This is going to sound ironic but when I first read the ending of “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes, I simply did not make much sense out of it. It was too convoluted for someone reading it on the subway.
So I went back to re-read it again and the ending, which was supposed to provide an answer to the mystery delicately crafted in the book, continues to elude me. It is always the same cluelessness when I reached the last few lines,
“There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.”
I admit I had to search on Google for the answer and only then did the various pieces fall into place. I swear that it was so much harder to wrap my head around this book than any Dan Brown’s books. So as not to be a spoiler, I am not going to unveil the ending here, but here is the link that provides a great explanation.
Otherwise, the overall plot wonderfully explores the life of retiree Tony Webster, focusing on his high school days and the camaraderie amongst his clique in school. The highlight though was the suicide of one of his mates Adrian Finn.
“What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him?”
It was a lawyer letter sent to Webster about his long deceased friend that set off a chain of investigations and reminiscence about his younger years, where he reflected his current mundane retired life against his Eudaimonic university days. Much of his regrets are poignant and bittersweet to read about.
“When you are in your twenties, even if you’re confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become. Later… later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories. Back then, you can remember your short life in its entirety. Later, the memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches.”
It is also noteworthy that suicide, still deemed by the majority (think controversies surrounding legalization of euthanasia) as an act against natural forces, was viewed positively in the book. It is seen as a decision that is both responsible and empowering for the thinking person to decide upon.
“I found myself comparing my life against Adrian’s. The ability to make moral decisions and act on them; the mental and physical courage of his suicide. ‘He took his own life’ is the phrase; but Adrian also took charge of his own life, he took command of it, he took it in his hands – and then out of them. How few of us – we that remain – can say that we have done the same? We muddle along, we let life happen to us, we gradually build up a store of memories.”