Jennifer (aka EM)'s Reviews > The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
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's review
Nov 19, 2011

it was ok
Read from December 08 to 15, 2011

Maybe, like Tony, I just don't get it, but this was a whole lot of Man Booker-winning to-do about very little.

Pretentious, upper middle-class schoolboys behave badly, and -- through too much ego and too little self-knowledge and empathy, too many book smarts and not enough life experience -- inflict cruelty on ex-girlfriends and others as they cavalierly grow out of their coddled adolescence into a ho-hum average life. It then comes back to haunt them - or one of them, anyway - in late middle-age, and as memories are jogged and regrets bubble to the surface, insight is finally gained. Sort of. It's really a dull spark of understanding nested in about the same amount of egocentric self-pity that it started out disguised by.

I guess it's a clever character study, but I didn't and don't like Tony. I think that *is* the point. I really just wanted to give him a smack upside the head and tell him to stop whining and get over himself, kind of like his ex-wife did.

All life has tragedy - and some lives here have *true* tragedy, which Tony fails to recognize even as he seem to be recognizing it (so I guess that's pretty clever of Barnes, but sheesh ...).

Tony's real insight seems to be the recognition that he's failed to live up to his own pompous and overblown expectations of greatness for himself. He's led an average life. And along the way, through his own obtuseness and arrogance, he's inflicted a not-inconsiderable degree of harm, which seems to be of less consequence to him in the grand scheme of things than the fact that he's lived a life of complacent mediocrity.

But then, Barnes leaves us there, with this fellow sighing into his beer and chips. I feel myself asking - but what's next? What this guy does NEXT will tell the real story of his character. I feel ... short-changed; unfulfilled. Harumph.

Subject: The last chapter

Dear Tony: The cure for your loneliness and sense of ennui is to pull your head out of your ass and go out and do something of value with the time you have left. Turn that insight into action that will do someone some good (and I don't mean just leaving a sizeable tip at the pub, either).

Love, Jen

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04/05/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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message 1: by Koeeoaddi (new) - added it

Koeeoaddi Uh oh. Shall I delete my library hold?

Jennifer (aka EM) goodness me! You're speedy ... I dunno; I think this might have way more resonance for a 60ish British guy experiencing mid-life regret. But try it - it's a quick read, at least. :-)

message 3: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Dec 15, 2011 08:00PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jennifer (aka EM) (I revised from my first 2-star rating up to 3, separating out my dislike for the main character from what I think Barnes actually achieved here. I did really dislike the ending though).

Jason This review is perfect.

Jennifer (aka EM) haha! Thanks ... a brief, gut reaction ... Elizabeth's is the gold standard, I think.

(PS - you are CRACKING ME UP with your votes on my reviews - THANK YOU!)

Jason Welcome!

Jason And yeah, agreed on Elizabeth. She made that one really personal which packs some punch.

Gary  the Bookworm I thought your review was a lot more interesting than the book.

Jennifer (aka EM) hahah - thank you Gary!

message 10: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Stohrer Ugh, I agree completely. He made a mistake, he wrote a nasty letter. Such a small incident, and such brief relationships with the recipients. Move on, move on!

message 11: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Agree totally!!!

message 12: by knig (new) - rated it 3 stars

knig Agreed Tony unlikeable, but the plot in the second half just went surreal: does Barnes take usfor idiots? Why would the mother bequesth Tony the diary? On what basis? why would Veronica play 'cat and mouse' on the phone and all over town? All she had to do was tell him from the start she'd 'accidentally' lost/thrown out the diary. It really felt like a storm in a teacup.

Jennifer (aka EM) Thank you for the likes, everyone! Yeah, K-o-L, that's another thing that you've just reminded me of. The plot twists seemed so implausible and unfounded.

message 14: by Cecily (last edited May 19, 2015 05:10AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cecily Pamela, sometimes it's exactly those sort of apparently small incidents that do have blighting echoes down the years.

I didn't like Tony, and was slightly disappointed with the ending, but I loved the beauty and skill of the writing and found the musings on memory, history and truth very thought-provoking.

Dolors I waited to finish the book before reading your review, and although I didn't like Tony neither (who might?, you are right about him) , I thought the story wasn't only about self-pity but mainly about the irrevocable passage of time and the veracity of what we call memories.
And I found that subject engaging, similar to McEwan'sAtonement; in which we are shown how a little nonsense (like a bland lie or in this case a nasty letter) can trigger tragedies in real life. Call it chance, fate or coincidence, but I think it's still worthy to think about.

Jennifer (aka EM) Agreed Cecily and Dolors! For me, the "musings on memory, history and truth" (I like that) are thought provoking at a theoretical level, and Barnes' writing of it was sound, but he just didn't engage my heart. I freely confess that my dislike for the character is muddling my response to the book overall. I'm normally not so shallow, but here ... well, I guess I was! :-D

Dolors Jennifer (aka EM) wrote: "Agreed Cecily and Dolors! For me, the "musings on memory, history and truth" (I like that) are thought provoking at a theoretical level, and Barnes' writing of it was sound, but he just didn't enga..."

completely accepted! It happened the same with Navokov's Humbert Humbert in Lolita, hateful, hateful man who made me loathe the whole story!

Emily I respectfully suggest that many readers, like Tony, just don't get why he receives the inheritance. It is blood money, it is out of guilt. Payback for having used V to get to A

Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎ Love your review

Joanne ha ha I recommended this to you and you hated it - I loved this book so surprised it did not capture you.

Jennifer (aka EM) hahah JOANNE!!!! I thought it was Debra that brought it in - was it you? Yeah, who knows - maybe just hit me at an odd time. I'm glad you loved it though!

Joanne No it was likely debra I just read it this past weekend.

message 23: by David (new)

David Wang Hello :) I quite agree with everything you've written except I read it in a slightly different (and more positive) light

There's a lot of insight in the statement that he cares more about righting his mediocre life than actually addressing the harm he's caused, and that his motivation in his actions is as much to redeem himself as to actually alleviate any suffering he has wrought upon others.

However, I believe that your question of "what's next?" should be asked not of Tony Webster, but of the reader. Now that you've seen this excellent case study into mediocrity, into a man who's played it safe his whole life and never really grew or developed from the tender age of 20 till retirement, who lacks real emotional depth and connection with anybody, what are you as the reader going to do? Perhaps this was made even more pertinent by the fact that I'm 20 and about to be released out of my pen and into life as Barnes would say, and how my story and memories are going to unfold are entirely up to my own choices and actions. Will I end up being a Tony, or something more?

idk sry for the bad punctuation and rambling thoughts I just though that it was funny how we agree on the book's subject matter but disagree on how we feel about it

Jennifer (aka EM) thank you for your comments, David! I barely remember this book, but I do generally share a belief that most novels worth their weight - even the ones don't quite enjoy as a literary experience - contain a nugget of something to be learned. So I think it's a provocative and apt question you ask the reader to consider!


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