The Sense of an Ending

by Julian Barnes

Hardcover, 2011

Call number

FIC BAR

Collection

Genres

Publication

Knopf (2011), 163 pages

Description

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.

Media reviews

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.
2 more
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.
Kirkus Reviews. (Nov. 1, 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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Now in his 60s, Tony Webster is retired, divorced, and taking stock of his life. He begins by recounting his youth and young adulthood, and his social circle, which revolved around Adrian, the aloof ringleader. These relationships falter on leaving school, and when Adrian begins dating Tony's former girlfriend Veronica. Years later, Veronica's mother passes away. Tony is quite surprised to learn she left him a bequest. He gets back in touch with Veronica, and makes a nuisance of himself in attempts to understand the bequest. The reader learns a lot about Tony's true self, even as Tony remains oblivious. As Veronica says repeatedly, "You just don't get it."

Julian Barnes packed so much into this novella, and yet I'm hard pressed to explain just how he did it. The plot appears straightforward, as everyday events unfold through Tony's eyes. But it is actually layered with complexity, requiring the reader to flip back and forth to see what they missed on a first reading. Little by little, you realize how much memories are influenced by what you want -- and don't want -- to remember. Small but important details can escape notice, leaving two people with completely different impressions of events. And sometimes these different points of view have tragic consequences. So it came as a complete shock when Tony finally "got it," and I understood what was actually going on all those years. Or at least I think I understand. I may need to read it yet again.

With a series of haunting images that set the stage, an unreliable narrator, and an overall sense of loss, this book will stay with you long after turning the last page. As Tony says:
What you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed. (p. 1)
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I'm not sure that I would have admired this book quite so much had I read it several decades ago. But I'm now of an age where I'm thinking a lot about the past and about what I want to do with the years that I have left, so The Sense of an Ending really hit home with me.

The novel is written in two parts. In the first, Anthony Webster starts with memories--images really. As he says, "This isn't something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed." This is the first of Anthony's many insights on the passing of time. The section falls into reverie regarding his schooldays with three particular friends, Colin, Anthony, and Adrian; their efforts to keep their friendships solid while each continued on to a different university; and Anthony's relationship with his first love, Veronica. These memories are key to the novel's longer second part. "History," he tells us, "isn't the lies of the victors, . . . It's more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated."

As sometimes happens in real life, the unexpected can trigger questions about the past. In the sixty-ish Anthony's case, it comes in the form of a 500-pound bequest from Veronica's mother, a woman whom he had met only once forty years earlier. The deceased woman's handwritten note is more confusing than explanatory. In addition to the cash, the will also, oddly, bequeaths to him his friend Adrian's diary--which seems either to have disappeared or been deliberately withheld. Anthony's quest to recover the diary leads to a re-examination of himself and the past, and to the realizations that one's perceptions aren't always accurate, or at least not always shared by others. "When we are young," he says, "we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others."

I'll leave the description at that, as I don't want to give away any of the events, suppositions, and revelations that ensue, all of which add up to a moving and unexpected ending. Barnes's insights into human nature are brilliant. Although this is a short book, I did not, like other readers, race through it in a single afternoon. One of the reasons is that Anthony's musings and memories often triggered my own, and I found myself trying to sort things out a bit before returning to the novel. The Sense of an Ending is chock full of the kind of philosophical nuggets like those quoted above. Here are a few more:

"But time . . . how time first grinds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them."

"Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however, long it take, that life isn't all it's cracked up to be."

Anthony Webster may not be a man you particularly like, but he is one you'll grow to understand. This is one amazing book, full of insights, surprising, beautifully written.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
This unobtrusive little book packs quite a punch. You may be reading along thinking to yourself, “Yes, this is a nice little read. Not too much happening so this could get boring.” Then “bam!” The tension builds and builds while you are furiously turning pages, until the last page is turned and you say to yourself, “What the heck just happened?”

What happened was you just experienced Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize winning novel and oh my, he is at the top of his game. The story is a tale of time and memory. Middle-aged retiree Tony Webster is forced to recall a time when he was a young student but a funny thing happens to our memories when time intervenes. Not only are they fuzzy, they often don’t coincide with those of other people involved. And Barnes offers many thoughtful insights into how time and memory warp over the years:

“But time…how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time…give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will be wobbly, our certainties whimsical.” (Page 102)

Tony goes on to try to put together the memories of that long ago time when he receives a letter notifying him of a bequest left to him in a will. This leads him to reconnect with an old girlfriend. She, however, is not a willing participant and, after numerous attempts, Tony is led to a dire conclusion that nobody sees coming, especially the reader.

