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499 of 523 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of delicate observation and insight - short but almost perfectly formed
"The Sense of an Ending" is almost more of a novella - it's a slim volume but exquisitely written, as you might expect from Julian Barnes. It starts off describing the relationships between four friends at school, narrated by one of the friends, Tony Webster, but quickly it becomes clear that this is written many years later. Barnes has long been a terrific observer of...
Published on 9 Aug 2011 by Ripple

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263 of 285 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cerebration
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

This first person narrative is a study in obsessive guilt. Tony Webster looks back to his first encounter with Adrian Finn, the new boy at school. Adrian is obviously a cut above the rest of the lads; he is serious, logical and inquisitive, destined for great things at Cambridge University. Years later Tony hears of his...
Published on 24 Aug 2011 by Mr. D. James


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499 of 523 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of delicate observation and insight - short but almost perfectly formed, 9 Aug 2011
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (Hardcover)
"The Sense of an Ending" is almost more of a novella - it's a slim volume but exquisitely written, as you might expect from Julian Barnes. It starts off describing the relationships between four friends at school, narrated by one of the friends, Tony Webster, but quickly it becomes clear that this is written many years later. Barnes has long been a terrific observer of the English middle classes and his style invariably contains satire and dry humour. And this being Barnes, this school clique is intellectual in interest, as the narrator recalls English and History teachers and student philosophising.

Tony is a middle class everyman. He's unexceptional and his subsequent life has been so conventional as to border on the dull, unlike the catalyst for the story Adrian Finn who is intellectually gifted and a natural philosopher of the human condition. However the friendship falls apart after the friends leave to go to university and Adrian enters into a relationship with Tony's ex-girlfriend. And that would have been that, except that many years later a mysterious letter opens up the past causing Tony to reconsider the actions of his youth.

It's a book about history and how we recall events. Tony has his memories but without evidence or corroboration, how sure can he be? Do the lessons learnt in the History classroom apply to the individual? What starts off in the manner of Alan Bennett's "History Boys" soon turns into a darker mystery as Tony is forced to face up to the actions of his younger self.

It's a joy to read. Thought provoking, beautifully observed with just enough mystery to keep you turning the pages to find out what happened. Books that involve the narrator examining their own actions can get too easily bogged down, but by keeping it brief, this never happens with Barnes. There's insight into the human condition and gentle philosophy without it becoming too introspective. It's very readable literary fiction.

Older readers in particular will relate to Tony's struggle with the modernities of the current day.

It's a terrific little book and is highly recommended.
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263 of 285 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cerebration, 24 Aug 2011
By 
Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (Hardcover)
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

This first person narrative is a study in obsessive guilt. Tony Webster looks back to his first encounter with Adrian Finn, the new boy at school. Adrian is obviously a cut above the rest of the lads; he is serious, logical and inquisitive, destined for great things at Cambridge University. Years later Tony hears of his suicide, a carefully arranged affair, with appropriate notes to family, friends and authorities. He had once told Tony that Camus maintained that suicide was the only true philosophical question. The subject arose when a fellow student, Robson, hanged himself after getting his girlfriend pregnant. What possible connection could there be between the fatal decision of the mediocre student Robson, whose last words read simply `Sorry, Mum' and the signing off of the genius Adrian?

The clue - to that part of the novel at least - lies in the relationship both Tony and Adrian have with a rather classy and prickly girl known as Veronica (later Mary) Ford, whose parents Tony visits for a disastrous week-end in Chislehurst, where he is treated rudely both by Veronica's father and her brother Jack, but kindly by Mrs Ford, Veronica's mother. Only in his later years, which absorb most of the second part of this slim novel, does Tony - and possibly the reader - begin to `get it' as Veronica continually puts it about her family situation. By then we have learned of an insulting letter Tony had written to the unhappy pair, Veronica and Adrian, which may or may not have been the trigger that caused his demise. The reader will need to read the novel a second time to pick up on the clues Barnes plants regarding the abortive love affair with the hostile Veronica. In fact the whole book is about unravelling mistaken notions, discovering hidden meanings in past conversations, finding new clues to understanding the self, its delusions and unintended slights with their unforeseen consequences.

