THE SENSE OF AN ENDING
By Julian Barnes
I remember falling in love with The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes when I’d read it a couple of years ago. I also remember realising as soon as I’d finished, that I needed to read it again (which I did for a book club), slowly, carefully, with more attention to every word, understanding and savouring the ideas that Barnes subtly, almost insidiously, puts across. Ideas and concepts that I had probably let slip by in my hungry pursuit of the narrative.
Well, the narrative is what it is and I’m a firm believer in all possible sorts. Your story can be anything. It’s how you tell it that matters. Convince me. Barnes did. Retired, well-settled and, perhaps, a tad placid Tony Webster receives a letter and a bequest of money from the departed mother of his ex-girlfriend from college, Veronica. And this triggers a chain of memories from his distant youth, each unfolding gradually in its interpretive shades and details as we read on. Memories of the prodigally gifted and deeply reflective Adrian. The somewhat unreadable Veronica and his weekend with her judging family. Her mostly reticent and yet once curiously chatty mother. And, of course, the suicides. The earlier one from school founding the basis of understanding and comparing with the one from later on. All characters, all turns and twists in the plot, all interpretations and re-interpretations of events, chains of causation, utterances, attitudes, expressions, all seem completely plausible. And through the remembering and recounting of them all is Tony’s sympathetic but pragmatic ex-wife, Margaret, listening to his ramblings, shrewdly pinning the source of his agitation and smartly moving on. And Tony continues to sift through his memories trying to fit them coherently with the reality he sees today.
We all know time to be malleable, sometimes treacherously so, as we are forced to learn during moments of huge emotional turmoil. We also know our memory to be fallible at best, patching together the snatches and snippets that filter through time’s subjective sieve, leading us to construe or misconstrue according to our own predispositions. We know that history is written differently by victors and the vanquished, and again by the survivors of any period of turbulence. We know that each experience of every relationship determines not merely the progress over time of that particular relationship, but of all others as well, for we are but the accumulation of all that we have experienced. We know that while we could fantasize about life imitating art, many of us let life simply happen to us, that our innate inertia leads us to choices that render us peaceable and comfortably settled.
But here is a writer that takes all of this and more and pushes the envelope further and further and even further, until we are gasping drenched in the power of his ideation.
Every word, every observation, every analogy, every metaphor is apt. Just so. And they all impel you to question yourself, to cross check against the parallels in your own personal history, in your own sets of predilections and prejudices, in your own dwelling over personal pettiness and thence missing the larger picture, your own shuffling and reshuffling of cards from your memory to come up with a hand that suits you best at that particular moment.
Barnes’ style of writing is deceptively simple, chatty, homely, but it packs in huge punches, especially when you’re not looking. There’s dry humour, recourse to satire, and an ability and willingness to look at people and things, ourselves included, square in the eye. To me, Barnes is like a wise old owl, nestled comfortably and seemingly stoically in his favourite tree, staring into the darkness around and deciphering nuances in the night as only owls can. He peels the darkness that we hide within us and then pierces right through. Illumination.
Well, this slim little book, more novella than novel, is packed with power and will probably prove to be timeless in its appeal.
(Image Source : Google Images)
I also watched Riteish Batra’s film adaptation of The Sense of an Ending. I was extremely sceptical as to how such a reflective and nuanced piece of writing could be faithfully translated to visual celluloid. But I was happily surprised. Batra has, of course, tweaked the storyline, ironed ambiguities into definitives and fleshed in a character more than in the original. Well directed, well scripted and well performed, it was a rewarding experience. Of course, less so than the book. But I’m not really complaining. Batra has impressed with Lunchbox and Our Souls at Night as well. And am happy that we have a young director who handles human sensitivities with such grace. And quiet confidence.
19 thoughts on “The Sense Of An Ending”
As ever, perfectly enunciated,especially since this is one of my favourite books. I especially agree with the “cross check against the parallels in your own personal history….”
Write on Ro…!
Thanks, Lila! This book was your recommendation to me, thanks for that too!
Well said! 👏
Interesting. I surely want to read this novela now.Am sure,
if, Barnes were to read your appreciation, he would definitely applaud it.
Once again a well written piece Rohini.
Thanks, Kash! And do read the book!
Your own writing style is captivating and compelling! Thanks, i will run to the bookstore virtually now!
Are you Soma Sen ?
Thanks, Soma! I’m sure you will love this book!
Nice one.. Haven’t heard about this book. Thanks for introducing.
Very nicely written Rohini ,this one now joins my bucket list of books
Can’t resist mentioning few small books-Jonathan Livingston seagull by Richard Bach,Catcher in the rye and our own Ranangan by Vishram Bedekar.
Thanks, Ravi! I remember reading Jonathan….decades ago.
Well written review.
Lots of the “stiff upper lip” British Gentry, avoided messy and emotionally complicated relationships to avoid their consequences.
Liesl Shillinger’s book review in The NY Times of this book is also very readable.
His previous books take much lighter and comical view of relationships. In this, his 14th novella, Barnes has gotten bolder, taking the proverbial bull by its horns, and not hiding behind the opacity of “peaceful and idle” life, to unpack the emotional entanglements, in all their messiness.
We are all naked and emotionally vulnerable beings, just need courage and audacity to face them, rather than avoid them.
Younger generations do much better job at handling them than our generation, I think, both in thoughts and action.
Thanks, Anagha! Appreciate the detailed feedback as always.
I don’t care for Julian Barnes’s writing nor did I particularly care for this book. But the power of your review makes me want to read it all over again.
Oh dear…. But if it didn’t appeal at all there is little point in repeating the effort.
Wow. You should become a book reviewer. So we’ll articulated.
Thank you, Louella!