This Man Booker Prize–winning novel is now a major motion picture.
A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single setting, The Sense of an Ending has the psychological and emotional depth and sophistication of Henry James at his best, and is a stunning achievement in Julian Barnes's oeuvre.
This intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
About the Author
Date of Birth:January 19, 1946
Place of Birth:Leicester, England
Education:Degree in modern languages from Magdalen College, Oxford, 1968
Read an Excerpt
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. This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.
We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? 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.
* * *
I’m not very interested in my schooldays, and don’t feel any nostalgia for them. But school is where it all began, so I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty. If I can’t be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That’s the best I can manage.
There were three of us, and he now made the fourth. We hadn’t expected to add to our tight number: cliques and pairings had happened long before, and we were already beginning to imagine our escape from school into life. His name was Adrian Finn, a tall, shy boy who initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself. For the first day or two, we took little notice of him: at our school there was no welcoming ceremony, let alone its opposite, the punitive induction. We just registered his presence and waited.
The masters were more interested in him than we were. They had to work out his intelligence and sense of discipline, calculate how well he’d previously been taught, and if he might prove ‘scholarship material’. On the third morning of that autumn term, we had a history class with Old Joe Hunt, wryly affable in his three-piece suit, a teacher whose system of control depended on maintaining sufficient but not excessive boredom.
‘Now, you’ll remember that I asked you to do some preliminary reading about the reign of Henry VIII.’ Colin, Alex and I squinted at one another, hoping that the question wouldn’t be flicked, like an angler’s fly, to land on one of our heads. ‘Who might like to offer a characterisation of the age?’ He drew his own conclusion from our averted eyes. ‘Well, Marshall, perhaps. How would you describe Henry VIII’s reign?”
Our relief was greater than our curiosity, because Marshall was a cautious know-nothing who lacked the inventiveness of true ignorance. He searched for possible hidden complexities in the question before eventually locating a response.
‘There was unrest, sir.’
An outbreak of barely controlled smirking; Hunt himself almost smiled.
‘Would you, perhaps, care to elaborate?’
Marshall nodded slow assent, thought a little longer, and decided it was no time for caution. ‘I’d say there was great unrest, sir.’
‘Finn, then. Are you up in this period?’
The new boy was sitting a row ahead and to my left. He had shown no evident reaction to Marshall’s idiocies.
‘Not really, sir, I’m afraid. But there is one line of thought according to which all you can truly say of any historical event – even the outbreak of the First World War, for example – is that “something happened”.’
‘Is there, indeed? Well, that would put me out of a job, wouldn’t it?’ After some sycophantic laughter, Old Joe Hunt pardoned our holiday idleness and filled us in on the polygamous royal butcher.
At the next break, I sought out Finn.‘I’m Tony Webster.’ He looked at me warily. ‘Great line to Hunt.’ He seemed not to know what I was referring to. ‘About something happening.’
‘Oh. Yes. I was rather disappointed he didn’t take it up.’
That wasn’t what he was supposed to say.
Another detail I remember: the three of us, as a symbol of our bond, used to wear our watches with the face on the inside of the wrist. It was an affectation, of course, but perhaps something more. It made time feel like a personal, even a secret, thing.We expected Adrian to note the gesture, and follow suit; but he didn’t.
Later that day – or perhaps another day – we had a double English period with Phil Dixon, a young master just down from Cambridge. He liked to use contemporary texts, and would throw out sudden challenges.‘“Birth, and Copulation, and Death” – that’s what T. S. Eliot says it’s all about. Any comments?’ He once compared a Shakespearean hero to Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. And I remember how, when we were discussing Ted Hughes’s poetry, he put his head at a donnish slant and murmured,‘Of course, we’re all wondering what will happen when he runs out of animals.’ Sometimes, he addressed us as ‘Gentlemen’. Naturally, we adored him.
That afternoon, he handed out a poem with no title, date or author’s name, gave us ten minutes to study it, then asked for our responses.
