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The Sense of an Ending (2011)

by Julian Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8,0745271,021 (3.8)1 / 757
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.
  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 Kōbō 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 757 mentions

English (481)  Dutch (10)  Spanish (9)  Italian (7)  German (5)  French (4)  Norwegian (3)  Danish (2)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (525)
Showing 1-5 of 481 (next | show all)
This book can only be described as a flawed masterpiece - had the novel bothered in fleshing out the characters from the bland caricatures that they were (lucid vs mysterious, 'clever' vs pragmatic/complacent, and so on), it would have been an amazing read. But it was not, and I can't even blame Barnes for the result - the book is meant to be a short slice-of-life piece, and that's what it remains till the end.

This is a short read, but the ending, while not being a gut punch, was a surprise for sure - of facades and of avoiding responsibilities.

TL;DR - good read for a lazy weekend afternoon, the protagonist is worth empathizing for, and the digressions are not dumped, and feel natural. ( )
  SidKhanooja | Sep 1, 2023 |
What a terrific (small) book! I like his writing very much, and the story & characters fascinated me. It is unusual, largely the protagonist's reflection on some of his actions with others in the long past & reflecting some of his present actions with some of the same people, 40 years later. It is compelling and did not work out as I expected it would. Quite a book. ( )
  RickGeissal | Aug 16, 2023 |
I appreciate why this book won the Booker Prize. The prose is beautiful, and the content is compelling and really makes you think about your own memories and how others' actions (or yours) might have been misinterpreted, etc. ( )
  Misses_London | Aug 13, 2023 |
So glad I read this. One of those books that makes you think about things differently. It reminded me of how fluid human memories and experiences are. The ways that you can change your recollections, particularly over time,to protect you from memories of the more unsavoury things you did/thought/said/were in the past.

An excellent story.

( )
  beentsy | Aug 12, 2023 |
This is a magnificent book, the kind that I try to read slowly so I can savour it and understand what's going on, but which I end up racing through, on to the next beautiful turn of phrase or poignant scene. There is so much to like about it I don't even know where to start my gushing. I guess the first point is that it's a perfect book. There is not a single misstep or awkward sentence in all hundred and fifty pages. Nothing is wasted and it thus feels totally whole.

Point two is that it's profound, and not just at the end as some books are. Right throughout it conjoured emotions beyond just delight and pathos. It is an experience in itself, as great literature must be. At different stages it prompted me to reflect on the unknowability of others and the self, on the uncertainty of memory, on the fear of death, on ambition.

Points three and four are that the characterisation and plot are wonderful. Point five is that it's funny when it needs to be.

Point six is for example, the last sentence of this quote: "...she never wore heels of any kind.I'd read somewhere that if you want to make people pay attention to what you're saying, you don't raise your voice but lower it: this is what really commands attention. Perhaps hers was a similar kind of trick with height. Though whether she went in for tricks is a question I still haven't resolved." ( )
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 481 (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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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.
"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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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.

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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?
Reflections on how
a life can be changed by a
careless turn of phrase.
Memory can be
tricky, showing not what was,
but how one perceives.

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