The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
image via lit.newcity.com
This is a deceptively simple tale. This winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize isn’t really a novel; it’s a novella, or what used to be thought of as an ultra-long short story. But to the story:
Tony Webster and three mates (pals, if you're British) have their undergrad days together, promising to be mates always, go to college separately, have separate careers, never to see one another again.
Except for one major wrinkle.
Prior to college, Tony is involved in his first love affair with one Veronica Ford. She seems, throughout their time together, to keep Tony at arm’s length, except for the occasional moments of intimacy. Then, after the five have had an outing together, in which Veronica shows more interest in another of the boys, Adrian Finn, the relationship falls apart. And to make things worse, Adrian contacts Tony, implying his interest in Veronica, and asking Tony’s blessing. Tony does, we find out later, but in a very left-handed manner, and this is at the core of the story’s remainder.
Tony discovers that Adrian has committed suicide, and Veronica’s mother wills Tony five hundred quid, promising him Adrian’s diary. This sets Tony off in pursuit of the rationale underlying this odd happenstance. Now divorced, Tony chats up Veronica, hoping for explanations for all this, but her behavior makes things even odder. There’s an even odder ending to Barnes’ story, and this makes this journey into Tony’s psyche eminently worthwhile.
Barnes' wit shines here. Tony is his first-person narrator, and he's alternately self deprecating and outrageously frank about his personal habits. Time – and its corrosive effects on memory – are the story’s leitmotif, and it leads Tony astray time after time.
I was afraid Barnes had ended the story some fifty pages from its end, but he still had the crux of the book to reveal.
It’s a good book, a deeply English novel, and written near-flawlessly.
My rating: 19 of 20 stars
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