Book Review: The Sense Of An Ending By Julian Barnes


The Sense of an Ending is a book that has sat on my TBR pile for far too long. Written in 2011 it won Julian Barnes the Man Booker prize in that year and has been met with positive reviews from all those I know who have read it. This story is split into two parts, both narrated by Tony Webster. The story starts with three teenage school boys who befriend the new student, Adrian. Adrian is a smart, like really smart, and much more serious than the others. Although they find him thoroughly odd, they accept him amongst their ranks. We then move through their university years, still through the eyes of Tony, focussing a lot on his relationship with Adrian back in the day. He reflects on how his own and his friends’ lives panned out and the philosophical difficulty of ever knowing what has truly occurred.

Although this novel is fairly short, it still manages to pack quite the punch. The Sense of an Ending is all about remembering and culpability. About how much responsibility we should take for actions that were carried out in the past. Even if you were not directly involved in an event, your part to play may still have been significant in determining the event’s outcome. These reflections are slowly unravelled over the course of this story and it serves as a strong reminder not to jump to conclusions and to never assume what you do not know for sure.

A lot of this book is about self discovery so if you’re the sort of reader who likes everything handed to you on a plate then this probably isn’t the book for you. Although it’s a short piece of work, it’s a slow burner and over time you begin to slot various different pieces together and realise that things aren’t perhaps as they first seem. What at first seems like a reliable narrator later proves himself to be anything but which throws everything you think you know into doubt. This continues until you reach the abrupt end of the novel which is truly unexpected. I had no idea what was coming and was thoroughly flabbergasted when the plot twist was revealed. I promptly turned to google to double check that what I thought had happened was correct as it is not made explicit. It’s also rather dark.

The “vibe” of this book really reminded me of The Secret History by Donna Tartt so I would recommend this to fans of her book if you haven’t already read this. In much the same way as TSH,  none of the characters in The Sense of an Ending are likeable. Indeed, if I met any of them in real life, I’d probably hate them all. However, they are fascinating to watch in the present and in the past. The protagonist is what I’d call a whiny little b*tch. Life didn’t go his way but the way he handles certain situations reveals he is incredibly socially inept.  Furthermore, the female protagonist is the sort of girl I’d hate in real life. Although we never see things from either Veronica or Adrian’s POV, they both seem like interesting, but undesirable, characters.

All in all, I had high expectations for The Sense of an Ending and it did not disappoint. This book deserves the title of modern classic and its message will linger long after you have put this story down.

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