Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Sense of an Ending

I had never read anything by Julian Barnes until my book club chose his short novel The Sense of an Ending as our current selection. The thing that struck me most about his writing was its ease. The narration, which seems to combine the autobiographic quality of Philip Roth with a certain British refinement that reminded me of Ian McEwan's work, hit just the right note for the story and had a natural feel and flow to it from the very first page. That's not necessarily an easy feat, either, when the plot involves memories, and discrepancies of memory, from a character's past.

The novel's narrator, Tony Webster, is completely upfront with the reader about the possible unreliable nature of his memories. The first part of the book is a series of scenes that paint a picture of the close knit group of friends of his youth. Drawn to different universities and girlfriends, they drift apart and are ultimately hit with the tragic death of one of their own. Years later, a chain of events forces Tony, now a sixty-something divorced grandfather, to revisit these memories. Through a series of twists and turns, he learns that he may have misinterpreted the facts of his past.

I found the twists that Tony uncovers to be truly surprising. I shared his bewilderment at certain points in the story and thought I'd just about figured things out when I suddenly realized that things weren't exactly what I (or he) had been expecting. Looking back now, I can't decide if I really think the ultimate plot twist was truly believable or not. That's almost irrelevant, though, since I think the most interesting takeaway from the book is its portrayal of a narrator who is very self-aware, even about his own lack of awareness in certain areas, yet who is forced to completely reappraise himself and revise his view of his own past.

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