‘Shall we start with you, Finn? Put simply, what would you say this poem is about?’
Adrian looked up from his desk. ‘Eros and Thanatos, sir.’
‘Hmm. Go on.’
‘Sex and death,’ Finn continued, as if it might not just be the thickies in the back row who didn’t understand Greek. ‘Or love and death, if you prefer.The erotic principle, in any case, coming into conflict with the death principle. And what ensues from that conflict. Sir.’
I was probably looking more impressed than Dixon thought healthy.
‘Webster, enlighten us further.’
‘I just thought it was a poem about a barn owl, sir.’
This was one of the differences between the three of us and our new friend. We were essentially taking the piss, except when we were serious. He was essentially serious, except when he was taking the piss. It took us a while to work this out.
Adrian allowed himself to be absorbed into our group, without acknowledging that it was something he sought. Perhaps he didn’t. Nor did he alter his views to accord with ours. At morning prayers he could be heard joining in the responses while Alex and I merely mimed the words, and Colin preferred the satirical ploy of the pseudo-zealot’s enthusiastic bellow.The three of us considered school sports a crypto-fascist plan for repressing our sex-drive; Adrian joined the fencing club and did the high jump. We were belligerently tone-deaf; he came to school with his clarinet. When Colin denounced the family, I mocked the political system, and Alex made philosophical objections to the perceived nature of reality, Adrian kept his counsel – at first, anyway. He gave the impression that he believed in things. We did too – it was just that we wanted to believe in our own things, rather than what had been decided for us. Hence what we thought of as our cleansing scepticism.
The school was in central London, and each day we travelled up to it from our separate boroughs, passing from one system of control to another. Back then, things were plainer: less money, no electronic devices, little fashion tyranny, no girlfriends. There was nothing to distract us from our human and filial duty which was to study, pass exams, use those qualifications to find a job, and then put together a way of life unthreateningly fuller than that of our parents, who would approve, while privately comparing it to their own earlier lives, which had been simpler, and therefore superior. None of this, of course, was ever stated: the genteel social Darwinism of the English middle classes always remained implicit.
‘Fucking bastards, parents,’ Colin complained one Monday lunchtime. ‘You think they’re OK when you’re little, then you realise they’re just like . . .’
‘Henry VIII, Colè’ Adrian suggested.We were beginning to get used to his sense of irony; also to the fact that it might be turned against us as well.When teasing, or calling us to seriousness, he would address me as Anthony; Alex would become Alexander, and the unlengthenable Colin shortened to Col.
‘Wouldn’t mind if my dad had half a dozen wives.’
‘And was incredibly rich.’
‘And painted by Holbein.’
‘And told the Pope to sod off.’
‘Any particular reason why they’re FBs?’ Alex asked Colin.
‘I wanted us to go to the funfair. They said they had to spend the weekedn gardening.’
Right: fucking bastards. Except to Adrian, who listened to our denunciations, but rarely joined in. And yet, it seemed to us, he had more cause than most. His mother had walked out years before, leaving his dad to cope with Adrian and his sister. This was long before the term ‘singleparent family’ came into use; back then it was ‘a broken home’, and Adrian was the only person we knew who came from one. This ought to have given him a whole storetank of existential rage, but somehow it didn’t; he said he loved his mother and respected his father. Privately, the three of us examined his case and came up with a theory: that the key to a happy family life was for there not to be a family – or at least, not one living together. Having made this analysis, we envied Adrian the more.
In those days, we imagined ourselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to he released into our lives. And when that moment came, our lives – and time itself – would speed up. How were we to know that our lives had in any case begun, that some advantage had already been gained, some damage already inflicted? Also, that our release would only be into a larger holding pen, whose boundaries would be at first undiscernible.
