Caris's Reviews > The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
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Dec 05, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011
Read from December 04 to 05, 2011

The opening scene, which struck me as an overly-pretentious Dead Poets Society, left me with a faint taste of vomit in my mouth. Here we have these boys, and boys they very much are, debating philosophy in such an off-handed way. When they're faced with a true life experience, something that is held out to them, they intellectualize it and forget- proving that all of their books and grand ideas are nothing but a half-assed show. Their words have as much meaning as the foam on a gas station cappuccino.

And that kind of scares me.

I was quite pleased when the narrative jumped into the college years and eventually into the twilight years of life. But then I wasn't again.

Because I was still scared.

I've been that kid with grand ideas and big dreams. Hell, I still am. I have hopes and goals that hinge on my intellectual abilities, my need to read these books and find meaning in them. To apply that meaning to life and work and all those bullshit things that will eventually happen. It was easy to see myself in Tony. Too easy.

Because Tony starts out strong, but then he fails himself. Rather than pursue his dreams and really experience his life, he settles for comfort. He gets a job that will keep him comfortable and he sticks with it. His ideals are still housed in his mind, but pushes them aside in favor of a safe road. He realizes his own folly, but doesn't understand the toll it's taken until a ghost from his past comes to drag her chains across the floor of his lonely flat.

Please pardon the Jacob Marley reference. It's getting to be near Christmas and the image just comes to mind. It's very much the same situation, though, only rather than living a miserly, hurtful existence, Tony's lead a rather pointless one. And how easily it happened.

That's what I find scary, though it's not even the point of the story. Not really. In all honesty, I couldn't say just what the point of it all was. It was very Ian McEwanian in that regard. You've got a normal guy who, all of a sudden, is exposed to some shit that is quite out of the ordinary. It's haunting and powerful and leaves you wondering why.

I'm okay with that, as I'm sure Tony doesn't really get it, either.

There was this one scene early on that I have to mention before I slap an abrupt ending on this poorly executed attempt at analysis:

Tony is seeing this girl in college. She is woefully unimpressed by his record collection, but he is able to hold his own via his book collection. She is impressed by the titles and, as such, is impressed by him. Later, when he sees her collection, he is even more impressed (and appropriately ashamed). Her books reflect who she is. They're volumes of poetry that all matter to her. All of them have been read repeatedly and she knows them well. His books reflect who he wishes he was. The ones that look read merely come from second hand stores and give the illusion of familiarity.

My bookshelves are like his. And I wish they were more like hers. When I look back on that single scene and all of the shit that comes after it, it puts decisions into perspective. I don't want to be like him, but I can't help identifying with his thoughts and actions and regrets.

I don't know what that means, either.
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Reading Progress

02/07 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 57) (57 new)


message 1: by Trudi (new)

Trudi Your thoughtfulness and honesty has forced me into an uncomfortable contemplative mood. Great review, but ... drat.


Caris Sorry about that. Misery loves company or some such cliche. Let's blame the book, as it did it to me. Like a social disease passed through words.


message 3: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Stop actin' all sheepish and shit, Caris; this review rules.


Caris Aww, shucks.


message 5: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I tried to find that Dutchman. Get off my back already.


message 6: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Go play with the baby, Caris. It puts things in perspective.


Caris David wrote: "I didn't really feel like Tony started out that strong(?) Seemed to me he didn't really change much.. His 'ideals' never really seemed like more than pretentious fantasies to me, which he kept havi..."

I mean "strong" as in "idealistic," as kids should be. His ideas are super pretentious, that's for sure. It was difficult to watch him go from such lofty musings to such a boring, comfortable existence. It made me think of all the middle managers in our little corner of the world who, in all reality, were probably rather bright as students. It's that death blow that reality seems to deliver to so many college graduates that struck a chord with me. But, no, he didn't start out any stronger than anyone else.



Bird Brian wrote: "I dunno about the bookshelves bit. Isn't a bookshelf that reflects who you want to be more interesting than one that reflects who you already are? The former implies some sort of growth ahead; the ..."

On many levels, I agree with you. But these books were who he wanted to be, but never expended the effort to become. Those books will remain forever unread. They were symbolic of lost potential. I like the idea of growing into an idea, projecting who you want to be and working to make it happen. That's what makes for a dynamic character (or human being). But this was just sad. It was like building an idealized image of yourself that, not so deep down, you recognize you'll never achieve. He's a poseur and will always be one.


message 8: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali Bird Brian wrote: "Isn't a bookshelf that reflects who you want to be more interesting than one that reflects who you already are?"

