The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

About the book: So, I only managed to read three of the six Booker Prize shortlisted books. The other day they announced the winner – The Sense of an Ending by English author Julian Barnes. I’d read that one. It’s no Life of Pi, but it’s certainly the best out of the three that I read.

Summary and theme: The narrator, a man in his early sixties, talks about his life. He has had a good career, a marriage followed by an amicable divorce; some achievements and some disappointments, and of course, some mystery. The main theme of the book is memories. It’s about what you think when you grow old and look back at the life you’ve lived; what you do when you realize the truth of what you have done; when you see your actions in a different, grown-up light and realize your mistakes; what you do when you can’t take those actions back.

‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘What don’t you know?’
‘Well, in one sense, I can’t know what it is that I don’t know. That’s philosophically self-evident.’ He left one of those slight pauses in which we again wondered if he was engaged in subtle mockery or a high seriousness beyond the rest of us.

My thoughts: I think what held the book so wonderfully together was the dry humour; especially as the narrator recounts his story, you see that he finds it immature, funny even, and you tend to agree with him! 

The characters are very engaging and each one unique. The relationships and the bonds the narrator forms over the years (with his four childhood friends, with his divorced wife) are all too realistic not to be true. The book being a narration, the author has a lot of chances to indulge in long monologues about life and such, and he uses these opportunities to the fullest.

The one problem I had was that there is very little focus on the plot. It all seems very loosely tied together. There is no direction, no focus… and the twist ending came more as a shock than a good surprise to me! It is very unpredictable and very irrelevant and kind of ludicrous.  Retrospectively, though, isn’t that how life is, anyway? (Maybe I like my fiction to stray from the reality and stay fiction-like. It’s not an autobiography, after all.)

Overall it is great one-time read. Not close to perfect. And it was bound to win the 2011 Man Booker Prize, whether I liked it or not. 

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