In the meantime, we were book-hungry, sex-hungry, meritocratic, anarchistic. All political and social systems appeared to us corrupt, yet we declined to consider an alternative other than hedonistic chaos. Adrian, however, pushed us to believe in the application of thought to life, in the notion that principles should guide actions. Previously, Alex had been regarded as the philosopher among us. He had read stuff the other two hadn’t, and might, for instance, suddenly declare, ‘Whereof we cannot speak, thereof must we remain silent.’ Colin and I would consider this idea in silence for a while, then grin and carry on talking. But now Adrian’s arrival dislodged Alex from his position – or rather, gave us another choice of philosopher. If Alex had read Russell and Wittgenstein, Adrian had read Camus and Nietzsche. I had read George Orwell and Aldous Huxley; Colin had read Baudelaire and Dostoevsky. This is only a slight caricature.
Yes, of course we were pretentious – what else is youth for? We used terms like ‘Weltanschauung’ and ‘Sturm und Drang’, enjoyed saying ‘That’s philosophically self-evident’, and assured one another that the imagination’s first duty was to be transgressive. Our parents saw things differently, picturing their children as innocents suddenly exposed to noxious influence. So Colin’s mother referred to me as his ‘dark angel’; my father blamed Alex when he found me reading The Communist Manifesto; Colin was fingered by Alex’s parents when they caught him with a hard-boiled American crime novel. And so on. It was the same with sex. Our parents thought we might be corrupted by one another into becoming whatever it was they most feared: an incorrigible masturbator, a winsome homosexual, a recklessly impregnatory libertine. On our behalf they dreaded the closeness of adolescent friendship, the predatory behaviour of strangers on trains, the lure of the wrong kind of girl. How far their anxieties outran our experience.
One afternoon Old Joe Hunt, as if picking up Adrian’s earlier challenge, asked us to debate the origins of the First World War: specifically, the responsibility of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassin for starting the whole thing off. Back then, we were most of us absolutists. We liked Yes v No, Praise v Blame, Guilt v Innocence – or, in Marshall’s case, Unrest v Great Unrest. We liked a game that ended in a win and loss, not a draw. And so for some, the Serbian gunman, whose name is long gone from my memory, had one hundred per cent individual responsibility: take him out of the equation, and the war would never have happened. Others preferred the one hundred per cent responsibility of historical forces, which had placed the antagonistic nations on an inevitable collision course: ‘Europe was a powder keg waiting to blow’, and so on. The more anarchic, like Colin, argued that everything was down to chance, that the world existed in a state of perpetual chaos, and only some primitive storytelling instinct, itself doubtless a hangover from religion, retrospectively imposed meaning on what might or might not have happened.
Hunt gave a brief nod to Colin’s attempt to undermine everything, as if morbid disbelief was a natural by-product of adolescence, something to be grown out of. Masters and parents used to remind us irritatingly that they too had once been young, and so could speak with authority. It’s just a phase, they would insist. You’ll grow out of it; life will teach you reality and realism. But back then we declined to acknowledge that they had ever been anything like us, and we knew that we grasped life – and truth, and morality, and art – far more clearly than our compromised elders.
‘Finn, you’ve been quiet. You started this ball rolling. You are, as it were our Serbian gunman.’ Hunt paused to let the allusion take effect. ‘Would you care to give us the benefit of your thoughts?’
‘I don’t know, sir.’
‘What don’t you know?’
‘Well, in one sense. I can’t know what it is that I don’t know. That’s philosophically self-evident.’ He left one of those slight pauses in which we again wondered if he was engaged in subtle mockery or a high seriousness beyond the rest of us.‘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 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.’
There was a silence. And no, he wasn’t taking the piss, not in the slightest.
Old Joe Hunt looked at his watch and smiled. ‘Finn, I retire in five years. And I shall be happy to give you a reference if you care to take over.’ And he wasn’t taking the piss either.
