Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending, Man Booker Prize 2011



When reading Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, you are constantly reminded of how the mind plays tricks on you; makes you miss things that other people are trying to tell you; and makes you remember things in a certain way. Barnes toys with the idea of memory in a short, poignant and thought-provoking novel.

Some of the most interesting chapters in the novel are at the beginning, with our protagonist Tony Webster reminiscing about his school days and particularly his history lessons with Old Joe Hunt. In it, their teacher talks about the perspectives of history, where one of Tony’s friends, the intelligent and bright Adrian, tells the class that ‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation’, in a deliberate echo of the novels main themes. Also, these early experiences of making friends and falling in love are all things which we can directly relate to. Tony’s reminiscences are intertwined with nuggets of philosophy which he has picked up over the years, which really brings his character to life and makes you as the reader feel that you are in direct conversation with him.

The novel reads as not just as a conversational piece, but also as a confessional. The main narrative drive of the novel is Tony revealing what happened or what he thought happened with his first girlfriend Veronica. After they broke-up, Tony convinced himself that Veronica was cold and indifferent, however years later, certain items come to light through Veronica’s mum’s passing which make him reconsider his own perceptions of their one-time relationship.

Ultimately, Tony is on a quest to understand his life and once he has found that, seek redemption for any harm he may have caused people; however, Barnes doesn’t make it that simple for our hero. As most people will probably tell you, saying sorry can be a bit too late sometimes.

On a different note, I would like to thank my good friend Claire for lending me a copy of the book and for willing me on, despite myself not fully grasping what I was letting myself in for when starting this challenge. Thanks Claire!


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