I found the book both fascinating and frustrating, as was no doubt the author's intention. It is undoubtedly a clever book, but to me, as with the same author's Flaubert's Parrot, rather too cerebral, lacking the warmth of real human relationships. There are so many things the narrator and reader do not `get'. Why, for instance, should Tony continually pursue a girl, then the girl as woman, who was only using him as a plaything? It makes no sense to him or the reader. Is it sufficient to say that it is the donnée on which the whole book rests, just as other obsessives, like for instance Kemal in The Museum of Innocence or Charles Arrowby in The Sea, The Sea, expend vast energies in pursuit hopeless causes? The difference is that both Pamuk's and Murdoch's novels delve deep into the psyches of their narrators. We understand, sympathise and forgive them, even when they are boring us. At least Barnes's novel is too short to be boring. It is indeed, extremely readable and. in its own way, strangely haunting,
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't completely get it, 30 Nov 2011
By 
covergirl14 (Nottinghamshire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (Hardcover)
This is one of those self-consciously over-wrought, I'm-trying-very-hard-to-bag-The-Prize, literary efforts which I usually avoid like the plague. It reeked of something like Donna Tartt's The Secret History to begin with, which almost put me off completely. However, it has its plus points; the character of Tony is easy to slip into, because of his dullness, even if those around him are infuriatingly enigmatic. I did 'get it' regarding the time/water parallel, and I certainly got it regarding the fragments of history we choose to suppress, or keep, or throw away according to whether we feel guilt, or remorse, or nostalgia. How many of us would actually recall a letter, word for word, written 40 years ago? No, we would remember a sentiment behind it and a few choice phrases. The rest we would have to re-write in our memory as time went on. I have certainly 'reconstructed' a few moments in my own history, to suit my conscience, and this novella did highlight the nature of memory and time very effectively. Although I wish he had not used the words 'history' and 'time' and especially 'memory' in every other sentence - I was suffering from memory lapses myself in the end.
Now to the bits I don't get. The book seemed to hinge not on a theme, or a pivotal moment, or a character, but simply the fact that Tony didn't know something; and that the other characters wouldn't tell him. This was hardly Tony's fault; he was in America at the time. If no-one told him why, how was he supposed to know? And yet we are supposed to feel some sort of sympathy for those who chose not to tell him - just to keep saying, 'you don't get it, do you?' Tony might leave a lot to be desired, but it wasn't his fault he didn't get it.
This 'mystery' drove me mad because it was so contrived, so unexplainable, such a literary cliche. There wouldn't, of course, be any Sense of an Ending, or even a beginning, if Veronica had just said, 40 years before (or indeed at any point), 'Look Tony love, this is how it is.'
Maybe I'm just too Northern and transparent. Maybe I'm a Margaret, not a Veronica. But I found that the loose and slightly ridiculous plot spoiled whatever deeper meaning this novel tried to convey. I read somewhere that Julian Barnes has criticised Ishiguro's writing, but he could learn from that writer's sparse, beautiful style and the deeply poignant 'sense of an ending' that 'Never Let Me Go' managed to describe. I am slightly peeved that this one bagged the Man Booker Prize.
And one more thing - can anyone tell me what the significance of Veronica's mother's strange, 'horizontal' hand gesture was as Tony left Chislehurst? This is also driving me mad.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "How far do the limits of responsibility extend?", 25 Oct 2011
By 
jfp2006 (PARIS/France) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (Hardcover)
**CONTAINS SPOILERS**
I see that The Sense of an Ending has polarized opinion here and there. Personally I found it an almost - but not quite - immaculate piece of short fiction. And far, far superior to the other four Booker-shortlisted titles I've read. Barnes's novella is to my mind a minor classic.

