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The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
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's review
Jan 01, 2012

really liked it

In ‘The Sense of an Ending’, Julian Barnes explores memory, relationships and disillusionment.

The tale is told in the first person. Tony Webster is our protagonist; the first section of the book is his youth. He and three friends, including Adrian Finn, get through their last year of school and scatter to different colleges. In school, they feel that they are just waiting for their lives to begin; that adventures will come to them once they are out of the holding pen. Adrian is the best and the brightest of them, expected to go far. Tony and his first girlfriend don’t work out. No matter, thinks Tony, who goes on to live an average life, with an average wife, child, and divorce, and is fine with that. He seeks out no adventures.

But his comfortable, average life is rattled when his old girlfriend’s mother dies and leaves him a bequest. Having only met this woman once, it seems strange. But as he tries to get hold of this bequest, he discovers that he’s missed a lot of what was going on around him, and forgotten things, too. He has been wrong about several people, including, especially, himself. Tony finally has his adventure, but most of it is already in the past.

There is precious little plot to the novel; it’s all character and remembrance. But that’s all right; the mystery in the past that Tony seeks to unravel is enough to hold the reader. I can’t say I liked Tony, or his old girlfriend. But they are so expertly drawn that I couldn’t help but keep reading. It’s a quiet, contemplative book but strong.
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