Heart-pounding suspense, thought-provoking, very, very satisfying and highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Cait86
Julian Barnes' short novel is a beautiful meditation on memory, and the parts of our lives that we choose to forget. Tony, the narrator, opens by describing his final year of high school. He and his two friends were typical cynical teenagers, thinking themselves much smarter than they actually were, full of grand plans for their lives. Into Tony's circle comes Adrian, smarter than the rest, a boy full of philosophy and big ideas. Following high school, each boy goes his separate way. Tony meets a girl, Veronica, and spends a weekend at her parents' house, where he feels out of place. Later, Veronica meets Tony's friends, and seems to like them all more than she likes Tony. Predictably, she breaks up with him and begins dating Adrian.

Years later, Veronica's mother leaves Tony a bit of money and some documents in her will. Mysteriously, Veronica refuses to give up one of the documents. As Tony attempts to get what is rightfully his, he begins to dredge up old memories. Did he ever love Veronica? What role did he play in Adrian's life? What, in the end, has been the point of his very mundane existence?

Honestly, as someone in her twenties, I'm not totally the correct audience for this book. Tony talks about being young and having all kinds of grand hopes for his life. He remembers waiting for his life to start, imagining the exciting things that are certain to happen to him. I identified with this quite a lot, but then when, in the next breath, he basically said that youth don't know what they are talking about, and that life never really "starts" - well, that I didn't understand so much. However, this distance between my experiences and that of the narrator did not hinder my enjoyment of the novel.

Barnes is a terrific writer; The Sense of an Ending is very rhythmic, with just the right amount of repetition. The whole thing fits together beautifully, and Tony's voice was never boring. It takes a lot for me to enjoy a first-person narrative, and Barnes won me over immediately. Tony wasn't perfect, but he also wasn't so flawed that he was unlikeable. He was at times very honest, and at other times totally unreliable, and it was fun trying to decipher what I could believe.

The Sense of an Ending is the first Booker novel this year that has struck me as worthy of the prize, and I would be very disappointed if it didn't at least make the shortlist. I will seek out more of Barnes' work in the future, and look forward to rereading The Sense of an Ending.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
I feel like I should make a special effort for this one, especially as it's a Booker Prize favourite and is also much loved by LTers whose taste I have a lot of respect for, but truth be told, it didn't do much for me and I just don't have the energy to go out of my way to give a well-balanced review for a book that will probably not remain in my memory for very long.

Tony is retired and has plenty of time on his hands to think about the past and bask in tender memories. A group of friends met in high school. A first girlfriend. A marriage followed by children and an amicable divorce. Then he receives a letter from a lawyer telling him he's been left a document in the will of an acquaintance he had not been in contact with for decades. Suddenly, he's confronted by ugliness from the past he had conveniently put out of his mind.

Why I didn't care: the narrator was completely unsympathetic and mostly insipid, which wouldn't have mattered if I hadn't found the story didn't appeal to me either. Tony has had a very conventional life and has always made choices to allow him to stay well within his comfort zone. Then he creates a whole lot of drama about an incident which he thinks he's responsible for, but which belies the notion of free will and that ultimately, we are each responsible for our own decisions. Admittedly, I didn't understand the big denouement, even though I read back and forth to find the clues and try to put it together. But ultimately, I couldn't be bothered. Yes, the writing is good, but I wasn't transported as I have been reading other books. Yes the story makes us question our own past and the accuracy of our memories of it, but revisiting my own past uncovers more ugliness than I'm willing to look into, and which I've been trying to work out in therapy for years, thank you very much. So that's that. I'll read more Barnes with pleasure, but only because I've read another of his books which I've enjoyed, because based on this book, I wouldn't see the point of delving further into his writing. Having said that, I'm willing to consider the possibility that I just didn't get it.
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LibraryThing member TheIdleWoman
In his Booker Prize winner from 2011, Julian Barnes plays with notions of memory and history. When the narrator Tony receives an unexpected bequest, he is motivated to reexamine his past, specifically, his friendship with his brilliant schoolmate Adrian, and his youthful affair with the demanding Veronica. In doing so, he discovers that his neat memories of events are far from true, and that the consequences of these two relationships are still playing themselves out in the present.