If only we could be as interesting as our true shelves ;)


message 9: by Jen (new)

Jen Caris wrote: "David wrote: "I didn't really feel like Tony started out that strong(?) Seemed to me he didn't really change much.. His 'ideals' never really seemed like more than pretentious fantasies to me, whic..."


This makes me want to go hide in all my unread books now and sob a little.


message 10: by Neil (new)

Neil Shapiro I will have to read this one. The idea of bookshelves reflecting who the owner is in some homes and who the owner wishes she/he might be is one that has occurred to me many times. My bookshelves reflect who I am when I try really hard.


message 11: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali I held a party once and was flirting madly with a girl, until she escaped me and had a look around my bookshelves.

She eventually returned and said she had thought I was really superficial until she saw my books.

I told her I bought them by the meter ;)


message 12: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali I wonder whether you can ever judge a bookist by their lover?


message 13: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Do you guys know those fake magazine and radio commercials Flann O'Brien wrote? There is one advertising a service where he will come to your home and make marginal notes in your books so you can fake having really read them. The cost is determined by how impressive the marginalia desired. He claimed that he had lots of people calling in thinking it was a real service and wanting to use it...


message 14: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali What a great idea. It has an element of Pseud's Corner about it as well.

Mind you, I regard Good Reads as my avenue to scribble in the margins of life, too.


message 15: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Caris wrote: "Sorry about that. Misery loves company or some such cliche. Let's blame the book, as it did it to me. Like a social disease passed through words."

A textually transmitted disease!


message 16: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali In which case the cure is Uncle Marvin's textual healing.


message 17: by Brad (new) - added it

Brad I will spend all day looking at my shelves now, Caris. I think I will reorder my shelves, and create a shelf that matches hers. There are those books in there, amongst all the rabble. Thanks for your personal take on this.


Caris Brad wrote: "I will spend all day looking at my shelves now, Caris. I think I will reorder my shelves, and create a shelf that matches hers. There are those books in there, amongst all the rabble. Thanks for yo..."

That's a great idea. For those of us who are fakers, it would be nice to have a shelf that speaks the truth. Even if no one knows about it.


message 19: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali Would you like to see my true shelf?

Is it just your read shelf? Or perhaps your reviewd shelf?


message 20: by Donna (new)

Donna I'm


·Karen· Oh man! This is precisely the quandary I'm in right now. We have recently had our lounge redecorated and have stripped it right down to the minimalist essentials. All furniture, including the bookshelf that used to be here has been banished. Our more honest friends point out that it does look a bit like a furniture showroom, nothing personal. So I thought of having these (so cool, floating books!):

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But that put me in absolute agonies of which twelve to fifteen books would I put on there? It would have to be pseud's corner or fake or both. Aaaaaaaaaagh!


message 22: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali Where are the to-reads?


message 23: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali I'd be worried about your books' shelf-esteem.


·Karen· Ian wrote: "Where are the to-reads?"

Due to banishment they are at present in double rows on the Billys in my study. Long live Billy.


message 25: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali Oh no, what self-respecting book would want to be at the back of a double row?


Bettie☯ Karen wrote: "Ian wrote: "Where are the to-reads?"

Due to banishment they are at present in double rows on the Billys in my study. Long live Billy."


YES, LONG LIVE BILLY - some of mine are doubled along 8 conjoined Billy sections and whenever I am looking for THE ONE it is always at the back of the very last I look in.

I play at "I'm not looking for you" in the bizarre hope that somehow 'it' will shuffle to the front


·Karen· Yay! Swedish furniture stores forever!

AND that famous Swedish home of fine design has realised that their faithful customers have grown a little older along with them. The new sofas are from the Tidafors range: higher backs so that our heads no longer wag around like a balloon on a stick.


Bettie☯ Aaaah - so you didn't just buy these then:




message 29: by Miriam (new)

Miriam You could go totally poncey and pick out some books that match the color accents in your new decor.


·Karen· Miriam wrote: "You could go totally poncey and pick out some books that match the color accents in your new decor."

