The Sense of an Ending is further proof that my favorite books are not those that are driven by plot, or even by character, but instead, are books whose language transports me. I don’t mean to imply that nothing happens or that I didn’t care about the characters, but they aren’t the critical elements in my 5 star rating for this book.
What elevates Julian Barnes to 5 star status is the way he makes me think. Within the first five pages, I was stopping to re-read sentences, to pull them apart and ask myself, “Where is this author taking me?”
I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty. If I can’t be sure of actual events anymore, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That’s the best I can manage.”
Incidents to anecdotes, to memory, to certainty, to impression. How’s that for a circuitous path? It’s meandering and interesting and frustrating. Barnes uses Tony Webster, a fairly typical middle-class Brit, to travel this winding path. Tony is a pleaser, never thinking too hard to too much, until a strange bequest brings his past hurdling into his present. What follows is a novel full of ruminations and meditations.
“That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it, sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.”
Barnes asks many more questions than he answers, but that’s life, right? He provides a back story with a mystery (or at least a riddle) to solve and while I saw some of the plot twists coming; others took me completely by surprise (more of life).
At its heart, this is a book about actions and consequences, but Barnes approaches that topic with very little action. The minimalist plot left me room to think about my own life, the consequences of my choices. I was definitely in the mood for literature that is so smart and cerebral. In fact, I read it in a single sitting.
Tony’s conclusions, such as they are, mirror my own.
History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”