What People are Saying About This
“Elegant, playful, and remarkable.” —The New Yorker
“A page-turner, and when you finish you will return immediately to the beginning.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Beautiful. . . . An elegantly composed, quietly devastating tale.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR
“Dense with philosophical ideas. . . . It manages to create genuine suspense as a sort of psychological detective story.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Evelyn Waugh did it in Brideshead Revisited, as did Philip Larkin in Jill [and] Kazuo Ishiguro in The Remains of the Day. Now, with his powerfully compact new novel, Julian Barnes takes his place among the subtly assertive practitioners of this quiet art.” —The New York Times Book Review
“[A] jewel of conciseness and precision…. The Sense of an Ending packs into so few pages so much that the reader finishes it with a sense of satisfaction more often derived from novels several times its length.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Exquisitely crafted, sophisticated, suspenseful, and achingly painful, The Sense of an Ending is a meditation on history, memory, and individual responsibility.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Clever, provocative. . . . A brilliant, understated examination of memory and how it works, how it compartmentalizes and fixes impressions to tidily store away.” —The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Concisely written and yet rich and full of emotional depth. . . . It’s highly original as well. And complicated, just like life.” —New York Journal of Books
“Elegiac yet potent, The Sense of an Ending probes the mysteries of how we remember and our impulse to redact, correct—and sometimes entirely erase—our pasts.” —Vogue
“Ominous and disturbing…. This outwardly tidy and conventional story is one of Barnes’s most indelible [and] looms oppressively in our minds.” —The Wall Street Journal
“At 163 pages, The Sense of an Ending is the longest book I have ever read, so prepare yourself for rereading. You won’t regret it.” —Jane Juska, The San Francisco Chronicle
“With his characteristic grace and skill, Barnes manages to turn this cat-and-mouse game into something genuinely suspenseful.” —The Washington Post
“Ferocious. . . . A book for the ages.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Concisely written and yet rich and full of emotional depth. . . . At times, side-splittingly funny, at others, brutally honest, but always delightfully well observed. . . . Ironically, despite focusing on endings, and on suicide, this is a tremendously life-affirming work. It’s highly original as well. And complicated, just like life.” —New York Journal of Books
“Elegiac yet potent, The Sense of an Ending probes the mysteries of how we remember and our impulse to redact, correct – and sometimes entirely erase – our pasts. . . . Barnes’s highly wrought meditation on aging gives just as much resonance to what is unknown and unspoken as it does to the momentum of its own plot.” —Vogue
“Novel, fertile and memorable . . . . A highly wrought meditation on aging, memory and regret.” —The Guardian (London)
“A brilliant, understated examination of memory and how it works, how it compartmentalizes and fixes impressions to tidily store away. . . . Clever, provocative. . . . Barnes reminds his readers how fragile is the tissue of impressions we conveniently rely upon as bedrock.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Brief, beautiful. . . . That fundamentally chilling question—Am I the person I think I am?—turns out to be a surprisingly suspenseful one. . . . As Barnes so elegantly and poignantly reveals, we are all unreliable narrators, redeemed not by the accuracy of our memories but by our willingness to question them." —The Boston Globe.
“Quietly mesmerizing. . . . A slow burn, measured but suspenseful, this compact novel makes every slyly crafted sentence count.” —The Independent (London)
"Deliciously intriguing...with complex and subtle undertones [and] laced with Barnes' trademark wit and graceful writing." —The Washington Times
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes’s provocative new novel, winner of the 2011 Man-Booker Prize.
1. What does the title mean?
2. The novel opens with a handful of water-related images. What is the significance of each? How does Barnes use water as a metaphor?
3. The phrase “Eros and Thanatos,” or sex and death, comes up repeatedly in the novel. What did you take it to mean?
4. At school, Adrian says, “we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us” (p. 13). How does this apply to Tony’s narration?
5. Did Tony love Veronica? How did his weekend with her family change their relationship?
6. When Mrs. Ford told Tony, “Don’t let Veronica get away with too much” (p. 31), what did she mean? Why was this one sentence so important?
