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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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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Sep 2011 14:28:41 BDT
emma who reads a lot says:
"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." ha ha! The pursuit of the uninterested: that's real life, though..
In reply to an earlier post on 11 Sep 2011 23:23:23 BDT
E Dublin says:
of course it makes no sense, but of course it happens.
Posted on 14 Sep 2011 18:35:49 BDT
johnny ironjacket says:
Warmth? Tony Webster's cool evaluation of his own faults is what makes his story so affecting. Far better to strip away the over-wrought and super-heated in favour of the incisive and revealing. And as for the idea that pursuing Veronica made no sense, emma who reads a lot is bang on when she says, 'that's real life.'
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Sep 2011 14:32:57 BDT
Mr. D. James says:
But what is it about Veronica that so obsesses Tony? This was never made clear to the reader.
In reply to an earlier post on 2 Oct 2011 16:08:29 BDT
C Kingsley says:
Wasn't it Veronica's elusivesness, the mystery unsolved, that was always an attraction for Tony?
In reply to an earlier post on 19 Oct 2011 15:43:20 BDT
Mr. D. James says:
For Tony, yes, but then he's never quite real, is he? I still can't fathom what he saw in that supercilious cow Veronica.
In reply to an earlier post on 18 Nov 2011 13:36:48 GMT
How can you say Tony is never quite real? He is what epitomises real - he is Mr Average, Mr Boring, Mr Plods along with life just because that IS life. Then along comes a 'mystery' involving his elusive past love and sparks some excitement in his very ordinary, plodding life - of course he's going to delve into it. I think it's clear that he admits to himself at some level that for all his protestations, he never did quite get over Veronica because he never understood her and a part was always annoyed that she went for his mate. Even 40 years later he wanted to know why. That's human nature. Course, it turns out that the one with real problems was Adrian and he and he and Veronica deserved each other - Adrian was a little like her, don't you think? He kept his family history to himself, didn't share anything personal with the lads, just as Veronica didn't do intimacy in any form.
Posted on 22 Nov 2011 21:29:36 GMT
S. Enston says:
I think one of the points of the book is to question the authenticity of our memories and in its retrospective nature Tony feels his perceptions of Veronica as he remembered her may have indeed been more subjective than he realised. At one point he acknowledges she may well have felt closer to him and been less manipulative then he gave her credit for as perhaps a defense mechanism to the hurt she caused him cast her as an evil, cold girl in his eyes. Am sure guilt played a part as well as curiosity in him pursing her in the second part of the story.
Posted on 20 Dec 2011 15:09:34 GMT
Thank you very much for giving the story away. Perhaps you should stress 'contains spoilers' in your heading because you've definitely spoiled it for me.
In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2012 21:37:42 GMT
Robert K. Furrer says:
Sorry, but the real give away was not given at all. You'd have to read for yourself, or keep searching if you need an excuse for not reading this interesting book.