Fiction Review: ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

Posted September 25, 2015 by PaulineMRoss in Review / 1 Comment

My book group makes me nervous. Very often the choice of book is something I just can’t get through, despite being well written (Wolf Hall), or it’s something I would have enjoyed a few years ago but find boring now (The Mayor of Casterbridge), or I find it completely unbelievable (The Neon Rain), or I think it’s pretentious nonsense (most of them). In return, I inflict dragons and gender-bending aliens on them, so I suppose it evens out in the end. But occasionally, it’s an unreservedly enjoyable read, as here.

This is probably not a book I would have picked up voluntarily (in my experience, anything within hailing distance of the Man Booker prizes is to be avoided at all costs), but I found it a pleasant, easy read. Tony is an elderly man looking back to his youth and certain events there, and he seems a nice enough, if ordinary, bloke. He hasn’t done much with his life, but he’s contented enough, gets on well with his ex-wife and his daughter, doesn’t have too many regrets. And then, out of the blue, he’s left some money and a letter in the will of someone he can’t even remember. And this opens up a whole can of worms for him, relating to the girlfriend of his youth and a schoolfriend who killed himself.

Since the book is written is the first person, there’s the issue of Tony being an unreliable narrator, but even so, there are some events which he blithely sails past in his recital which any normal person would have remembered in a bit more detail than that. Could he seriously have forgotten what he said and did? Even though it was decades ago, and self-preservation blurs the edges considerably, it’s hard to believe.

The revelations at the end are not particularly original, or even interesting, and, to be honest, the author has to jump through hoops to keep some facts hidden until the very end, and this makes the characters behave in quite incredible ways. Veronica, for instance, the former girlfriend – why on earth would she not simply tell Tony what had happened, instead of expecting him to divine it, somehow? So the plot went off the rails at this point. Nevertheless, it was still an enjoyable read, and there’s plenty of thought-provoking depth in there for those who like that sort of thing. Four stars.


One response to “Fiction Review: ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

  1. You liked it better than I did. I was all, “Oh, Tony, no one cares.” I read it not for a book club but as part of the annual Morning News Tournament of Books…and it was a good year that year, so it probably made my opinion of The Sense of an Ending a bit worse than it otherwise might have been. (They have the ToB every March, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to liking “sports.” ) Alas, I didn’t read along with this year’s tournament. Next year for sure! It really is one of my favorite things, and I wish someone would put on similar tournaments for various genres.

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