The Sense of Ending


Julian Barnes




Date Reviewed:

February 7, 2012

ou just don't get it, do you?" That is the question that Veronica repeatedly asks Tony. If only Tony would respond: "No, I don't get it - why don't you tell me what I am missing?" But if Veronica replied to Tony, then this short novel (is this book even long enough to qualify as a novel?) would be even shorter. Not that I wouldn't have minded if A Sense of Ending had been shorter, I found nothing enjoyable in reading this book. I certainly didn't enjoy the wretched characters Tony, Veronica and Adrian.

Here is one of the many glowing blurbs for The Sense of Ending: “A page turner, and when you finish you will return immediately to the beginning . . . Who are you? How can you be sure? What if you’re not who you think you are? What if you never were? . . . At 163 pages, The Sense of an Ending is the longest book I have ever read, so prepare yourself for rereading. You won’t regret it.” —The San Francisco Chronicle Sounds intriguing, eh? But when I read the book, narrated by Tony, he turned out to be exactly what he thought he was. Yes, he wrote one nasty letter when his best friend stole his girlfriend, - when Tony rereads his nasty letter years later, he is surprised and embarrassed at his vitriol - but otherwise there are no surprises to Tony about the life he has led and who he thinks he is. What Tony doesn't know as well as he thought he did was his brilliant friend Adrian and his lunatic girlfriend Veronica. But by the time Veronica has dumped Tony for Adrian, they both have moved out of his life, he has nothing more to do with them. So how could Tony know what happened to Adrian and Veronica when he has been out of touch for forty years? Why would Veronica expect Tony to "just get it" when he hasn't heard from them in so long?

At the end of the book a few things are revealed that are supposed to shock the reader, but I was not shocked. The "big surprise" is no different than stuff you read in the newspaper every day, it seems odd to me that Barnes thinks he could jolt his 21st century readers with such a "surprise". Does the reader blame the "surprising" events on Tony because he wrote a nasty letter? No! Tony is peripheral to the entire story, he is just a distant narrator providing us an incomplete glimpse into the screwed up Veronica / Adrian relationship.

I suppose my disappointment in reading this book is my fault. "You just don't get it, do you?" could be asked to me - haven't I figured out by now the books that win the Booker Prize are not the sorts of books that I enjoy? Yet each year when a prize winning book comes out lauded with high praise, I can't seem to resist picking it up with anticipation. From the Booker Prize winning list, I have read Sense of Ending, To Wolf Hall, The White Tiger, The Life of Pi, The Blind Assassin, Last Orders, The Ghost Road, Sacred Hunger, The English Patient, and the Siege of Krishnapur. In my opinion, only Sacred Hunger and the The Life of Pi were five star masterpieces. I should just ignore the Booker Prize winners (though I admit I am still tempted to try Midnight's Children, that sounds like it might be good...)