Barnes writes easily, and Tony's voice - the disappointed, resigned older man looking back over his youth - flows well. But it isn't enough for a book to flow well: it has to grip and engage its readers, and I'm afraid that is where "The Sense of an Ending" fell down for me. It is a short book: both plot and characterisation are, by necessity, pared down to the essentials. However, this means that the characters sometimes tremble on the brink of two-dimensionality. The only time I felt that these people were rounded and solid was during the school scenes, with their cod-intellectualism and flowery debates about history, reality and morality - scenes which felt as if they'd been written under the influence of Alan Bennett's "The History Boys". After this, the characterisation became more anaemic. I had particular difficulty with the modern-day relationship between Tony and Veronica, which I found implausible. Her changing moods may be intended to show her complexity, but they didn't ring true. Her actions felt like plot devices rather than the logical outcome of a convincing personality, and although Tony's narration told me that she was fascinating, I actually found her irritating. The end of the book was also unsatisfying. Barnes decides to tie everything up via a final twist, crammed into the final pages and insufficiently explained, compared to the way that comparatively minor events are analysed earlier in the book. Perhaps this is a gesture towards the deductive intelligence he expects of his readers.

I don't want to be too negative. It was a perfectly competent and diverting book, and I happily devoured it in the course of an afternoon. But it left no imprint on my soul at all. Considering the acclaim of the Booker judges and the general popularity of the book, I can only assume I've missed something - and I'm sorry, because the concept was promising, but the execution a little disappointing.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
The Sense of an Ending is a meditation on time, the manner in which it “holds us and mould us,” reshaping the events of our lives with its passing. Narrator Tony Webster, now retired, looks back over the story of his life, beginning with high school. He relates the story of three close friends, all of whom had dreams, ideas, and expectations of how life would go. He recalls his first girlfriend, Veronica, and the day he introduced her to his friends, an event that changed the course of more than just his own life. Looking back, Tony realizes that his perception of the truth has changed with time, that decisions he made as a young man, innocuous to him at the time of their making, look very different from his present vantage point. His life is really the accumulation of his deeds, and he is responsible for the unrest created by them.

“I need to return 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.” (Ch 1)

The novel is beautifully written, an enjoyable, effortless read. Barnes hits the perfect, contemplative tone in which one character asks the big questions. He assures there is nothing depressing or fearful about taking a final accounting of life. Indeed, it is the gifts of age and experience that bestow clarity.

Recommended!
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LibraryThing member alexdaw
I am a complete shocker and always judge a book by its cover. This book was kept aside for me as requested at our shiny new library (oh allright eight months old now but I still think of it as shiny). The book was shiny too. I like to think that I'm the first to read it. The plastic is all new and clean, the pages most delightful to turn - also clean and quite sophisticated I thought - edged in black - haven't seen that before - nice touch - elegant.

At first I found it difficult to like the narrator who introduced us to himself and his "mates" as we would call them in Orstralia. The voice was, in a sense, self-deprecating, or at least acknowledging the awkwardness of adolescent youth - the need to belong and fit in, the desire to seem "cool", to be smart but not too smart, to be valued, to "score" - albeit in a 50s/60s awkward way with the threat of "pregnancy" ever-hovering.

The book is divided into two parts and I got a bit of a shock when I came to Part Two. For a second I thought I had a book of short stories and that was it; I wasn't going to find out what happened. Aha ! I was hooked. Be careful of what you wish for. It's not a book of short stories...you do, in a sense, get to find out what happened. Or do you? This little tome is pregnant with possibilities.

It's a bit difficult to say much more without giving away the plot but Barnes challenges us to examine our lives and our memory/opinions of ourselves and our conduct. I suspect this deceptively "small" tome is also a challenge to the British national character. And yes, I am talking about recent events though I'm not sure even Barnes could have envisaged or accounted for the latest batch of riots. But I reckon this book will go down a treat with bookclubs which need a good conversation starter.

I found it particularly fascinating as I am studying Recordkeeping and am mulling over a quote from one of the characters quoting Patrick Lagrange "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."

