This was my first brush with Barnes, and needless to say, I was quite floored by the brilliance of this mighty little book. The Sense of An Ending is an examination of memory and history, and the convergence of these grand themes from an unreliable, delusional narrator: Tony Webster, an old man looking back on particular events of his life. It’s an intricate portrayal of how unreliable memories can be, how we might edit things out and recreate histories of ourselves, how certain unpleasant memories can be repressed and modified into versions we ’d like to present instead. And eventually, the lines between truth and memory blur into an enigma that recedes in clarity with time.
At the center of it, it’s Tony’s story, through and through. It’s his perspective of the events and characters that you get, but he also acknowledges, time and again that it’s his own experience.
“You might ask me to apply my ‘theory’ to myself and explain what damage I had suffered a long way back and its consequences might be: for instance, how it might affect my reliability and truthfulness. I’m not sure if I could answer this, to be honest.”
And it’s this reflexive self-consciousness that I really adored. You’re, at once, being told a story, while in parallel, are left to draw your own conclusions on the truth of what he is saying and what you choose to take from it. I loved that ambiguity and balance Barnes creates.
Another thing I truly appreciated was the language. His writing is the perfect blend of elegance, intelligence, wit, and structure. There’s this rhythm, cadence, musicality even, to his sentences that loop back on themselves. It’s such a pleasure to experience.
Avoiding spoiler territory, towards the end you get a clear interpretation, hinted at, of the equation from Adrian’s diary. The consequence of which is a ‘sense of the ending’ the reader is left to infer. But interestingly enough, it can be extrapolated to infer something else, and here, I would highly recommend you go look up Goodreads discussion thread on the ending of this book.
Though this is an excellent novel, it wasn’t a 5 star read for me. I really appreciated several aspects of it, but I was never invested in any of the characters and some of the impact was lost there. Still, undoubtedly one I’d highly recommend.