Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Published October 2011 by Knopf Publishing Group
Source: This one is mine.

Publisher's Summary:
This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

My Thoughts:
The literary critics love this book (it won the Man Booker Prize in 2011) and most bloggers did as well. But books the critics love don't always do it for me and there were enough bloggers who didn't care for The Sense of an Ending, that I've been hesitant to pick it up. Still I picked it up when I found a good used copy and when my friend Teri (Quinceberry) raved about it on Twitter, I decided to give it a chance. When I got to the end of the year and I needed one more book to reach my reading goal and only a couple of days to squeeze one in, I figured this title was the perfect book to end the year with. And The Big Guy had picked it up and read it in a couple of days, faster by far than he usually reads a book.
"History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."
The Sense of an Ending is all about the imperfections of memory. Forty years after college, Tony is called upon to rethink his memories of that time, memories that have formed the basis for his life. Tony has never tried to think too deeply; he is a man who lets things happen to him and, except for once in his life, has tried to life a peaceful life. The legacy he receives causes him to reflect on his life, pondering what he has done, what he thinks he knows, and what he has learned.

Barnes' writing reminds me very much of Ian McEwan's. The Sense of an Ending is a story you almost don't see coming, at first appearing to be little more than one man rethinking his life. And what an ending - whoa, I did not see that coming. It is also a book filled with little yellow sticky notes of passages that made me think.
"Does character develop over time? In novels, of course, it does, otherwise there wouldn't be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. Our attitudes and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that's something different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except that character peaks a little later, between twenty and thirty, say. And, after that, we're just stuck with what we've got. We're on our own. If so, that would explain a lot of lives, wouldn't it? And also - if this isn't too grand a word - our tragedy."
There were times I got frustrated while reading The Sense of an Ending, reading it makes you work and one character in the book just grated me the wrong way. Of course, that is precisely what Barne's intended, as every word of this book was intended, carefully constructed to be both a good story and a great piece of writing.

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