Interestingly (and perhaps I am bone lazy when it comes to research - think Google) I cannot find a Patrick Lagrange...only a Joseph Louis Legrange who was a French mathematician (or was he really Italian?) At any rate...the plot just got thicker and I now ask myself...who is Patrick?
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LibraryThing member baswood
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes
Readability was the watchword for the 2011 Man Booker prize panel, but I hoped for more from the eventual winner, but like Tony Webster "I didn't get it". It starts of well enough with the main character's reflections on the nature of time and its effects on the memory, but twenty pages later Barnes is well into a jokey blokey style of writing that stays with the novel until its ending a short 130 pages later. It did have a mystery from the past to solve, a good story with a twist in the final few pages and there was plenty of nostalgia for youth and times past, but enough to win one of the most prestigious prizes in literature today - I think not.

Just what was the selection criteria used by the Man Booker panel? I can only suppose it was something like this:

1) A well respected previously nominated author with at least ten published novels

2) A novel that can be read at one sitting, is not too heavy to read in bed and is under 150 pages long

3) Subject matter that would appeal to an over 60 reading group that is well represented on the judging panel - J B's novel is perfect with its reflections on the passing of time and its nostalgia for times past

4) A final twist and a satisfactory tying up of loose ends so that the reader gets a sense of fulfilment when finishing.

5) It must be witty at all times with a couple of good jokes and any aphorisms should be repeated to ensure they hit the mark

6) There must be a time shift in the novel as its well known that most novels today have at least two parts.

7) There ought to be some cultural references - J B scores highly here with his naming of Donovan's A gift from a flower to a garden. This shows good taste and some 60's street cred.

8) Any difficult words or Latin phrases should be fully explained in the text, the reader should not be troubled with the chore of looking things up.

9) The novel must be well written with no annoying intertextuality or stylistic unevenness.

10) There should be no hint of experimentation, literary cleverness or any of that post modernism crap.

11) Unwritten criteria - A white male author over 60 would be acceptable to all panel members.

It is not Julian Barnes fault that his novel satisfies this criteria. He has written a good amusing and at times thoughtful novel that I found very entertaining and similar in some respects to the previous years winner: Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question. I had enjoyed Finkler and although I found it a bit light weight, it did at least stretch to a normal novels length with its 300 plus pages. I hope Barnes novel does not set new trends in liteness because if it does then next years winner will have to be pinned down to stop it floating away.

Surely there are novels out there that have more depth to them, or tell an unusual or interesting story or push the boundaries just a little. Lets get away from all this wit and lightness of touch. lets have some passion, some poetry, some writing that will make us think deeper than mere nostalgia and reminiscence. I would rate Julian Barnes novel at 3.5 stars as it is good of its kind.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but--mainly--to ourselves.

This is a brilliant, very short novel by Julian Barnes about the ordinary life of Tony Webster. He's older now, looking back to a friendship formed in school and a college relationship that ended badly. Thoughts and actions matter, but what we remember is often at odds with how others remember those same events.

Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.

The writing here is clear and beautiful and true, in a way that would have made me happy to have read several hundred more pages, even as the story has been pared down to its essential parts, with no wasted chapters, paragraphs or even sentences. Barnes has often written longer books ([Arthur and George] is a wonderful book, also about relationships), but here he doesn't need to.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
”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.… (more)
LibraryThing member John
This is a short book but it shows how powerful short fiction can be in the hands of a master. It is a tight, wonderfully constructed jewell of a book into which Barnes packs more themes and insights into life than a lesser writer could do in twice the space.

The novel engages a number of themes that echo throughout Barnes’s writing:

--the workings and effects of memory which is never objective but always shaped by the person doing the remembering : “..what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed; …incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty;…memory equal 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.””

--the management of time and history: “We live in time, it bounds us and defines us, and time is supposed to measure history, isn’t it? But if we can’t understand time, can’t grasp its mysteries of pace and progress, what chance do we have with history—even our own small, personal, largely undocumented piece of it?...History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

--the effects of aging : “How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”

--grasping life: “Had my life increased, or merely added to itself? This was the question Adrian’s fragment set off in me. There had been addition—and subtraction—in my life, but how much multiplication? And this gave me a sense of unease, of unrest.”

