The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes, Alfred A Knopf, 2011, 104 pp
This was my first Julian Barnes novel and I liked it overall; the writing, the way he created the characters, and the theme about how our memories are subject to change as life goes on. After three earlier nominations, he finally won the Booker for this one.
Tony Webster was one of a tight group of friends in his school days, so tight that they vowed to stay in touch for the rest of their lives. Adrian Finn, the latest addition to the group, was the brightest of them and Tony developed quite a bromance with him.
The novel is narrated by Tony who is looking back over his life. He has been divorced for many years but is still "friends" with his wife and in pretty good touch with their daughter. The news that Adrian committed suicide after stealing and then marrying Tony's first girlfriend has kept the other three men in touch, though more sporadically than they had planned. When the mother of the lost girlfriend dies, she leaves a sum of money and Adrian's diaries to Tony in her will even though she and Tony only met once.
As an older man, Tony is the quintessential English man, unadventurous with suppressed emotions. The bequest sends him into all manner of uncharacteristic behaviors and stirs up memories he had completely blocked out.
The old girlfriend was a mean, heartless bitch who toyed with the young Tony, especially sexually. She is one of the most unlikable characters I have met in a novel. As the stories of these characters unfold, the reader becomes as obsessed with finding out the truth as Tony is.
Then comes a completely unexpected reveal at the end which left me unsure of how much I liked the novel. We discussed the book at length at the Bookie Babes reading group meeting. I decided that as a novel, it was actually excellent, especially because I didn't see at all what was coming and was made to reevaluate each character.
How do you react as a reader to surprise endings? The kind that make suddenly make you realize that the book you thought you were reading is something else entirely. I felt a bit like I had been tricked but without that ending I may have found the story somewhat boring and predictable.
Has anyone seen the movie? If so, did you find it good?
(The Sense of an Ending is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)