Book review: The sense of an ending

The Sense of An EndingThis 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?”

Photo credit: Ellen Warner
Photo credit: Ellen Warner

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.”

A novel peppered with much philosophies about life, this is a relatively short but heavy read that you should take time to savor and mull over.


11 thoughts on “Book review: The sense of an ending

  1. I loved this book (and wrote an essay about it for a publication I help edit), as it doesn’t follow a typical “redemptive” narrative. The last paragraph, which you highlight above, is short but full of thoughts to mull over, for sure. I know this is an old post, but I’ve enjoyed poking around your blog!

  2. This had been a slow read for me, exactly because it has to be savored and mulled over. It was a good read, but I don’t think I’d ever read it again.

  3. Another book I’ve had on my list for a long time, and had many recommendations of, but never quite got around to it. Too many books, so little time! Thank you for this, looks like this will be my next read.

  4. I forgot how much I enjoyed this book – you’re right though, It’s pretty heavy for such a wee book! I think I preferred the first section and Tony looking back over his school years and his friendship with Adrian but maybe that’s the point as well, that Toby feels his younger years were his best and he’s living vicariously through the past.

    1. There is so much nostalgia and regrets in his recount about his younger days that I think adds on to the overall heavy atmosphere clouding the book. Glad you enjoyed the book Jennifer!

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