--the inability to change the past: “I had been tempted, somehow, by the notion that we could excise most of our separate existences, could cut and splice the magnetic tape on which our lives are recorded, go back to the fork in the path and take the road less travelled, or rather not travelled at all. Instead, I had just left common sense behind. Old fool, I said to myself. And there’s no fool like an old fool…”

Themes highlighted and that play key roles in the novel are the inability to predict or even anticipate or necessarily understand the actions of others; the missed opportunities, the what-ifs in life; and the single biggest theme of Remorse: “…it wasn’t shame I now felt, or guilt, but something rare in my life and stronger than both: remorse. A feeling which is more complicated, curdled, and primeval. Whose chief characteristic is that nothing can be done about it: too much time has passed, too much damage has been done, for amends to be made.”

This is a sad and sober book: “…just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

This is a novel about happenstance playing forward and poisoning people and relationships decades later; about the unpredictability of life and lives; about the tendency to seek causality to assess blame however unrealistic; about how emotions can sour and turn.

The closing, from the protagonist Tony Webster: “You get towards the end of life--no, not life itself, but of something else: the end of any likelihood of change in that life. You are allowed a long moment of pause, time enough to ask the question: what else have I done wrong?...There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.”
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LibraryThing member suetu
Well, I didn’t get it either

At 176 pages, The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes Man Booker-nominated latest is barely even a novella. Yet, there’s something to be said for an author willing to tell a story in the time that is needed to tell it, and not feeling compelled to pad the narrative. Mr. Barnes has included exactly what’s needed within these pages and not a word more.

His tale is told in two parts, by everyman narrator Tony Webster. The first part, comprising approximately a third of the book, reads like a coming-of-age story. It recounts the formative relationships of Tony’s early life, both male and female, from his school days through early adulthood. We meet his closest friends, witness his earliest romances, and experience his first losses. This first section was good, but not great on its own.

The novella flowered in its second, longer part, set 40 years later. Now Tony is in his early 60’s, amicably divorced, and a generally content man. One day, he receives notification of an unexpected and frankly bewildering bequest—which is then even more bewilderingly withheld. These contemporary happenings open windows to events of the past and Mr. Barnes held me rapt with the tale.

Despite the compelling plotline, go into this novella expecting it to be character-driven rather than plot-driven. In the end, the inheritance is a MacGuffin, and not really that important after all. It’s the relationships of the characters that really tell this tale, and they are beautifully rendered.

Throughout the latter part of the story, Tony is told repeatedly (and without explanation, of course), “You just don’t understand!” Well, he thought he did, and I thought he did. But it isn’t until the very final lines of the novella that the full truth is made clear. The Sense of an Ending is brief, and it is masterful, and if it wins the Man Booker Prize in a few minutes, it will be entirely deserving.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
There are a few books so well-written, so stunning in their impact, and perfect in their ability to stop us in mid-thought that they defy conventional review. I am not normally excited when I see the label "Winner of the Man Booker Prize" - I've read several good ones, but I've read others that have left me cold. This one however, is the best of the best. The book jacket describes it as being one of "Stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication." It is a short book, written in a clear, flowing, soothing style. It's not flashy, the sentences are not convoluted. Instead, the prose is eloquent, graceful and so thought-provoking as to be almost breath-taking.

Basically it's the story of one man, Anthony Webster and his attempt to reconcile the memories of his early life with the realities of his later one. He seems to build his musings on a quote from Patrick Lagrange : "history is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation." The protagonist ruminates further: "It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others."

There's no real plot, but as we are inexorably drawn to the end, we are suddenly confronted with an climax that is not foreseen. Anthony tells us, "Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn't all it's cracked up to be." This is a must read book. I won't spoil it by revealing anymore.
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LibraryThing member pamelad
A dreary old man reflects on his life and on the unattractive people he knew. I am surprised that this small, pointless book won the Booker.
LibraryThing member cameling
The winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, this novel by Julian Barnes is the most brilliant piece of writing I've read this year. It's a book about Anthony, an elderly man, and his memories, of his childhood, his past, his friends, his family, his present and the quiet analysis of himself through various events that take place in his life.

It's an intense look at friendship, changes in perspectives, remorse, and the question of whether anyone can really know another person's mind and what leads them to take certain actions.

Though slim in volume, the depth of philosophical ideas cast amidst the occasionally whimsical narrative makes for an engrossing and thought-provoking immersion between the pages. A brilliant stroke of genius, however, is the way the author layers the philosophical content amidst major events that strike Anthony at various stages of his life, catalysts that lead him to uncover new facets in his character, and a surprising discovery.