7. Veronica accuses Tony of being cowardly, while Tony considers himself peaceable. Whose assessment is more accurate?
8. What is the metaphor of the Severn Bore? Why does Tony’s recollection of Veronica’s presence change?
9. Why did Tony warn Adrian that Veronica “had suffered damage a long way back?” (p. 46). What made him suspect such a thing? Do you think he truly believed it?
10. In addition to Adrian’s earlier statement about history, Barnes offers other theories: Adrian also says, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” (p. 18), and Tony says, “History isn’t the lies of the victors . . .It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated” (p. 61). Which of these competing notions do you think is most accurate? Which did Tony come to believe?
11. Discuss the character Margaret. What role does she play in Tony’s story?
12. Why does Mrs. Ford make her bequest to Tony, after so many years? And why does Veronica characterize the £500 as “blood money”?
13. After rereading the letter he sent to Adrian and Veronica, Tony claims to feel remorse. Do you believe him? What do his subsequent actions tell us?
14. When Veronica refuses to turn over the diary to Tony, why doesn’t he give up? Why does he continue to needle her for it?
15. What is Tony’s opinion of himself? Of Adrian? How do both opinions change by the end of the novel?
16. How does the revelation in the final pages change your understanding of Veronica’s actions?
17. Discuss the closing lines of the novel: “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest” (p. 163).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a short book. I consider myself a fast reader, but not speed reader, and I was able to digest it in about 4-5 hours on my Nook. This is not a throwaway airport novel, this is a "thick" book. Many times I found myself re-reading passages that contained philosophical dialogue between the characters to make sure I was understanding it correctly. "The Sense of an Ending" will be discussed in English Lit 101 classes for years to come. After reading this, I feel like I have a better understanding of aging, remembrance, and how we perceive life and reality. For that, I believe that this book is worthy of any awards it receives.
The Sense of an Ending is a bit of a challenging and devastating tale of philosophical ideas about memory, aging, time and remorse. The imperfections of memory present a thought-provoking subject matter and delves into mistakes, disappointments and life¿s losses and mysteriously offers insight into the human condition. I found this little book an interesting read.
Wonderfully complex. I finished it, reflected on it for about 20 seconds and then restarted it. I'm not sure which read was better... If I was a college lit teacher, this would be at the top of my required reading list.
The author's mastery of the craft of writing is on full display here. His insights into the vagaries of memory and the ways people build their "selves" from their memory is powerful and revelatory. In a few short pages, the reader's perception of self may well be changed forever. An amazing work.
Living in the USA (a Brit in the New World) I loved the Britishness of this. Loved the leading character, his age and the way the book deals with aging. It is an excellent read; very well written; a joy to read - I think. Be prepared for words that are not used in The States - I did not want to put it down, did not want to finish it and was longing to know what happened at the end....and I felt satisfied when I got there, Complete.
As I saw from reading other reviews, I am not the only one who read the book and then immediately re-read it to look for indications along the way that supported the surprising conclusion. Not that the book was confusing - it was concisely written and very engaging - but the idea that we were relying on Tony's imperfect memories to solve the mystery of why he was named in the will of a girlfriend's mother, whom he had met only once, made me want to re-examine those memories once I knew the end result. That said, I think I would have preferred the first surprise revelation to be the correct conclusion, rather than the stunning I- Didn't-See-That-Coming ending. The book was short - hardly more than a short story, really - but had great depth that would lead a reader to examine his own perceptions of life.
This is a wonderful novel.When I reached the conclusion I re-read it three times. The writing is masterful and Mr. Barnes gives the reader a protagonist worth analyzing for years to come. I highly recommend for anyone who is looking for intelligent literature.
