Title: The Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
Publisher: Knopf, 2011
Rating: 2 stars
The Sense of an Ending begins with Tony looking back on his prep school years. He and a small group of boys decide to be friends forever, or really all but one decide that. The outlier, Adrian, doesn’t give a whit who he’s friends with because he’s too smart (and maybe slightly autistic?) to need friends. Of course discussions about girls/sex, witty jokes, etc., ensue in true prep-school style, but Adrian is always hovering around the fraternization like an outsider looking in.
Anyway, Tony starts dating this girl and he doesn’t really like her but when she leaves him, she’s “the one who got away.” And he can’t stop thinking about her/hating her. His friendships dissolve as the boys go to different colleges, and after Adrian commits suicide all of the boys lose touch.
Then years later, after he’s amicably divorced and distanced from his old friends, this girl (well, woman…at this point) catches up to him with an incriminating letter and a note from a lawyer. Is this Tony’s chance to “get the girl” and to reconnect or somehow understand his long lost friend Adrian? Not exactly. It’s really about making sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives.
I get it. Life is weird and it never really takes the path you thought it would. One day you end up middle-aged (or older), divorced, and basically just lost. And you wonder, how on Earth did I get HERE? There is a literal answer: well, you married this person and took that job and screwed it up by doing this. But there isn’t a metaphysical answer, not one that’s satisfying anyway.
Sure, I get it. This is a compelling question in all walks of life, but, English Literature, GIVE IT A BREAK. I mean seriously. People have been asking this question for centuries and haven’t found an answer. Speculating on it in a modern novel (without using any modern techniques or modern technologies) isn’t helping nor is it remotely interesting.
I know this book is supposed to be a literary masterpiece or something. And I hate to hate on two different books, two weeks in a row, but this book was missing something crucial. The writing was lovely, but it was missing true conflict and conflict resolution. It leaves you hanging in the most unsatisfactory way (is this my romance-novel-loving-side talking??).
One thing I liked about this book is that Tony does something that is egregious in the eyes of his “love” when she breaks up with him, but by the time she confronts him about it in middle-age, he’s all but forgotten it. However, she has been stewing over it for years.
So, what I took away from this book: The Sense of an Ending confirms my belief that you MUST be very careful what you say to people or do to people, because you have no idea what sticks with someone and how it will affect their life. *beating moral lesson over head*