The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single setting, The Sense of an Ending has the psychological and emotional depth and sophistication of Henry James at his best, and is a stunning new chapter in Julian Barnes’s oeuvre.
This intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
Even if you’re not sure about this novel, it’s 163 pages. Anybody can handle that. Not that it’s a bad book. Far from it.
The Sense of an Ending is a very quiet book that unravels the layers of life at all stages. From Tony’s reminiscences of his youth, to his days at university, the fleeting path between young adult and decidedly middle-aged, to the perspective only gained by a life well-lived.
This novel resonated with me, despite it being a book largely about looking backward. At this stage in my life, I am wholly obsessed with looking forward.
FromThe Sense of an Ending:
A friend of ours…had a son in a punk rock band. I asked if she’d heard any of their songs. She mentioned one called “Every Day is Sunday'” I remember laughing with relief that the same old adolescent boredom goes on from generation to generation. Also that the same sardonic wit is used to escape from it. “Every day is Sunday” — the words took me back to my own years of stagnancy, and the terrible waiting for life to begin.
This section really rang true for me and it seems to be one sliver of the great imagining the novel is hinting at. It always seems like we’re waiting for our lives to begin, only to find out one day that, not only did it begin, it happened and we’ve come through the other side. Above my desk, I have a little sign that reads ‘The funny thing about joy is that you only really find it when you’re having too much fun to go looking for it’. As humans, I think we’re driven by this need to understand our lives by denoting them. FIRST KISS. FIRST VACATION. FIRST TRIP TO ANOTHER COUNTRY. BIRTH OF MY FIRST CHILD. The unfortunate part of that is, of course, that when you reduce your life into a series of moments, you miss it. Kind of like when you take a film you’ve never seen and analyze it shot by shot, you miss what the film is even about in the first place.
Anyway, back to the book. This novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2011. Previous winners range from Life of Pi by Yann Martel to Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. This is a novel as much about growing up as it is about growing old as it is about growing younger. About looking forwards, backwards, and ultimately, into the present. About finding our path after we’ve already walked it.