So says my husband of Julian Barnes. He's biased, due to their shared Leicestershire roots, but, on the basis of the several Barnes' novels he's read and the couple I've read, I think he's probably right. If you, like me, can be put off a book by its opening chapters seeming self-consciously clever, don't let this get in the way of persevering with 'The Sense of an Ending'. The cool, objective intellectuality of the youths that dominates much of the first part of the book is necessarily undermined by the very human adult story that ensues. This is a relatively short novel but its brevity belies the impact it has on the reader. You find yourself, like Tony, the narrator, re-considering earlier parts of the book as you read later parts, in the light of your growing knowledge - and confusion. It's a clever plot and a story interestingly told. What I think really strikes you reading 'The Sense of an Ending' is how easily people -even those supposedly having the benefit of the wisdom of age- become so convinced of their own version of events, other people's motives and characters, that they lose perspective. The ending in 'The Sense of an Ending' is the kind that restores perspective. If you're looking for a holiday read to get engrossed in, a story that's ultimately compassionate without being sentimental, 'The Sense of an Ending' is a book for you.
INTELLECTUALLY STIMULATING. The Sense of an Ending.....an ending of???? There were many facets to this novel; an ending of friendship, of ideas, of a philosophy of life, of perceptions,of emotions. This is the story of Tony Webster's life as he thinks back on it, his memories versus perceptions versus reality and how he comes to terms with all of these within himself. This is a short novel-only 163 pages. I thought I would whip through it. I ended up reading it twice. The writing is superb. The style is very intellectual-makes you re-read and think about what the protagonist is thinking about, feeling, experiencing in both past and present. This is not a light read, but worth the effort for a serious reader.
Tony Webster is an average man. We read of his life growing up, and his circle of friends. His most striking friend was Adrian, a brilliant student who the other boys never quite felt they knew. We read of his first love, Veronica, and how that worked out. We read how Tony felt when he and Veronica broke up and he later finds out that she and Adrian are now a couple. The book then skips ahead forty years. Tony is now retired, having put in his years at an average job. He is divorced and still sees his ex-wife for lunches, no great hate or love there. He has one child he sees occasionally, and grandchildren he is more or less a stranger to. Average, average, average, Tony's whole life has been about getting by without making waves. Then a surprise bequest causes Tony to reevaluate his entire life. He looks back at his schoolboy days, his college years and his marriage. One piece of information after another opens the floodgates of memory, and he remembers conversations and actions that he has long forgotten, but that now reframe his life in a different light. He tracks down old acquaintances and friends, until he uncovers a startling secret--one that makes him wonder what his life has been about and how his life has affected that of others. The Sense Of An Ending won the 2011 Man Booker prize for literature. It is a gem of a book, short but thought-provoking. This is Julian Barnes at the top of his form, effortlessly shaking the snow-globe of memories to rearrange the outcome of events in myriad ways. He forces the reader to examine what place memories play in our lives, and to question how accurate our memories are. This thought-provoking novel is recommended for all readers interested in examining the human condition, and the ways we find to make it through life.
This story is masterfully crafted. There are those who "won't get it and will never get it," but this book has much depth. I have spent at least as much time considering all the implications of the novel as I spent reading it. It is rare to find a book which tells a story so well without being ham fisted.
I’m not even sure this is a novel. It may be a clumsily rambling 1st person essay of brilliant insight on the unreliability of memory and perception disguised as a novel which captures the incompleteness of the fragmented communication of our own era and the unproductiveness of remorse written in equal measures of slogging narrative and genius prose. It is, without doubt, extraordinary.
Oh my, this moves to my favorite of the year immediately. As the British would say, "Brilliant!". The themes of time and memory will resonate with anyone over the age of fifty.
Evetything changes once you finish this book the first time. You will immediately want to read it again to really understand what you thought you read the first time. Thought provoking and real and very well written.
Wonderful writing, simple yet quite complex and intelligent, thought provoking. A great read.
A beautifully written and thought provoking book in a small package.
