18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking Back in Remorse
Julian Barnes' very short new novel, currently nominated for the Man Booker Prize, is by no means perfect -- but it is very much authentic, and that counts for a lot with me. As its title suggests, it is written by a man approaching 70, like Barnes himself, looking back on his youth and re-evaluating. This may be a limitation for younger readers, but it is what one does...
Published 20 months ago by Roger Brunyate
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Writing! Lack of logic or closure.
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...
Published 16 months ago by Gregory Nixon
Most Helpful First | Newest First
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking Back in Remorse,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)Julian Barnes' very short new novel, currently nominated for the Man Booker Prize, is by no means perfect -- but it is very much authentic, and that counts for a lot with me. As its title suggests, it is written by a man approaching 70, like Barnes himself, looking back on his youth and re-evaluating. This may be a limitation for younger readers, but it is what one does around that age, and Barnes handles it with impressive honesty. As an Englishman of very similar background myself, and only a year or two older, I found the book uncannily full of echoes from my own life, and no doubt those of many others: the group of friends in high-school who go their separate ways, the strange limbo of early sixties sex, a friend's suicide, the mystery of a never quite forgotten first girlfriend. I have not felt so much part of a novel since reading Ian McEwan's ON CHESIL BEACH; this may bias my review, but it also speaks to a depth of personal connection in the author's mind too. This makes the book, short though it is, a vast improvement on Barnes' recent set of short stories, PULSE, and almost as good as THE LEMON TABLE, the wonderful collection that preceded it.
Tony Webster is a man in his later sixties, divorced, the father of a grown daughter, and comfortably retired. Then a letter arrives that sends him back in memory to his high-school days and his friendship with Adrian Finn, a brilliant student clearly destined for great things. While Adrian is indeed achieving academic success at Cambridge, Tony pursues his studies at a provincial university, devoting as much time to a mostly-unconsummated relationship with Veronica Ford, his girlfriend from a rather more upscale family. Then, when Tony is visiting in America, Adrian dies. There seems no mystery about it at the time, but when Tony is forced to reconsider after a gap of forty-some years, his search becomes a moral calculus, weighing the value of that one life against what he's made of his own, settling for an undistinguished career and marriage, calling it comfort but really meaning cowardice.
The opening sections of the novel have strong similarities to Alan Bennett's play THE HISTORY BOYS, and the question of what constitutes history runs all through the book. The teenage Tony quotes Churchill's aphorism that "History is written by the victors," but his teacher counters that "it is also the self-delusion of the defeated." As Tony looks back on his life, different and sometimes surprising versions of the truth will emerge, and the question of winners and losers will by no means be so clear. This is the intellectual mystery of the book, and I found it fascinating. But you cannot write a novel on philosophical and literary reflections alone; there need also be events, shifts of direction, surprise revelations. Here I think Barnes falls short. The disclosures in the last section of the story, pulled like rabbits out of the hat, are in my opinion inadequately prepared in the first half. So while Barnes ties up the mysteries with the neatness of a PD James or Agatha Christie, he leaves Tony's personal calculus disappointingly open-ended.
I guess I'll just have to work out my own past in my own way!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Man Booker at last?,
Part One is Tony's admittedly selective and possibly faulty memory of his school days and his faltering romance with Veronica. His marriage to Margaret and the birth of a daughter, subsequent divorce and the marriage of his daughter are summarily dismissed in a page or two. Part Two finds Tony in advanced middle age realising that he never accomplished much and just flowed along the river of life going wherever it carried him. A fragment of a diary left to him in Adrian's will starts him on his quest of trying to set things right by reconnecting with Veronica. In the last couple of pages we learn Tony got it all wrong, "you just don't get it" as Veronica had always told him. Barnes has left us with a bit of a cliff hanger or at least makes us reread sections of the book much as Tony has had to re-interpret his own life.
Book reviews in the Guardian and Globe and Mail do the book more justice. A true gem, Julian Barnes will be remembered.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "You don't get it, do you...!?",
Isolated memory snippets open the novel: a "shiny inner wrist; a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams; another river...; bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door". Initially we don't really know where we are and who is talking. The narrator wonders about "everyday" time - "it holds us and moulds us"; pain or pleasure can give us the illusion of its stretching or contracting... Something has triggered his musings that take his mind back to "a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty."
