le 25 juin 2013
Julian Barnes’ 2011 Man Booker Prize winning novel ” The Sense of an Ending” follows the life of Tony, an awkward and desperately intelligent soul. Bildungsroman – I’m not entirely certain how to use it in a sentence, but this is the term that I believe is used for this genre of novel.
Although nothing remarkable really happens for the majority of the story, I still found myself incapable of turning away from the page. Told in first person, I can only assume that this had something, or perhaps everything, to do with the voice of its’ protagonist. The novel begins with Tony, to the best of his ability, recounting his journey from youth into adulthood, with a strong emphasis on a genius whom he called his friend, and a girl (I feel that I needn’t say more than that). Insecure, uncertain, and yet sure that his paradigm is correct and his memories sound, Tony frequently explains to the reader that he has a specific story he wishes to tell. Omitting descriptions of acquaintances and friends that don’t immediately serve his narrative, the question ‘what story is he talking about?’ rested very near the outskirts of my periphery. That question is, in fact, not really answered until nearly three quarters of the way through the novel, at which point we catch up with Tony in the present day, and the story takes yet another turn.
Simple and yet astonishing, Barnes cleverly pulls the reader from start to finish with delicate hints of unrest and mystery.
As I read, I couldn’t help but compare Tony Webster’s relationship with Victoria (the girl) with that of Philip Carey and Mildred – the relationship depicted in Somerset Maugham’s novel “Of Human Bondage.” I saw the similarities between these two relationships even before finishing the book and flipping to the back page to see that one of Julian Barnes’ honours included the ‘Somerset Maugham Award.’ Perhaps I picked up on something after all.
Love, infuriating love, in all its irrationality and hopelessness had me tempted to throw Maugham’s book out the window. My reaction wasn’t quite so strong with Barnes’ novel, but perhaps this is because the nature of the narration led me to consistently question the validity of Tony’s retelling of events.
The novel certainly provoked the problem of the unreliable narrator. I often wondered if I could entirely trust Tony, and yet I knew I didn’t have a choice.
In this way the “The Sense of an Ending” shares some similarities with the novel “The Good Soldier” by Ford Maddox Ford.” A novel where the protagonist is consistently caught out in a lie, often back-tracking, and even more often apologizing for forgotten information that might have swayed the readers opinion a different way had it been shared when it had been relevant.
Perhaps it is the combination of all of these factors which kept me riveted to the page and, upon completing the work, inspired the desire to read it again.
The big question asked by Barnes in the context of this novel is based on the validity of history. How is history created, and can we trust it? In a world where every soul tells a different story of the same event, how can we ever be comfortable in our own reality? How can we be sure of anything? Is it better to ask these questions, or is it better to live in a comfortable state of ignorance. I recently read a post on Facebook which seems to compliment these questions perfectly: “I wish I was just dumb enough to not realize that I was dumb.”
I would like to share an excerpt from the novel that I feel fully encapsulates what it’s about – don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler.
“But time… how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time… give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical”
As I read through this review, and look over the above passage, I feel certain that what makes this book so memorable is the bravery of its’ author in sharing such an unapologetic and sometimes unlikable voice with his audience. With this honesty, he turns the microscope back on us, because behind our pleasant smiles and polite nods, he knows that we’ll each continue to re-write our own histories in a light that paints us only as well-meaning and rational… even if we aren’t.
le 30 juillet 2012
I have not read a novel so polarizing as The Sense of an Ending. Just look at some of the other reviews. It is so well crafted and achieved that the reader may question the fact it was on purpose. But all one needs to do after reading is look to the title and I defy you not to at least smirk. If you are the type of reader who enjoys a novel that is tied up in a nice bow by the end I would avoid this book. This novel seems ideal for any book club. The desire to discuss and confirm the narrator's take on events in book make it self-reflexive. You look to other people around you to help you make 'sense' of the book. This process may be fun it is ultimately futile. The reader should try and decide for themselves before seeing what other readers have to say. This fact makes the book difficult to review or even describe to friends. All you can say is just read it. This book may not engage your heart but it will engage your mind. The Sense of an Ending is about, 'Making sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives.' Deep. Please check out my first published work Defenseless
le 31 mars 2012
I am not sure if I missed something but this certainly wasn't anything to rave about. I am not sure why it is so highly acclaimed. I found the story to be very one-dimensional and not particularly interesting. I was happy when it was over so I could move on to better things. It was well written, but I don't think it is worth the award just because of that when the plot was flat and the book wasn't memorable at all.
Tony Webster, a cautious and careful man, aged in his 60s receives an unexpected bequest from a woman he'd met, the mother of his girlfriend Veronica Ford, 40 years earlier. She has bequeathed him £500, and her diary, and he has no idea why. This legacy unsettles Tony and he gets in touch with Veronica to try to obtain the diary (which Veronica has) and to get some answers to long unresolved questions.