A bookseller told me once that people really did that - bought books on the colour of their jackets. And they had a customer who would take books home at the weekend and then bring them back on Mondays, they were only there to impress the weekend pick-up.


message 31: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez One thing I noticed in my years as a bookseller is that people hate buying movie tie-in covers. I mean, yeah, they're ugly, but it seemed like more than that: they wanted to buy the original cover so it was like they had the book before there even was a movie version to begin with. Even though they didn't.


message 32: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Hah! I do that, when there's a choice. I've avoided buying a book before because all that was available was a stack of "now a major motion picture!" editions. Why? I've thought I do it because I don't want to be thought of as being persuaded by a movie, that I read it because it was itself, a book. Kind of silly.


message 33: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Added to which they are almost always hideous looking. I kept asking why they didn't just increase the orders on the regular paperbacks when something was coming out in the theaters, but nobody would listen to me. It's subtle, but it matters!


message 34: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Maybe the movie tie-in covers increase sales to people who hadn't heard of the book till they saw the movie?

I won't buy them, especially if they have the "now a major motion picture!" in a big foil-backed starburst.


message 35: by Ian (last edited Dec 08, 2011 05:54PM) (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali I think we should have removable stickers that say "I read this book before the film came out".


message 36: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez We don't need that these days, because we have goodreads trackin' our moves for us! Gr is watching you...gr knows, maaaaan.


message 37: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Now THAT is some silly shit right there.


message 38: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I'll take the wackiness right along with the restraint. Such an odd mix, that. Japan! I love you just how you are, baby!


message 39: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Well, I was speaking of the original book being re-released with a movie poster cover, but you just did a lot in explaining to me why movie fanfic exists in the first place. I couldn't figure it out!


message 40: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I think the stickers that say "now a major motion picture!" should be removable so we can switch them onto books that are not made into movies and trick people into reading those.


message 41: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Miriam wrote: "I think the stickers that say "now a major motion picture!" should be removable so we can switch them onto books that are not made into movies and trick people into reading those."

Now you're talkin'! A Good Man Is Hard To Find: Now a Major Motion Picture Starring Meg Ryan and Matthew McConaughey!


message 42: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ian wrote: "If only we could be as interesting as our true shelves ;)"

Ha!


message 43: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Bird Brian wrote: "In Japan, you can tell from phone numbers when somebody got a phone"

Ha, Metafilter user numbers used to be like that.


message 44: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Miriam wrote: "Do you guys know those fake magazine and radio commercials Flann O'Brien wrote?"

I LOVE YOU. That's one of my favourite things he ever did. The fake annotations are hilarious.


message 45: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Miriam wrote: "You could go totally poncey and pick out some books that match the color accents in your new decor."

Nicholson Baker has written like three rueful articles about that phenomenon.


message 46: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian GalaDali Paquita Maria wrote: "Now you're talkin'! A Good Man Is Hard To Find: Now a Major Motion Picture Starring Meg Ryan and Matthew McConaughey!"

I'd rather see the prequel: "A Hard Man is Good to Find" (starring Mae West).


Jason Caris wrote: "It was easy to see myself in Tony. Too easy."

I think this hits the nail, Caris. The thing is, he and his friends have their shallow intellect on display in secondary school and that's fine (weren't we all idiots in high school?), but this dude never grows up. He's shallow to the core, even at 60. I think I'd agree that it would be frightening to recognize Tony in oneself, even part of onself, especially in adulthood.


Caris Beth369, please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems as though you're making some pretty harsh judgments of me personally based on a book review. If I am incorrect, I will be happy to have you instruct me on what it means to be an adult. Thanks for taking the time to say something unnecessarily disparaging.


Caris Jason wrote: "Caris wrote: "It was easy to see myself in Tony. Too easy."

I think this hits the nail, Caris. The thing is, he and his friends have their shallow intellect on display in secondary school and that..."


That's it exactly, Jason. We were all idiots in high school, but it seems that (at least for myself) some of us are still part idiot years later. There's something wonderful about an adult with ideals, but there's something sad about an adult with shallow, intellectual ones. The bookshelf concept highlights that so well, I think.


Jason It does. And the fact that you can be an adult with ideals and still identify with Tony, even partly, is discomforting.

Ugh, I just saw Beth's comments now. I don't understand how disagreeing with someone's opinion should lead directly to an attack on their character. But whatever.


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