Those incidents take us without much transition to his adolescent years, when growing up is as daunting as it is exciting: close friendships are an essential component, so are school and teachers, and the mounting physical urge for intimate encounters... Barnes is perceptive and astute in his depiction of Tony and his trio of close friends. Adrian, "a tall, shy boy who initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself..." stands out in terms of intelligence and his admiration for Camus's existentialist philosophy. The others, while joining in the wide-ranging debates in class - on history, on "Birth, Copulation, and Death", on poetry - are more concerned with "getting" a girl or pretending to... These are the early nineteen-sixties and the sexual liberation may be spreading elsewhere but not here.
Then, school is out and life moves on... fast forward. An early tragedy, rather than bringing them together, pushes the friends further apart. So, what, forty odd years later, brought all these memories back to the fore in Tony's mind? Why does his first girlfriend's "You don't get it, do you...!?" comes back to haunt him after all these years? Didn't she not call him a "coward" then, but why? Along the way, we receive few hints as to the connections between past and present. Barnes holds his cards close to his chest, just giving us enough context to want to keep reading... It is only when reaching the novel's concluding pages that we are confronted with scenarios that challenge our own recollections of what might have happened earlier on. Did we get caught out in the memory game by missing sublte clues, by interpreting behaviour and events to suit our image of the hero? Could our perception of Anthony Webster's character potentially "stand up in court"? For me personally, the ending of the book made my reading of the book as a whole much more meaningful. The first part, set in the school and boys' environment, while well captured and interesting in a detached sort of way, did not overly engage my female mind. Yet, after reaching the last pages I looked back at the earlier depictions of people and events and felt them bringing out additional layers and depths to the story. In the end, did Barnes leave enough clues for his readers to solve all of the puzzles? It is up to the reader to decide. [Friederike Knabe]
*) shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful,
The second half of the novel is set after Tony has retired, his marriage with Margaret lasting much longer but ending in amicable divorce. He is suddenly forced to reassess his past when a letter from a solicitor turns up informing him that he has been bequeathed Adrian's diary by Veronica's mother but also the news that Veronica, whom Tony had edited out of his past in discussions with Margaret, is currently in possession of the diary and looks unlikely to pass it on.
At the heart of the novel is an almost Proustian analysis of memory and history and Tony is much more at home with the historical certainties of the Greeks and Romans than of the mess of uncertainty of the near past. The focus of his reminiscence is a disastrous trip he took with Veronica to spend a weekend in Kent at her home with her family and every nuance and uttering is re-evaluated with each new exchange with Veronica as he tries to prove to her for once and for all that he finally gets it.
This is a short volume coming in at 150 pages but every word packs its power. Only on looking back do you begin to realise the complexity of the story as you begin to wonder whether your memory of earlier events or his is the one which is correct. I haven't had a chance to reread the book but I'm sure it's one that would get even better on a second visit. It more than justifies its inclusion in the Booker long list and unless Alan Hollinghurst has pulled out a gem with 'the Stranger's Child' I believe this one could go all the way and bag the prize.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Writing! Lack of logic or closure.,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `How often do we tell our own life story?',
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.'
5.0 out of 5 stars Polarizing,
This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (Paperback)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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful Opportunity to Consider the Limits of Perception, Memory, Self Knowledge, and Responsibility,
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!!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barnes is an outstanding wordsmith,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)It is an absolute pleasure to read Julian Barnes' latest novel. He is such an outstanding wordsmith, and here he amply proves it. There is a reason behind each word and sentence in this carefully crafted short novel, with all the pieces fitting in nicely as we glide with ease through the story. Yet, The Sense of an Ending is deceptively simple; there is much depth and maturity just one scratch below the surface. Highly recommendable!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected,
This review is from: Sense of An Ending (Paperback)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.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (Paperback - Feb 21 2012)
CDN$ 19.95 CDN$ 14.40