Book Reviews

Book Review : The Sense Of An Ending | Julian Barnes

Genre: British Literature
Year: 2011
Country: UK

This is one of those books that seeks to address the human/emotional anatomy – how unreliable and imperfect our memoires usually are and generally the consequences of our actions. It’s the kind that gets under your skin whilst questioning everything you know about life. But before I continue, there so many profound quotes that this review will be basic and incomplete without them.

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‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.’

Which I added, “Probably what’s happening with Nigeria’s history. A lot of things are not documented. Hence it clashes with the memories. The point where documentation meets memoires is probably what we know as history. But what if doesn’t? What if there’s no correlation? Do we discard it as a figment of our imagination? “

“It had seemed to us philosophically self-evident that suicide was every free person’s right: a logical act when faced with terminal illness or senility, a heroic one when faced with torture or the avoidable deaths of others; a glamorous one in the fury of disappointed love.”

“I eventually find myself thinking straight. That’s to say, understanding Adrian’s reasons, respecting them and admiring him. He had a better mind and a more rigorous temperament than me; he thought logically and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: We make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense.”

“We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient – It’s not useful – to believe this; it doesn’t help is get on with our lives; so we ignore it.”

“Margaret used to say that there were two sorts of women: those with clear edges to them, and those who implied mystery. And that this was the first thing a man sensed, and the first thing that attracted him, or not. Some men are drawn to one type, some to the other.”

“I don’t want you to be a woman of mystery. I think I’d hate it. Either it’s just a façade, a game, a technique for ensnaring men, or else the woman of mystery is a mystery even to herself, and that’s the worst of all.”

“Two other things she said over the years: that there were some women who aren’t at all mysterious but are only made so by man’s inability to understand them.

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

“Though why should we expect age to mellow us? If it isn’t life’s business to give us warm, comfortable feelings towards its end? What possible evolutionary purpose could nostalgia serve? “

” The more you learn, the less you fear. “Learn” not in the sense of academic study but in the practical understanding of life.”

“But time…how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time…give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.”

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around yo challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but mainly to ourselves.”

“For instance: that when we are young and sensitive, we are also at our most hurtful; whereas when the blood begins to slow, when we feel less sharply, when we are more armoured and have learnt how to bear hurt, we tread more carefully.”

I think I should stop now before I write out the entire novella. Clearly, the philosophical aspect of the book, although embedded in the story got to me than the story itself.

Let’s not totally ignore the story. The Sense Of An Ending is basically a story about sixtyish divorced retired man, Tony Webster who had lived a rather average/complacent life. He literally couldn’t hurt a fly or he thought so. As a result of that, he had too much time on his hands until one day, a letter from his solicitor shook his world and got him pretty much occupied. The result was a trip down an uncertain and inaccurate memory lane. Safe to say that he spent his last days in a permanent state of remorse.

This is the kind of book that leaves you out of sorts and for Pete’s sake, it a novella and not a Proust novel. The good thing is, after shaking your core and giving a few seconds to catch your breath, it allows you come to terms with so many things – hence, the quotes above. It was absolutely necessary – like how
actions have consequences not necessarily immediate. You might be making or marring someone’s life. Also, learn to take responsibility for your actions and not shift blames.

you should never – ever –  act on your emotions else you’ll spend your lifetime in a state of remorse as too much time would have passed to make amends. . I know women are victims. Men are also guilty of this. But if you can, before it’s too late, do something about it.

– being philosophically sound is such an attractive trait, quite alright but don’t let it get into your head. Breathe! Don’t take life too serious.

– most importantly, the human memory is unreliable. During the course of our lives, we spend so much time fabricating our past just to suit the narrative. A lot of times, our memoires fails us and we’re left with figments of our imagination. So, yeah a lot of things might not have taken place but because our memoires convinces us so, it might as well have. It’s such a complex theory.

I loved how easy yet complex it was to read. It was one writing style laced with precision,  brevity and wit. I think I sensed some humour here and there. You had the most complicated human emotions written in simple sentences. It doesn’t get any more genius than that. Apparently, this won a Man Booker Prize. Some people think it wasn’t deserved like some actors don’t deserve Oscars. I think it was brilliant. Not necessarily award-winning. He actually reminds me of the French writer, Samuel Beckett.

When I start building my book collection, this will definitely have a spot on my shelf.

Rating:****

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