perceives.
(passion4reading)

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