The evidence of Barnes's mastery is there right from the title. I remember being struck, when reading one of Barnes's earlier novels, Talking It Over, by the way in which the title gradually took on a meaning radically different from what might have been anticipated: it might be supposed that people talk things over in order to make sense of them, to reach a more accurate understanding of them. However, it became clear that the alternating narrators of Talking It Over found themselves, whether or not deliberately, complicating the meaning of events and experiences by narrating them: talking things over became strangely similar to covering things over, or papering over awkward cracks.

Similarly, The Sense of an Ending is a title which begins to swim before the reader's eyes. The narrator, Tony, this time well into middle age, is, again, thinking things over. This time there is at least a double ambiguity: the "ending" can be taken to be death itself, or, more vaguely, the way various things turn out. And the sense of an ending is both the premonition of death, and of the fact that life is less and less likely to change radically towards its end, as one gets older - and also the need to make sense, retrospectively, of past events, including the death of Adrian, an old schoolfriend of the narrator's.

The most important event in the novel ostensibly appears to be the fact that Adrian started going out with Tony's ex-girlfriend, Veronica, during their final year at different universities and, encouraged by Veronica, sought Tony's benediction of the relationship. The reply sent by Tony is dealt with fairly obliquely in the first part of the novella ("As far as I remember, I told him pretty much what I thought of their joint moral scruples.") But then a photocopy of the letter falls into his hands over forty years later, and this time is given reproduced in full. It is one of the most devastatingly cruel letters imaginable: sour grapes at their most unpleasantly acidic.

And it seems that most of the narrator's later disillusionment and remorse revolves around that incident. Except that he is, towards the end, forced to start making sense of something which he had never suspected...

The conclusion has been felt by many to be unsatisfactory and implausible. I can imagine Julian Barnes receiving numerous letters asking him whether we are supposed to understand that Adrian in fact... And I can imagine the smile on his face as he reads them (and perhaps answers them...) But of course Barnes is not going to give any answers - any more than he chose to complete the sentence "So, for instance, if Tony" at the end of the isolated page from Adrian's diary.

Much speculation has appeared on the Booker site. Did Adrian...? Did Tony...? But when the penultimate section of the novel - the one where the narrator finally says "I got it" - is read carefully, I think the reader gets it too. In other words:

**SPOILER ALERT**
Veronica's mother Sarah ("making a secret horizontal gesture") tried to seduce Tony, her daughter's boyfriend. The broken eggs in the frying pan seem to symbolize a certain lackadaisical waywardness on her part. And she later succeeded in seducing her daughter's next boyfriend, Adrian, and thereafter giving birth to a handicapped child.

The clues, when the reader looks back carefully, are there, notably when the schoolboys speculate about Adrian's separated parents and one of them (we never learn which one, and it doesn't matter) says "Maybe your mum has a young lover?" Of course, this is a reference to Adrian's mother, not Mrs Ford; nevertheless, the possiblity of toyboy lovers is clearly posited.

We also learn that Mrs Ford, widowed, as far as we can determine, around the age of fifty, moved to London and "took in lodgers, even though she'd been left well provided for." Possibly to keep her emotional and sexual options open in seventies London...
**END OF SPOILER ALERT**

But, in the end, surely the point is that we can never be absolutely and totally sure about anything...

I said earlier that I found the novel "not quite" immaculate, and that's because of the

**SPOILER ALERT**
hair-raising trips in Veronica's car towards the end. It's a slightly heavy-handed way of indicating that Veronica is in fact more damaged than Tony realised.
**END OF SPOILER ALERT**

And another couple of minor quibbles:
* Tony's letter, written in the late sixties, refers to Veronica as "a control freak". Was that phrase around then? Isn't it an anachronism?
* The metaphorical "ice flow" on page 132 should be an "ice floe".

But, all in all, The Sense of an Ending is a deeply moral novel about the need to make sense of one's actions, and the need to face up to the consequences of actions which may have seemed inconsequential, or inexplicable, initially. Time, the novel makes clear, catches up on people. Irresponsible actions come home to roost. Similar points were made, with similar elegance and mastery, in John Banville's The Sea.

