Every sentence counts in this short book by Julian Barnes. Readers cannot miss a single step in his writing and one must pay close attention to the words chosen to relate the story. It takes some reading and rereading to get started. Barnes is so concise.
The Sense of an Ending, published in 2011, won Barnes a Man Booker prize last year. When I started reading it, I had to wonder what all the fuss was about, but now I am enthralled. It reads like a memoir and I am left to wonder how much might be autobiographical. I admit to reading and rereading passages slowly.
I got hooked when Barnes’ characters began expressing theories on everyday happenings or rare events. Margaret, main character Tony Webster’s ex-wife, states that some women never change their hair styles. Oh, they might vary it with bangs or a slightly different part, but it remains true to the style it used to be when the woman was at her prettiest. Does this not ring true?
The book is broken into two sections. Part one deals with Tony and his two school chums who accept a newcomer to the group because he is clever. They have never met anyone who can rethink the philosophy spilled out during class and defend his own thoughts on the same subject within seconds of the statements leaving the instructor’s gaping mouth.
Is their new friend, Adrian Finn, too smart for the three friends? This is Tony’s thought as all four receive scholarships to different universities and go their separate ways.
Even though the setting of the book is mid-1960s, the college life is more of a 1950s feel. Free love is not on the menu for Tony and his girlfriend Veronica. He finds himself awkward and frustrated at every encounter and breaks up with her after a weekend spent with her family. She then offers him sex that he finds unsatisfying and never goes out with her again.
Months later Adrian asks Tony if it is okay to date his old girlfriend, Veronica. Tony sends back a letter denouncing the two and moves on to another girlfriend without ever giving the request another thought. A month later, Adrian kills himself by slitting his wrists correctly and keeping the blood in the tub so as not to make a mess. His suicide note even alludes to the hassle emergency workers will face and his regret for the inconvenience.
Part two is where the story really begins to get insightful for readers. What happens to our storytelling selves when the story becomes a fictional memory and not the truth?