Tony, now retired, looks back on one aspect of his life; his relationship with Veronica and the death of a school friend. It’s a past that has been put to rest until one day he receives a letter, and his perception of his memories are challenged.
I can’t say The Sense of an Ending is really my kind of book but it contains some wonderful writing on the subject of memory, which counteracts the things I dislike about it. A short book, it is split into two sections, representing how Tony remembers what happens and what actually happened. Starting out I was thinking “thank god this is a short book” and there were pretentious teens discussing philosophy from the start but liking the characters isn’t important. And some of the classroom discussions were important in planting a seed; history made up of memories is less reliable than history with documentation.
Tony tells us of some events that didn’t seem monumental in his life. He is clear that this is one story, it is not his whole life. He is only brought up short when he is put back in touch with Veronica and she, very reluctantly, reveals the truth of their shared past and the tragedy that fell upon her. Tony is faced with the truth of what he wrote rashly, in anger. I’m sure we have all bashed off an email or text in the heat of the moment and regretted it later. And there are things that are younger selves did that we would be horrified if faced with today, but in hindsight they didn’t seem that major at the time. As time passes, our memory changes things.
This was a book group read and many of the group were put off by the apparent selfishness and detachment of the characters. I think the situation at the beginning and their reactions is a classic example of how age and time changes things. After the suicide of a classmate, the boys are more concerned that an average boy managed to have had sex when they hadn’t. There isn’t an ounce of compassion in this exchange, and it actually made me laugh. Partly because I am aware that empathy is one of the things that is last to develop. We would probably like to look back and think that we would care, but unless it’s someone close, death probably wouldn’t have made you feel altruistic all of a sudden.
I’m not sure I would read anything else by Julian Barnes. Maybe if it were short and it was on a theme of interest to me. It is what I think of as a typical Booker winner; some lovely writing and well-handled themes but lacking in the character development that makes books enjoyable to me.
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