The whole things clocks in, allowing for the blank pages, at only 145 pages. But I reckon it a far superior work to the longer novels which were shortlisted - just as Banville's The Sea was far superior to Ishiguro's vastly overrated Never Let Me Go six years ago.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, 6 May 2012
This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (Hardcover)
The Sense of an Ending is a tiny book - merely 150 pages - and I think most of the people will regard it as a quick read, but that is where they are wrong. I don't think that this book is meant to be read in one go or over few days. It is more of a book that is better to be read in bite sizes to get the most of it. It feels like this book is offering a mirror to each reader and it is up to every one of us whether we decide to reflect upon our lives when reading the book or just take it at a face value and read just the story as it is.

The story itself is a reminiscence of a childhood and adulthood of a retired man, who is forced through some current events to see his past and its consequences in completely different light. For me, the story itself would have been interesting enough to read, but what I found more intriguing was that the book was literally littered by provoking thoughts. When I read a book, I always mark any interesting parts that I would like to either quote or go back to when I finish the book. With this book I marked 39 of them! Some of them are sentences, some are paragraphs. I don't think I can say that I was reading this book. I think it is more accurate to say that I was working through the book. I read few pages (sometimes just few paragraphs), I paused, I reflected, I let the book work on me and I continued when I was ready to continue. This book took me on an incredible journey and when I finished it, I was lost for words. And believe me, that doesn't happen often. And then, out of nowhere, great sadness washed over me because of the though, that we all have great and highly treasured memories, that we are fond off and no one can guarantee us, that what we remember is actually what happened and how it happened. And I got this urging wish to take back time and to be able to re-live the moments again.

Most of the time, especially when we are young, we don't even think how much our actions impact on other people and how much damage words can do. I think that one of the wisdoms I took away from the book is that we all need to try to make peace with our past because it has much more influence on our future than we can ever imagine. But then as the book says `You still don't get it. You never did, and you never will. So stop even trying.'

I would recommend to have a go at this book as it is beautifully written and there is something essentially human delivered through the story and some more is left to be found when you read between the lines. Let me know what you think.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time and memory, 9 Sep 2011
By 
Mondoro (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (BBC Audio) (Audio CD)
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A masterpiece of story-telling by one of our finest novelists, rich in period atmosphere and revealing some totally unexpected and disturbing twists towards the end. For readers in the same (or slightly earliuer) age category as the narrator Tony, much of the first part will have powerful resonances - the earnest bookishness of Tony and his friends, the constant search for the meaning of life, and relationships with girls that hovered around the boundaries, but (at that stage) did not 'go all the way' - as Tony himself remarks in retrospect, the spirit of the repressed 1950s still lingered, despite the image of the swinging 60s. Brilliantly caught in this narrative is the fraught ritual of the young man staying at the home of his girl friend's parents, with a reciprocal visit following.

Barnes works in the theme of time passing, and of sudden change - not always in expected directions, as conveyed in the important symbol of the Severn Bore reversing the natural flow of water in the Bristol Channel. But the most important agent of change is Tony himself, who is guilty of that common phenomenon, 'the insenstivity of the sensitive'. The consequences of his actions only became apparent in their true awfulness much later: they explode like a bombshell just over half-way through the book. The rest of the story explores the themes of remorse and forgiveness as Tony tries to come to terms with his past. This process inevitably involves memory, the other main theme of the book, and the way the human mind summons up forgotten incidents while erasing others. Tony's attempts to dredge up the past have the added effect of shaking up his rather smug and comfortable existence since graduation, a life which he now dismisses as 'average': in short he has played safe and shied away from any real commitments.

