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Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Book Review:  The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

by Julie Failla Earhart, Walrus Contributor

Julian Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for his latest work, The Sense of an Ending. Barnes has had a stellar writing career, publishing 13 previous novels, four nonfiction works, and one translation. I attempted to read his Flaubert’s Parrot and The History of the World in 10½ Chapters. I neither understood the former nor liked the later; however, that did not deter me from giving The Sense of an Ending a shot.

The story opens fascinatingly enough with a short list of the things the narrator, Tony Webster, remembers. It then jumps back in time to Tony’s high school days. His memories are reflective, which could explain the lack of tension in these sections. Tony is on the downhill side of middle-age and facing retirement. He is either a plodding individual or his life has slowed down as he has–even his romantic dalliances lack spark and creativity. The most exciting and interesting parts of the story are when he recalls the suicide of a classmate, though even those memories lack conflict.
About halfway through, Tony must deal with another suicide of close high school friend, Adrian. Adrian left Tony his diary, currently in possession of the mother of his ex-high school girlfriend, Veronica.  After Tony broke up with Veronica, Adrian dated her, but they were never married.  Veronica returns to Tony’s life through an exchange of nasty emails, resulting in the bulk of the story.  With Adrian’s death and the resulting events, Tony is forced to re-think his life and his childhood.

The Sense of an Ending reminded me of an old saying when teaching creative writing:  “If a character sits around thinking, that is not a plot, but if the character does something about the thoughts, well, now you have got a story.”  To me, Barnes’ story slants more to the former than the latter.

This book may appeal to those who like philosophy and self-reflection.

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