A-schaef’s #CBR4 Review #06: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Buy this book. Read it. It’s short, it’s not tough to read, and it is absolutely god damn magnificent. I don’t think I’ve loved a book this much since the first time I read Never Let Me Go. It’s just beautiful, and absolutely deserving of the Man Booker Prize it was awarded.

The Sense of an Ending follows Tony Webster. In school, he and his two friends eventually adopt a new student named Adrian into their group. They grow up and they all ship out to different universities. Tony dates a pretty girl named Veronica, they all eventually lose touch with each other. Much later in his life, Tony finds all of these memories drudged up again in a strange encounter with his past.

Tony Webster is one of the most interesting narrators I can remember reading. He is unreliable, but not because he means to lie to the reader. The book is about the ways that memory can be ignored and shaped over the years, and we see his memories take shape and mature into what we can assume actually happened. He also has a desire to understand every moment, and it comes through sometimes when he’s successful. These occasional reminders of the pathos behind his actions force us to see it when he doesn’t point it out.

The supporting characters are few in this book. Almost all of the story happens between an integral 7 or 8 people, and we don’t learn a great deal about any of them. As an alternative to great exposition, these characters come through with a great vividness that works instead. It’s not that they’re shallow archetypes, they just make a swift and indelible mark and then, just as easily, leave the story. It makes for an interesting break from first-person narrators who have uncanny understanding of people’s lives. Tony doesn’t know the complete history of these people any more than you know every event of somebody you know.

All in all, this is a stunningly good book. If you have even the slightest interest in stories of this style, you would be doing yourself a great disservice by not reading it.

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