Review Blog

Dec 16 2011

The sense of an ending by Julian Barnes

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Jonathan Cape, 2011. ISBN 9780224094153.
The Sense of an Ending won the 2011 Booker prize for its author. The main character, Anthony, finds himself in later life forced to consider the accuracy of memory, the nature of history and the value of life itself. He remembers himself and his two friends delighting in intellectual games, the pat phrase and the glib assertions that came with senior history studies at school in the sixties. However, Adrian, the acknowledged brilliant new student, challenges their assumptions. History, he says, is the point where the 'imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation'. The three are shocked by a classmate's suicide, seemingly because his girlfriend falls pregnant. Adrian tells the others that suicide is the only true philosophical question. Some years later, after graduating with a First from Cambridge, Adrian himself commits suicide.  Was this connected to Adrian's girlfriend, Veronica, who had previously been Anthony's girlfriend for some time? Decades after this event, Anthony, who has lived an unexciting life, is divorced and living alone, is forced to remember the events of the time when Veronica's mother leaves him a sum of money and Adrian's diary. Mystified, Adrian contacts Veronica who won't hand over the diary but does give him a copy of a vitriolic letter that he wrote to Adrian about his relationship with Veronica. Anthony is appalled at his own venom, of which he has no memory, and he is still denied the documentation of the diary. He is further mystified when Veronica, without explanation, pugnaciously shows him a group of disabled people. With the help of a carer and the only scrap of diary that Veronica gives him, he eventually arrives at some understanding of what happened to Adrian many years ago, and why he made the choice that he did. Anthony, who has always seen himself as settled and peaceable, realizes that there is no room for complacency in life. The novel is about memory and responsibility, guilt and remorse. While the ending is not totally convincing the themes are powerfully explored.
Jenny Hamilton

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