The narrator of a novel usually, although not always, also is the protagonist. It's the ultimate "it's all about me" kind of storytelling, epitomized by David Copperfield in the novel by Charles Dickens. "Chapter 1: I am born."Some narrators are trustworthy. Their world is seen only through their eyes, but they can be trusted to tell all they know and not to skew the facts in order to fool you, dear reader. And then there are the narrators who either have fooled themselves so well you can't trust them or who are so arch they cannot be trusted. These unreliable narrators are at the core of some of the finest storytelling we've known, from Chaucer to Wilkie Collins to Stevens in Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day.Just as rewarding for the reader who likes to be involved in discerning who or what to believe is the naive narrator, such as Huck Finn. He accepts slavery as a normal part of his world and recognizes that, in his world, he will go to hell for helping Jim. And decides he can live with having transgressed. His acceptance is not the same as deciding that his world is wrong. Naive narrators are not reliable either, but it's because they don't know the ramifications of everything that's going on. Stevens is this kind of narrator for most of The Remains of the Day. His single moment of near-realization is devastating in the novel, and he backs away from self-knowledge quickly to return to self-delusion.Sometimes deciding whether the narrator can be trusted takes up a good deal of the reader's attention. This was the case for me when reading Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending, which won the Man Booker Prize last year. Tony Webster is in his late middle age, divorced yet still on good terms with his ex-wife, the steady Margaret, distant yet polite with his daughter, the preoccupied Susie. His story begins with odds and ends of his time at school and university with his mates and first serious girlfriend, Veronica. Adrian, a newcomer at school, becomes part of his circle. A schoolmate commits suicide after his girlfriend becomes pregnant. At university, Veronica appears to be a tease but Tony says he's all right with their situation. He meets her family one weekend and no one appears impressed. His friends meet her and, again, no one appears impressed. After Tony and Veronica break up, he gets a letter from Adrian that he and Veronica are now in a relationship. Tony's life goes on. But Adrian later kills himself.In the second half of this small, densely packed novel, Tony gets notice that the mother of his former girlfriend has died, leaving him money and an item. The item turns out to be the diary of Adrian, his former friend whose mind and demeanor Tony admired so greatly at school. It is in Veronica's possession. Trying to get that diary, the cat-and-mouse game they play with each other and the inability of either of them to communicate honestly and thoroughly with each other form the main section of the book. These are two people who engaged in tit-for-tat to the nth degree. When they break up, he takes a milk jug she'd given him to Oxfam. Later, he discovers in its place at the shop a small colored lithograph he had given her as a Christmas present. No slight is too small to be reciprocated.But is Tony unreliable or naive? Is he trying to fool us or did he fool himself because he didn't know better? I decided both are true. It's both honest declaration and a warning when Tony notes early on: "If I can't be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That's the best I can manage."The turning point is the actual wording of the letter Tony sent to Adrian and Veronica when they told him they were involved. Originally, Tony tells us his reaction was a "best of luck, Old Bean" postcard. Weeks later, he says he wrote back:As far as I remember, I told him pretty much what I thought of their joint moral scruples. I also advised him to be prudent, because in my opinion Veronica
Why wouldn't Veronica just spell it out for him? That drove me crazy, I couldn't understand her reasons. I loved the reflective nature of this book; a cautionary tale.
Winner of the 2011 Man Booker prize, this short, gracefully-written novel is about the discrepancies between lives as lived and as we choose to invent them in memory. The unreliable narrator, retired, amicably divorced, is drawn into a re-examination of his ¿peaceable¿ life by an unexpected legacy and is forced to confront who he was forty years ago. Suspenseful, psychologically astute, begs to be read more than once.
I really can't decide if I liked this one or not. It was a quick read, very easy to get into, but the end was very unsatisfying in terms of resolution. But some books are just like that. This was about one man's memory and experience, and in that regard, I found it very believable. But the other characters seemed so interesting, I'm a little disappointed I couldn't see them a little deeper.
