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The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes = Review

Saturday, September 23, 2023

This was the third novella I got out of the library at the same time and A Meal in Winter and A Month in the Country and I'm really glad I got it because I liked it, even though I'm not sure I understood it entirely. I've got the film to watch too, which I'll try to get to soon. I also think I'll ask people at book club if they've read it because I bet they have! The hype around this book (it won the Booker Prize in 2011) totally passed me by at the time but I'm glad I finally got to it! 

So, the book is narrated by Tony, who at the time of writing is in his late sixties. He is divorced, but remains friendly with his ex wife Margaret. They have a daughter together, Susie, and she has at least two children. Tony is removed from her but can't really explain why. He is a very unreliable narrator, speaking 'truth' at one point but then contradicting himself only a paragraph later. 

Tony relates his youth and his time at sixth form and university. He and his friends Alex and Colin were studying history in the sixth form and were firm friends, and were then joined by Adrian. He was much cleverer than them and their lessons got very philosophical. The four boys would engage in really quite deep philosophical thought with their teachers, which I liked reading about. They all went off to university - Adrian to Cambridge, and kept up via letter (where they would use really pompous language to each other which was funny and endearing).

Tony met Veronica and started going out with her. Although they explored sexually, they didn't have 'full sex' until 'after they broke up' as Tony first tells it - but then makes it sound like SHE didn't know they had broken up at the time! It's bonkers. Anyway he visited her family with her and felt slighted by her dad and brother - who is also at Cambridge - but welcomed by her mother. It is confusing as to what is actually real in this visit and what isn't, but no matter. 

Tony then gets a letter from a solicitor telling him that Veronica's mother, Sarah Ford, has died and left him five hundred pounds in her will, alongside Adrian's diary as a bequest. Adrian died by suicide aged around 22, I think, something which the other three young men thought about in detail at the time and found to be a really noble ending, in a philosophical sense (sorry to keep using that word, but there's a lot of it in the book). Adrian and Veronica had been going out after she and Tony broke up, and Tony wrote a very angry letter to them afterwards which, when you as the reader see it, explains some things. 

However, Veronica will not hand over the diary. Tony starts to harass her by email, wanting to understand what happened and why he's public enemy number one. I do believe he was sorry for sending the letter, even if time had meant he had somewhat forgotten what it said. There's a lot in the book about time and memory and old age, which I did like.

I'm not really sure though if I fully understood the ending. I've looked at some reviews since I finished it and they all seem to say that it was obvious and that there are clues throughout. I'm really not sure if there are, unless you're massively misogynistic. However, I did like the book and I'm giving it four out of five. It's thought provoking for sure!

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