And for those who will read this book, I'm pleased to say, I'm with Anthony... I didn't get it either.
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LibraryThing member Bookmarque
Because I liked Arthur and George by this same author, I gave his Booker Prize winner a go, but unfortunately I liked it less. Mostly because it was one big whine by a 60-something white, middle class man who has no one to blame but himself for his blindness and inability to cope with the subtlety of manipulation by others. Especially women. Gasp! So unladylike.

The writing is lovely and there isn’t a lot of extra flesh on the story, but it was difficult to sympathize with Tony Webster who admires his self-styled peaceable nature to the point that you laughed at him just as much as Veronica’s family must have. I agree that memory is fallible and time is more of a solvent than a fixative, but Tony is pretty pathetic. I found his look back at his past to be self-indulgent, which is fine as long as it isn’t boring and it pretty much is. Overall I think William Boyd had better success with this type of novel because he made his equally fallible characters interesting. The one person who was interesting dies without much screen time and leaves very little in his wake to enlighten the reader as to his motives for suicide.

I can see if you are a certain age and a certain temperament, you’d really identify with this book, but I didn’t. Is it because I’m younger? Female? American? That I usually know when I’m being played? Maybe all of the above.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
I haven’t read any Julian Barnes since Flaubert’s Parrot and History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters in grad school. When the 2011 Booker Prize went to Barnes for A Sense of an Ending, I pounced on it. My complete set of Booker Prize winning novels is one of my prize collections.

Ending is divided into two parts. The first tells the story of four friends in high school: Colin, Alex, the narrator Tony Webster and a newcomer to the school, Adrian Finn. The boys graduate and slowly drift apart. Then Adrian dies unexpectedly, and the memories come crashing down on Tony. Part of his past also reappears in the form of Veronica – a woman Tony cared about deeply, but who dropped him rather abruptly and unkindly. That’s it – no more plot.

The story is a lot more complicated, as Barnes delves into the sometimes distorted memory of Tony, who as Veronica says, “doesn’t get it.” Tony hasn’t really given much thought about the details of his life in years. The novel opens with a list of images, which re-appear throughout the novel. These images, first out of, and then, in context provide an interesting backdrop to the story.

Barnes has written a novel which begs to be read in a single sitting. His prose mesmerizes the reader and creates a hunger for more of the details of Tony and his friends.

Appropriately enough, the opening scene is a history class, and the boys offer differing interpretations of the past. Professor Hunt asked Tony, “What is history?” Tony replied, “History is the lies of the victors” … and then Hunt says, “as long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated” (18).

Later, Tony muses, “It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others” (88). I wondered, who is the victor? Who the defeated?

The themes of history and memory run through the novel, and Barnes has his narrator constantly turning over the stones of his past to understand himself and the context of his life. Barnes writes, “Someone once said that his favourite times in history were when things were collapsing, because that meant something new was being born. Does this make sense if we apply it to our individual lives? To die when something new was being born – even if that something new is our very own self?

A most interesting question! Ultimately, Tony determines the significance of his memories, but a surprise ending brings the entire story into focus. 5 stars

--Jim, 11/11/11
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LibraryThing member passion4reading
Tony Webster, now retired and in his sixties, divorced with one grown-up daughter, reflects on his personal story and what he considers a fairly uneventful life. But sometimes those memories aren't the whole truth, and a bigger picture slowly begins to emerge as someone from his past reaches out from beyond the grave to shake his fundamental beliefs and makes him question who he really is.