In seeking answers to these questions, Tony needs to revisit a past of which his own memories are not completely reliable. For, in living his life so carefully and noncommittally, Tony has been a spectator rather than a participant. This is not true of his friend Adrian Finn, or of Veronica Ford or her mother. But what does this mean, and does it matter? When Tony and Veronica broke up, Adrian and Veronica became a couple. This ended in tragedy, but it is a larger tragedy than Tony realised at the time.
`History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.'
Comparing Tony's self-absorbed account of the past with what apparently happened makes it clear that Tony's life experience is comparatively limited, stilted and free of risk, and largely bereft of joy. For me, this novel is more about questions of life than it is about fictional characters.
`What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully?'
While I enjoyed reading this novel, I found it unsettling: how many of us, of a similar age to Tony would also have some disconnect between memory and fact? Finding out more about the bequest may answer some questions for Tony, but it raises others. And a number of thoughts related to those questions have remained with me in the 3 months that have elapsed since I read this book.
`It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.'
"Surely, in vain the net is spread
In the sight of any bird;" -- Proverbs 1:17 (NKJV)
Unlike today's tendency to overwrite fiction, Julian Barnes looked to write the minimum in The Sense of an Ending. For that alone, I would praise this brief, but compelling, work.
Much in the way that a parable or a proverb captures a much larger truth that can be applied to a multiplicity of challenges and circumstances, this story reveals a lot about life, human foibles, and ourselves. It's the last lesson that lifts this work above whatever else you will probably read in contemporary fiction this year.
If you've ever gotten into a situation where something totally unexpected occurred involving people you thought you knew well, you'll love this book! You'll realize that your experience is probably a lot more common than you think.
In this story, the retired Tony Webster receives two legacies from a woman whom he barely knew and hasn't seen in many years. Why would she do that? Ah! That's the doorway through which we discover what Tony has missed about the past. From there, he tries to pin matters down as best he can . . . but he's no Sam Spade. You'll see the clues that he finds, and you'll probably find most of them to be as useless as he does. It's a level playing field in a particularly interesting competition between misunderstanding and truth.
Bravo, Mr. Barnes!!
le 13 février 2012
I found this book to be unable to hold my interest and lacking purpose. I purchased the audio book, which I normally enjoy since I'm visually impaired and that is all I buy, however the narrator was somewhat monotoned and rather boring.
le 26 janvier 2012
This book is a real let down. Simultaneously macabre and mundane, the novella is built around a big mystery that when revealed is so cheap and implausible it's sad. The strength of this book is in some of its evocative imagery and some pedestrian musings that ring true, women often do stick with hairdos that are too young for them. If this kind of insight can sustain you over 150 pages then enjoy. I have found Julian Barnes' interviews associated with his post-Booker media blitz really compelling, making this book all the more of a disappointment. A Booker? Really?
It was a pleasure to read what my fellow reviewers had to say about this novella. I was concerned that I was the only one intrigued but confused. It was a strange experience for me as I loved the writing style but the story confuses more than illuminates and the self delusion of main character, Tony Webster, is off-putting. Still I was compelled to continue it to the end, if only for the cool prose and truly quotable soundbites of life's challenges. This is a lively selection for any book club to debate and dissect.
Ostensibly, "The Sense of an Ending" describes a domestic drama in which Tony Webster revisits his school days to make sense of his current circumstances. However, the short novel quickly becomes much more: a meditation on memory, a questioning of history and a philosophical discussion about the nature of time.
The book opens in the early sixties in when three sexually ambitious and frustrated boys, including Webster, are in their final year of secondary school. A new boy, Adrian Finn, soon joins the group and proves so thoughtfully intelligent that one of the teachers says to him in front of the class: 'I retire in five years. And I shall be happy to give you a reference if you care to take over.' The boys scatter after graduation and only get back in touch after Adrian's suicide, an event that sparks cogitation about "the noble death" or, as Camus described suicide, "the only true philosophical question."
Compelling and exquisitely concise, "The Sense of an Ending" offers a merciless portrait of a man who "just doesn't get it" but who nevertheless attempts to write a comfortable and human personal history.
le 1 janvier 2012
I am not surprised that this was nominated for the Booker prize, but I am surprised it won. The writing is so deceptively simple, yet elegant, that one travels in time along with the author with the greatest of ease, and it is a stirring pleasure to do so. However the literature's "postmodern" ambiguity - mysteries begun but never completely explained - that made me feel mainly frustration at closing the book when I was done. Some of the actions of the characters simply do not make sense and a rationale is never provided. Their words and actions are often jarring or bizarre and they end up seeming slightly crazy, which I don't believe was the author's intent. Some will love this book for they have come to believe that threads of sub-plots left hanging are best left to our own imagination. I would rather have some closure, or at least some hints why certain people would act in the manner in they do, which, on the surface, appears without rhyme or reason.