Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Sense of an Ending (copy)

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?


Luxembourg said...

This beautifully written book is the story of Tony Webster, now aged in his 60s. He is looking back at his life and specifically at two key relationships he had in the past. The first with Adrian, a friend from school, and the second with Veronica, his first girlfriend. Over the years he has not thought much about either of them, but a legacy left to him in a will reopens the floodgates of memories. The book is partly about those relationships, but also about how Tony comes to terms with his own life and what he has learned over the years. The title, "the sense of an ending" refers therefore to many things: the end of a relationship, the end of a life and the twilight of Tony's own years.

maggie moran said...

Thanks Luxembourg, I think?!? Nice of you to leave a drive-by review. What I do are book talks. I'm not here to give short answers to books that a pretensous person can use as trash talk at parties. I am here to relate the story and hopefully encourage another soul to read it. I do not assume that people who read my column are stupid where I have to feed them answers either. The title means millions of different things to the millions of readers experiencing the book. Please, take your snippet to Amazon, Good Reads, Library Thing, etc. where it will be better appreciated.

Meera said...

We live life with the assumption that age and time erode our memories of the past - that pain mitigates, and joy too looses it's ecstasy. If it sounds like a gross generalization, at least this is what I, as a 26 year old, had so long believed. In this poignant and tragic account of a 60 year old looking back at his life - indeed, all the way back to his school days - Julian Barnes (or rather Tony Webster) argues otherwise.

Reconciled to a lonely life, Tony Webster is past the stage of responsibility; way past. As he waits for the inevitable end to his days - no, it's not an illness, but presumably a state of mind - a letter from a lawyer stirs memories of a long forgotten past; memories even he had thought his mind to be incapable of conjuring. As the events unfold, he is forced to reevaluate his old relationships, reconsider the consequences of his actions, and indeed, re-imagine his past.

The title is apt to the point of being 'philosophically self-evident', for this is a book about a past that is never stagnant, a remorse that is incurable, and a grief that is inconsolable.