The audiobook is an ideal medium for what is a short novel, providing an evening of compelling listening and presented by an excellent reader. Highly recommended.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A joyless, celebral read, 17 April 2012
This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (Hardcover)
Although I admired the writer's craft I found this a rather joyless read. No doubt this was due to the subject matter of two suicides, central to the book, but I found the characters to be lacking in wamth and empathy. Maybe this is the writer's take on the English middle class but there seems little to admire in any of the people described in the book. It is however a compelling read due to the fluency of the prose and the ending was neatly written.
As someone else remarked it seemed a little too celebral, which worked well in Flaubert's Parrot, but in this portrayal of human relationships and the pain of past actions was a little too cold and clinical.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars POSSIBLE SPOILER READ BOOK FIRST, 8 April 2012
By 
Steven Pierce "stevep1969" (Bath UK) - See all my reviews
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I want to give this two or three stars,,,, but I like the vignette of the male psyche and the banality of life. I sort of liked Tony too, and the atmosphere of the book... and I've been thinking about it alot since I shut the book.... the following is my synopsis of the conclusion (the big secret unravelled),,, and its really what I didn't like,,, I wonder if I got it? I might be completely wrong,,, Comments please????

-Well I am not sure I get it,,,, but this is what I got,,,,, SPOILER ALERT,, the story I think is this, Tone told Ade to chat to Vrons mum,, Veronika's mum was a bit of a goer and shagged Adrian, she then got pregnant with Adrians child,,, which obviously upset V'ron who then finished with Ade,,,, Ade then killed himself for the shame of shagging his girlfriends mum,,, dressing it up as some existential philosophical choice thing,,, the child grew up with some deficiency (neglect, was Vrons mum a drinker???),,, then the Mum (the goer) decided to inexplicably leave Ade 500 and Ade's diary,,, which V'ron nicked in order to cover up what she finally sort of tell's Tone in a round about way anyway,,, she blames Tone for his frankly bitter little letter,,, relieving herself, her vamp mum and Ade of all responsibility. If I was Tony I'd have told them all to bog off and take some responsibility for their own actions and stop guilt tripping him..... jeez louise........ intellectual story,,, nope, Eastender's script,,, maybe.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A FINE SUBTLE READ, 24 Aug 2012
By 
Alexander Bryce (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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There can be no doubt that Julian Barnes is a fine writer--Arthur and George, Pulse etc. etc. Here with this 2011 Man Booker Prize winner he proves it once again. This is a fairly short novel, but long on pure enjoyment.
It begins with Tony and his close circle of friends at school joined by a new boy Adrian who shines academically, but is a little removed from the rest and a bit of a mystery. Enter Veronica, during their student days, Tony's first serious girlfriend. He has genuine feelings for her although he senses a holding back on her part and not just sexual.However like any healthy male Tony diligently tries to persuade her to "go all the way". How quaint that phrase now sounds. You see although it is the early swinging 60's it did not swing for everyone and moral values and attitudes were for the most part still stuck back in the austere 50's. An uncomfortable weekend with her family causes him to re-asses their relationship. They split and to Tony's hurt and anger Adrian moves in on her. To reveal more detail would be unfair, suffice to say that Tony's rather uneventful life moves on loosing touch with his school and university mates, until in his contented if rather lonely 60's out of nowhere comes a reason to contact Veronica once more. A strained correspondence and even more strained meetings take place when she tells him:
"You just don't get it, you never did" What does he just not get? This fills the second part of the book and I had to resist the strong temptation to turn to the last few pages for the solution. Of course I didn't, but the suspense kept me frantically reading the last 60 or so pages non stop until it all fell into place.
Great insight to the class structure, moral and physical restraints, education and family life at a time not so long ago when they were so very different. Over and above the intriguing main story there are interesting side issues and Tony's inward philosophising and general rambling observations are both humorous and fascinating.
Best read in a long time
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'life isn't just addition and subtraction. There's also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss and failure', 3 April 2012
By 
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Sense of an Ending (Hardcover)
This is a novel which takes a totally different path to what you expect in the first few pages. A group of lads at school, one of them notably intelligent. Life at uni, getting a girlfriend...As the elderly narrator looks back at his youth, it feels like a Kingsley Amis 'Lucky Jim' kind of storyline.
But events pull us up sharp. Twice. And as narrator Tony looks back, he is forced to confront memories that he had obliterated: 'when you're young- when I was young-you want your emotions to...create and define a new reality. Later I think you want them to do something milder, something more practical: you want them to support your life as it is and has become.'
Intelligent and readable work that makes you stop and contemplate what you've read.
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