Emily May's Reviews > The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
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Aug 11, 12

bookshelves: 2012
Recommended to Emily May by: Melina Marchetta
Recommended for: philosophy fanatics
Read from August 04 to 06, 2012


I think my years as a philosophy student were actually detrimental to my enjoyment of this short novel about life and memory. The stuff that has left other people reeling in amazement reminded me of little more than just another essay on the mind and the way we think, the way we interpret events and the way our memories can let us down. Mr Barnes is clearly a clever man and his writing is a touch complex but always charming. However, is this really that original anymore?

I don't think so. I can point you towards many - even young adult - books with equally unreliable narrators that are much more engaging, gripping and altogether more rewarding - even if they do lack the complexity of the mind-delving going on in The Sense of an Ending. And, though Barnes thoroughly explores the mind of Tony Webster, I found him to be a painfully bland and unexciting protagonist that no amount of philosophical thought could save.

This is a book that will suit people who like to think about everything. It is more or less the story of a very average man who pulls apart and analyses his memory of school, first love, first sexual encounters, his marriage... everything about his life. I thought I was the kind of person who likes to question things in an unbelievably anal way. For example, the other night I had the most pointless and stupid discussion with my dad about knowledge, where he said that he knew there were blind people in Spain (don't ask, just don't ask), and I said he couldn't possibly know that for certain unless he'd gone to Spain and met a blind person. He said he could. Then I said he couldn't. As you can tell, it was a very productive evening. But my point is that I enjoy philosophy.

Tony Webster, however, philosophises about his whole life, a life that just isn't interesting enough for me to care about the "reasons" behind its events. I like, in theory, the idea that everything isn't always as simple as it seems, that things run deeper, that people have hidden and questionable motivations for the things they do and say, and that memory is not the truth but the story we tell ourselves. The idea of this book, I like. And some people love the simplistic side of it, the analysis of real and everyday life, rather than using philosophy to look at murder or something equally dramatic. But I don't believe that Tony's story was exciting enough to want to question. I actually don't care why Adrian did what he did, or why Veronica's mother behaved in a certain way. Perhaps my biggest problem with this book is that I don't care about Tony.

Why would I want to hurt my brain straining to think about something that doesn't interest me? Some people obviously saw something much deeper in this, perhaps a message about society as a whole that says something important about our current world... perhaps not. I personally saw it as a failed attempt to turn the mediocre into something poetic. But it was too nicely written to be one star.
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Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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message 1: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana You won't be surprised to know that this was a DNF for me:)


message 2: by Tanja (new)

Tanja Well your review convinced me to take it of my to read list. I put it on, on a whim. And now I'm taking it down after reading a convincing argument :)


Mara It's like you read my mind as far as this book is concerned :)


Emily May @Tatiana Not at all surprising :)


message 5: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Also, I am still waiting that Stormdancer review!


Emily May I was just thinking about that today. Thing is, I'm reluctant to say much because the publishers asked me not to post a review until the publication week or as near to it as possible :/

But I'm confident you didn't make a mistake DNF-ing it, we seem to share a dislike for especially dense, wordy, over-descriptive fantasy books. And Stormdancer was all of that. I also think it was hard to enjoy if you weren't familiar with all the Japanese terms - which I wasn't - I found myself constantly googling words, sometimes more than once in a paragraph. That's just not fun.


Xenia My thoughts exactly! We read it this past semester at university and my professor was absolutely enthralled with it. Me? Not so much. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one, as it turns out :D


message 8: by Kwoomac (new) - added it

Kwoomac I love your line: "...memory is not the truth but the story we tell ourselves." You would think my brother and I grew up in completely different families. Huh, maybe we did.

Great review.


Rachell I had a very different reaction to the novel, and I think it's because I stopped thinking about it as Tony's story at some point. Even Tony realizes this in the telling, and the novel is really about Tony understanding just *how* peripheral (yet crucial!) he is to the main drama. To put it in the novel's terms, Tony's act is analogous to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.


message 10: by Chad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chad Very nice review. I disagree with it, but I am one of those "people who like to think about everything." I can very easily see how many (or even most) readers would share your ultimate reaction.


Emily May Thanks Chad :) I think I can easily see why people love this book even though I didn't so I completely understand where you're coming from.


Fenny Ang Hmm I thoroughly enjoyed it and got very scared shitless about it, as it seems like I will certainly not get any feelings of reprieve about de idioms I made in my youth. It's an impending gloom, this thing called life...according to Barnes,anyway.
You see, there's probably a difference in the readers' age that most likely will have us old, middle aged folks think a little too much about the meaning of life as we think back time lost and wonder what can be done to gain more time to make ammends and to make sense of what cannot be. just my own sense of this book as I read it. Helps that my finishing the book coincided with my high school reunion.. After 25 years!


Cshere Emily just doesn't get it, and probably never will. Oddly, though, her review is characterized by the complaints she lodges — wrongly, I think — against the novel. Why should I care about her opinions, if they don't interest me?


Emily May If you didn't care about my opinions, you wouldn't have taken the time to comment here. You're obviously very offended by views that differ from your own and you will find many of them on goodreads. Perhaps this isn't the website for you.


Laureen Well said - much better than my attempt to say why I didn't like this book.


Emily May Thank you :)


message 17: by Katya (new) - rated it 1 star

Katya Vinogradova Thank you for this review! This book annoys the beejeezus out of me! I'm halfway done, and I keep expecting it to get better, but that's not happening...


Emily May No problem :) Thanks for commenting!


message 19: by Demeyer (new)

Demeyer Should I re-read the book? At my first reading ( two years ago) I wasn't really impressed.


Emily May Demeyer wrote: "Should I re-read the book? At my first reading ( two years ago) I wasn't really impressed."

Well, I felt the same as you. If you decide to re-read, let me know your thoughts the second time.


message 21: by Kiwi (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kiwi I agree with your review, you said it all with Perhaps my biggest problem with this book is that I don't care about Tony.


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