The novel, set out as reflections from his sixth-form days to almost the present day, not always in chronological order so that the time frame jumps from various points in the past to fairly recent events and back, almost reads like a detective story as the reader is given the backbone of an event in Tony's past: Adrian Finn, a former classmate and friend, killed himself. But it becomes clear in the second part that there's a bigger picture behind this fact, and Tony (and thus the reader) has to figure out what really happened. In the course of the book, Julian Barnes addresses issues of self-determination, death, philosophy, getting old and the imperfections of memories, among others, in prose that askes to be read again and be reflected on; but in my view he also unnecessarily – and rather frustratingly at times – also obfuscates the central question. Though the pieces all fall into place at the end, it was not entirely convinced that this event would really have occurred, but, like Kazuo Ishiguro's , the book is worth re-reading in light of the revelations and twist at the end.
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LibraryThing member meredk
Wonderful book. Barnes uses the first person to create an intriguing portrait of a man who is difficult to like. Time and memory are the themes, but there's enough of a story to keep things moving. It's not often that I read something and immediately want to read it again, but that's how this one hit me.
LibraryThing member jowley
I tend to like books that have won the Booker prize but this one left me wanting. I think perhaps there is a British persona here that I just can't get in tune with. The story centers around Tony. In the 1960s, Tony and his male companions were philosophical souls who liked one upping each other and their teachers in a way that I couldn't relate to. Later when Tony is at University and falls in love with Veronica, I found myself unable to understand why he was in love with her or what the motivations of these people were. The book was intriguing though and there are two characters (the mother and his friend Adrian) who keep your attention. I did not find the end as shocking as I think I was supposed to ...… (more)
LibraryThing member allgenresbookworm
The first time I read this book two days ago, I read this in one sitting. The first page and I was hooked, by page twenty, I was on Abebooks.com purchasing a very good hard back edition. It's the type of book that when you visit a new bookstore, you pull out the book a little bit farther out on the shelf so it will be noticed. When I now visit used bookstores, I will buy copies so I can give them as Christmas, birthday gifts. It is also the type of book that you want to stop strangers and hand them the book and tell them how wonderful it is. It is the type of book you want to include in conversations and hand friends and anyone who will listen to read this book. It is life changing. At least it was for me.

After the first reading was finished, I turned around and read it again! This time, I savored the language, re read passages and took my time reading it. Julian, where have you been my whole life and why am I just now noticing you?!
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LibraryThing member Perednia
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 had suffered damage a long way back. Then I wished him good luck, burnt his letter in an empty grate (melodramatic, I agree, but I plead youth as a mitigating circumstance), and decided that the two of them were now out of my life for ever.

When we read the actual letter later on, it is filled with hatred and spite, and lays a curse on them. Tony reacts with even more shock than most readers. But after his initial memory of his letter is related, Barnes has Tony think over what he means by calling Veronica damaged and what that term in general means. It's a crucial passage both to the plot (where what happened to Adrian involves Veronica and her family, with Veronica left with the consequences decades later) and to Barnes's purpose regarding memory and how we view what we have done and what we think about ourselves:

I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admmit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of.

Isn't that last category Tony himself? This is the man who plots devious ways to communicate with his ex-girlfriend because she has something he wants, something he thinks he deserves, in the same way that he carried on a campaign over damage caused by tree roots to his house. His steady, stable (according to him) ex-wife called Veronica "the Fruitcake", but look at who she married and who she wants to have take her on a long weekend holiday with the money he inherits from the Fruitcake's mother.

These characters evoke both revulsion and sorrow. Their story is filled with failings of character, and with the lies they've told themselves and others. The twists of revelation at the conclusion only reinforce the wisdom Tony imparts midway through the book:

...When we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.

Barnes's novel reveals how reliable our own unreliability is in shaping how we think we've lived.
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LibraryThing member 4everfanatical
This book started off strong, I loved the camaraderie between Tony Webster and his friends at school and I was shocked when Adrian killed himself. I was expecting the second half to unearth some sort of great mystery about the circumstances surrounding that event - what I actually got was really disappointing. Nothing gets explained in straight-forward terms, it was a philosophical muddle about pretty mundane events. When it was revealed that Adrian killed himself because he fathered a child with his girlfriends (Tony's ex-girlfriend) mother, I was left scratching my head. That was probably the most boring reveal I have ever read.

Thank goodness this book was only 150 pages - it felt like 500 pages because of how slow paced it was. I could not have endured the torture of taking more time to read it if it was longer.
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LibraryThing member nocto
There were five books I fancied reading off this year's Booker longlist - I read four before the shortlist came out and none of the four made the cut. This was the fifth. I'm pretty certain it is the favourite to win. (Yes, 6/4 at William Hill as I write this. But that's never much of a guide as the betting public (even on literary prizes) and literary judges are not made of the same stuff.) It's by far my favourite of the five. So on two counts I feel it's unlikely to win!

This is a short book but it's not short on story, there's all kinds of layers of meaning and plot, and it's very elegantly written and makes a good read. There was one thing I thought was a bit ridiculous (without loading this writeup with spoilers: I really don't see how Tony was supposed to "get" the "it" in "you just don't get it, Tony"). And although that was integral to the story it didn't spoil the whole thing for me. Overall it was a really good book that I had no hesitation over giving five stars to.
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Pages

163

ISBN

9780307957122
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