Lynne Spreen's Reviews > The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
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Jul 29, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: midlife

(spoiler alert) Often I wish I could ask an author what thematic question drove the need to write a particular book. In the case of "The Sense of an Ending," judging by my own reactions and those of reviewers, I think the answer doesn't matter. The reactions are so varied and from one extreme to the other, that I must conclude the story is a Rorschach test. Like the famous ink blot, what you see in it reflects yourself.

For me, a person obsessed with aging thoughtfully as opposed to sleepwalking through one's life, the story was really satisfying. It begins with Tony telling of his first twenty years, but the next forty - all of his adulthood to this point - are addressed in a few dismissive sentences. Then, in his retirement, an incident occurs that goads him to try to return to the circumstances of his youth, and this, finally, prompts introspection.

"In Adrian's terms, I gave up on life, gave up on examining it, took it as it came. And so, for the first time, I began to feel a more general remorse, a feeling somewhere between self-pity and self-hatred, about my whole life. All of it. I had lost the friends of my youth...the love of my wife. I had abandoned the ambitions I had entertained. I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded-and how pitiful that was."

Some provocative thoughts in this book. For example, Tony considers the "question of accumulation." In the same way that one can accumulate wealth, or build on experiences, cannot one also accumulate negativities? "Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down..." You may not agree with him on this or any other observation, but at least, now in his sixties, he's finally thinking, and his thinking prompts our own.

Again, back to the ink blot. Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things" addresses the suitability of certain humans for a life on earth. Some don't have the drive to survive, in spite of great gifts. And here we are again, in "Sense...", with Adrian, a genius, who as a college student commits suicide rather than bear up under a horrific development he has caused. Whereas unremarkable Tony lives a long and comfortable if unexamined life.

And how Tony worshiped Adrian - Tony, who always imagined the grass being greener everywhere outside his own self. Tony was drawn to the exotic, the extremes, in Adrian and Veronica, but neither was particularly functional. Yet Tony, functional and unremarkable, survived much more ably than either of these two.

The title of this book seems appropriate. In the last part of his life, Tony gets a sense that he has wasted his adulthood, that his chance is past. In internal dialogue, he says, "There is unrest. There is great unrest." Let's hope so.
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Reading Progress

July 29, 2014 – Started Reading
July 29, 2014 – Shelved
August 1, 2014 – Finished Reading
August 2, 2014 – Shelved as: midlife

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