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The Sense of an Ending (2011)

by Julian Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8,3615381,050 (3.79)1 / 772
Fiction. Literature. HTML:Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize

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...
… (more)
  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. 114
    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Laura400)
  3. 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.
  4. 42
    The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (AlexBr)
    AlexBr: If you like unreliable narrators.
  5. 20
    Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (unlucky)
  6. 22
    The Woman in the Dunes by KĹŤbĹŤ Abe (freddlerabbit)
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  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. 13
    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (kara.shamy)
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» See also 772 mentions

English (494)  Dutch (10)  Spanish (9)  Italian (6)  German (5)  French (4)  Norwegian (3)  Danish (2)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (537)
Showing 1-5 of 494 (next | show all)
I think I heard someone once saying "literature is a book where nothing happens, but it happens very beautifully". Apart of the end, a lĂ  Chinatown, I had that feeling about this book. I loved the style, and I loved the development in personality of the characters. ( )
  cdagulleiro | Jul 3, 2024 |
** spoiler alert ** The Sense of an Ending was a beautifully written, compelling tale whose main character, Tony Webster, is an unreliable narrator, always a challenge to the reader. I have a problem recommending the book because I had difficulties with the plot which seemed unbelievable. The denouement was a surprise to me and I did not feel the key characters, the mother and Adrian, fit into this scenario. Did the woman flip off her marriage and daughter as casually as she did the broken egg? Was this our clue? And would this same woman have chosen the path she did with the child? Or remembered Tony in her will? Would the Adrian who went to the trouble of writing Tony that he was seeing his ex-girlfriend slip into a relationship with her mother? For any of this to offer a ring of truth, I would need a lot more information.

I appreciated Tony's comments on aging, life and memory. His goals of stereotypically English "peacebleness" countered his determination and email stalking of Veronica who remains a cipher. I too closed the book with a feeling of dissatisfaction. ( )
  featherbooks | May 7, 2024 |
Beautifully written with, yes, one hell of an ending. ( )
  gonzocc | Mar 31, 2024 |
# The Sense of an Ending ~ Julian Barnes

This is a wistful book about the fallibility and mutability of memory. The very first words in the novel are "I remember", and throughout the book we are brought to consider the untrustworthiness of our recollections. "What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed," says the narrator.

Later, he says:

>We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent.

Tony Webster is in his mid-60s when he receives an unexpected bequest which causes him to think back on the events of his youth, from his senior years at high school through university and a few years afterwards.

At high school, his group friends is joined by Adrian, a new arrival at the school. While he fits in well with the group, he is somewhat their intellectual and cultural superior. Adrian has a series of intense classroom debates with their history teacher about whether we can ever make a really objective assessment of historical events, even quite recent ones. But, in a wryly ironic note, the narrator comments that his own recollection of these debates is almost certainly flawed.

Tony tells of his early clumsy encounters with young women, and his constant sexual frustrations at the time. "You may say, But wasn't this the Sixties? Yes, but only for some people, only in certain parts of the country."

Eventually, during his university years, he meets Veronica: "About five foot two with rounded, muscular calves, mid-brown hair to her shoulders, blue-grey eyes behind blue-framed spectacles, and a quick yet withholding smile." It's this relationship which is at the core of the novel, because he has a bitter break-up with her after a year of going out together. Veronica then takes up with Adrian, Tony's intellectual school friend. And some time later, unexpectedly, Adrian takes his own life for reasons which are not clear.

All this is many decades in the past as Tony now recounts those events, but they are brought back into his life when he is advised of a bequest from Veronica's mother Sarah, who he had met only once when visiting her parents. The bequest is a modest sum of money and, astonishingly, Adrian's diary. Except that Veronica is in current possession of the diary and refuses to supply it to Tony.

Tony's attempts to get hold of the diary and his renewal of contacts with Veronica play out in the rest of the novel. He finds himself confronted with past events and actions of his own which he had forgotten, or badly mis-remembered. It takes him a long time to discover and understand the conseqences resulting from his youthful behaviour.

This is a beautifully-written novel which really makes you think about life, and how our memories can betray us; about how we can fail to grasp what has been going on, even at critical moments of our lives; and how we can deeply misunderstand other human beings.

*A Sense of an Ending* won the Man Booker Prize in 2011, and deservedly so, I think. ( )
  davidrgrigg | Mar 23, 2024 |
This was...ok for this reader. The main character was unpleasant. I won't say much more other than this wasn't a book I would have chosen as a Booker winner, or for the 1001 books list, or for the Morning News Tournament of Books. shrug
*Book #136 I have read of the '1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die'
*Book #144/340 I have read of the shortlisted Morning News Tournament of Books ( )
  booklove2 | Feb 6, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 494 (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
Dean, SuzanneDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gombau i Arnau, AlexandreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hörmark, MatsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krueger, GertraudeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morant, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nikolov, LyubomirTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tomlins, PaulPhotographersecondary 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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Wikipedia in English (2)

Fiction. Literature. HTML:Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize

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...

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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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