The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

 

This beautifully written, introspective story is narrated by Tony, a 60-something man reflecting on his life–his school years where he meets his best friend, his relationship with his first girlfriend Veronica, his marriage years and the amicable divorce that follows.  It’s not so much a plot-driven story as a reflective story in which he invites us, the readers, into his narrative where we get to know him through his interactions and relationships with the important people in his life. And yet, there is also some suspense and some mystery that he experiences in his retirement years that propels him to think back on his life. Mostly, it’s a book that made me think about life and relationships and values and decisions.  Tony’s story is, in some ways, everyone’s story because we can’t help but relate his story to ours.

I was struck by his description of the way in which so many go through life: “We muddle along, we let life happen to us, we gradually build up a store of memories.  There is a question of accumulation, but not in the sense that Adrian meant, just the simple adding up and adding on of life.  And as the poet pointed out, there is a difference between addition and increase.” And I was moved by his description of suicide: “I have at times tried to imagine the despair which leads to suicide, attempted to conjure up the slew and slop of darkness in which only death appears as a pinprick of light”.   And toward the end of the book when he repeats his history teacher’s words: “If history is the lies of the victors, remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated,” he follows that last part with the question, do we remember that enough with it comes to our private lives?  Yikes.  That stopped me in my tracks and made me scour memories to assess them for self-delusional tendencies.  This very short book–really a novella–is a thinker. I liked it a great deal. (fiction)

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