Before I begin my review, I want you all to picture me on a rocking chair in front of a fireplace, rubbing my hands together. Don’t ask me why, just picture it.
Did you? Good.
I finished this book some time ago – a few hours, that is. I’ve been since reflecting on the story, examining its nooks and corners, of which there seem to be quite a few. But most of all, I have been trying to make sense of that ending. Not a pun, believe me.
It isn’t that the ending isn’t clear – it’s perfectly laid out for the reader in so many words. The trouble is, I am unable to comprehend it in all its open ended glory. Like Tony, the protagonist, I “don’t get it”. Turns out, I’m not the only one either, if you check out GR. But that’s beside the point, because the answers in there (yes, I read, but you shouldn’t – there are spoilers) are what we already know. I have this nagging thought at the back of my mind that there is something extremely crucial that I’m missing. Like I’m reading the answer in front of me, but I’m missing something vital.
Oh, sorry, look at me go on and on about the ending when I haven’t said anything about the rest of the story. I am such an unreliable narrator. Much like Tony.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a story about a group of friends, Tony, Colin, Alex, and Adrian. Adrian is the newest member of their group and is cleverer (more philosophical, if you will) than the rest of them. For some reason, he reminded me of Private Quelch from the short story The Man Who Knew Too Much. The guys are your typical show-offs, pretending to be more important than they are. You know the kind – spouting “wisdom” at every turn, pretentious, etc. One of their classmates, Robson, commits suicide after getting a girl pregnant. They make fun of him, even as Adrian tries to get philosophical about it.
Tony, a few years later, meets and goes out with Veronica Ford. She is haughty and constantly makes Tony feel inferior. He stays over at her house one weekend, when her mother, Sarah, tells him not to let her “daughter get away with too much”. Tony does not know what to make of it (neither do I). Later, Tony comes to know that Veronica is involved with Adrian. Later still, Adrian commits suicide. Tony, Alex or Colin do not know why, but they assume he probably had a deep, philosophical reason. Maybe he was too intelligent to live in this world.
Years later, Tony recollects this whole episode. He is now retired, divorced, on friendly terms with his ex-wife and daughter. He has just received a letter from an attorney stating that according to Veronica’s mother’s will, he is now the owner of Adrian’s diary. Confused, he manages to contact Veronica, who is as rude to him as she was when they were young. She refuses to give him the diary, but instead gives him a letter which he had written to them (Veronica and Adrian) when they got together, all the while telling him “You don’t get it.”
Now my lips are sealed.
The Sense of an Ending is a thin book (150 pages) but somehow it seems to pack a lot. The narrative style is simple, conversational; like Tony is talking directly to the reader. Just slightly different from most first person narratives. There is some repetition, like the narrator is trying to drive home a point, even as he tells us his memory is now weak and he is thus, unreliable.
This book is proof that you must never leave a book unfinished. Because the story unravels slowly and the twist, or the Big Reveal happens on the last page. But the trouble is, you do feel like leaving the book unfinished. You feel like Tony is has lived too carefully, and his life is so uninteresting that you don’t care either way. And yet, you are mildly curious about what’s gonna happen.
Considering this book is slightly different from what I’m used to, my mind was developing some bizarre theories about the ending – for instance, I thought Tony suffers from a terrible disease related to his memory (cos he just states too many times that he is afraid of Alzheimer’s) and he doesn’t know it. But of course, the ending was nothing like that. It’s a whole other thing. However, Tony’s observations and examinations are accurate, and I almost got worried that in some parts my thoughts matched that of a man in his sixties! Oh dear!
Maybe years later, if I re-read this book, I will discover facets that I have missed this time. Get a few more answers. I also feel that Julian Barnes’ writing is something that grows on you. It’s not a world kind to outsiders – it has to trust you before it shows you all it is. So all I have for now is an open ended conclusion, which I wish I could make more sense of.