The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Published: August 4th 2011
 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes Book Review

“Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.
Now Tony is retired. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.”

This will be spoiler-free, so enjoy and don’t worry about ruining it for yourself!


“Memory, though, is imperfect”

After only reading 15 pages, I already knew I was going to enjoy this book and I could even imagine myself re-reading it. I haven’t had an instant attraction like that towards any piece of literature in such a long time so it was a fantastic surprise, especially considering I had very low expectations. I believed it would be very much like The Catcher in the Rye and I despise, with every cell in my body, Holden Caulfield. I finished that damn book out of principle above anything else – I hated it. Anyway, wonderfully and surprisingly, The Sense of an Ending managed to make it’s way into my list of favourite books and I’m already urging others to read it. It was hugely fascinating, as a person who analyses every aspect of their life so deeply, to read about the tales of someone else doing the exact same thing.

I sneakily had a look at the reviews on Goodreads after I finished and this has completely divided the opinions of the readers. It’s a love-it hate-it type book, by the looks of it. Personally, I loved it. I can understand why people dislike it – it’s a little bit pretentious (but that’s the point), it’s vague (again, that’s the point) and the entire plot could be resolved with one character, Veronica, simply telling the protagonist the truth rather than letting him work it out for himself (personally, I like to suspend my belief when reading fiction – I’m willing to believe for the sake of a brilliant plot). On the other hand, though, it’s mysterious, thrilling, interesting, charming and it had me gripping the pages as if the world would end if I didn’t finish them.

“Yes, of course we were pretentious – what else is youth for?”

The book is divided into two-parts with no use of chapters. The first half of the novel reminisces about Anthony’s college and university years, primarily focusing on the relationships he formed with his group of close friends. These years are openly pretentious and modern. They are very intelligent and they know it.

However, Tony’s detailed account of his life is full of references to how easily it is for memory to falter. The theme of memory, and it’s tendency to fade, is continued throughout the entire novel. Because memory is such an ambiguous topic, it’s forever mysterious.

 “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

The second half of the novel returns to the present-day. It focuses on age alongside memory and how the two are related. Losing my memory is my greatest fear so I found this topic pretty hard to swallow – it was a little distressing, actually, but it’s written so intriguingly that I enjoyed it nonetheless. The topic of paranoia is also touched upon. After the loss of his friend and a mysterious letter (that’s not a spoiler, I promise. It’s actually in the blurb!), Tony digs into the whys and hows of his friend’s past.

“You find yourself repeating “they grow up so quickly, don’t they?” when all you really mean is: time goes faster for me nowadays.”

I certainly did not expect that ending. It’s as if it came from nowhere. Honestly, it took me a little while to actually figure out what the hell just happened. I re-read the revelation and conclusion several times before deciding that I understood. I was in shock! It was bitter, hostile but also equal parts touching and full of regret. Once you understand what’s gone on, all of those sneaky little hints throughout the novel all make sense… everything. I knew I’d love to read it again! I knew it right from the start.

I’d hugely recommend The Sense of an Ending if you’re into mysteries, thrillers, psychology and the topic of memory. Fantastic book!


Have you ever read this book? Did you enjoy it?

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You can read my previous post here.


Photographs are my own. © Morgan Mills.

11 thoughts on “The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

  1. I’ve read this book .. wait for it … because of Benedict Cumberbatch. Hahaha I was looking for book recommendations by my favourite actors and this one came up. I did not love it as much as you did, but I think I just wasn’t in the right mood for it, but instead of reading it later on, I forced myself through it. Also … it was the 4th book in a row featuring suicide and my mum was getting really worried about me, even though I swear that was not on purpose.


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