¿And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn¿t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent.¿ (page 63)I didn¿t have high expectations going into this one given all the varied reactions to it, not to mention the controversy surrounding this year¿s Bookers. But I loved, loved, LOVED this novella. I think its strength lies in the gorgeous writing but also its various layers and nuances which allowed me to relate to it in a very personal way, and a way different from a lot of people whose reviews I read. I just got lost in it, marking passage after passage and re-reading pages at a time. Sometimes fine writing isn¿t enough to save a book for me, so this must have had something more but damned if I can describe it. Just lovely.
Tony Webster is a quiet young man, not much influenced by the subtleties of life¿s experiences. He is not confrontational and would not be described as a man of great passion. He pretty much accepts life as it comes along and doesn¿t look for hidden messages.As a student in the sixties, he and his friends are typical youths. It is a decade of discovery; innocence is being redefined and the new freedoms that are being explored can have dangerous consequences. When a fellow student commits suicide, because he gets a girl into trouble and cannot face the responsibility, Tony and his friends, Colin, Alex and Adrian, discuss the philosophy of the deed in a cerebral, rather than emotional way. Intellectually, Adrian is the brightest bulb and he analyzes the issue for them; life should be lived and ended well.When Adrian also commits suicide, Tony and his friends agree he executed his suicide well, but they are forced to try and understand the incomprehensible nature of such an act. Why would Adrian commit such an act of desperation? Will they divine the answer? In this brief, well executed story, in which no word is wasted, the memories of Tony Webster are explored and the unreliability of memories, in general, and the false conclusions they may lead to, are examined. Although we move on and forget some of the more radical and even heinous aspects of our youthful behavior, others may bear the burden of their effects as life goes on. A careless word, a cruel note, a heartless remark, may leave our consciousness only to land in someone else¿s with profound consequences.The book explores suicide, the execution of the act and the reasons motivating it. It explores consequences that often go unnoticed. It is the story of memories and mistakes, actions and behavior that once taken are irreversible. Sometimes, remorse is not enough to reverse or excuse the thoughtless ill wishes or foolish behavior of our youth. In the end, has our life been well lived? Has Tony¿s? The reader will decide.
great writing style - worth reading, but ending and resolution somewhat banal
160 pages, 2011 Mann Booker winner, 2 stars. Didn't resonate with me at all....A man of about 70 years ruminates about his days 40+ years ago - and his relationships with a young woman, another who becomes his wife, a friend who commits suicide. Perhaps if I were divorced, or English, or a woman, or....this book would have struck a chord. And yes, there's a twist. Must everything have a twist!? Completed 10/30
¿What is history?¿ the teacher asked. ¿The lies told by the victors,¿ answered the young man, a bit too quickly and with a self-assurance he would lose soon enough. ¿I was rather afraid you¿d say that. Well, as long as you remember that it also the self-delusions of the defeated,¿ replied the teacher, who then posed the same question to another student. ¿History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation,¿ the second boy said.This is a book about history, not of the Tudors and Edwardians or the origins of World War I but the personal history of one man¿s life. More specifically, it is about the wide gap that sometimes exists between what actually happened and how we choose to look back and remember what happened. In his 20s, Tony Webster suffered the loss two significant relationships, one under humiliating circumstances and the other under tragic ones. Forty years later, nearing the end of an unremarkable life full of safe choices, the receipt of an unexpected bequest sets Webster on the path of having to reconcile a sense of his own history with events as they actually happened. This poignant and cathartic process drives much of the narrative and leads to a very surprising conclusion.I read this novel a few weeks after it was awarded the Man Booker prize. Having made my way through several prize-winners in the past, I have learned that that honor is no guarantee of brilliance. In this case, however, the committee absolutely got it right: this is a compelling and altogether marvelous book. Barnes has crafted a perceptive, philosophically challenging story that really resonated with me; although a decade or so younger than the protagonist, I too am closer to the end than the beginning. While brief in length, it is a book that is rich in ideas with writing that is impeccably precise. It is one that I can recommend without hesitation.