The Sense of an Ending
By Julian Barnes
PBR Book Review:This is a book for those who like to ponder and toss about philosophical concepts on the meaning of life, love and death. The story is small in scope, only 167 pages, but packs a lot of punch. I personally think it reads like the memoir of someone reflecting back on his or her life and memories. The story unfolds slowly and is intentionally ambiguous at times as Barnes explores choices we make, different levels of responsibility, being human and the effects of time on one’s memory. He also leaves some questions unanswered - not necessarily a book for everyone, but rather for those who like to reminisce about the past and explore the deeper meaning of things. Recommend for those who enjoy a more literary read. Winner of the Man Booker prize.
Book Club Talking Points: This is a fascinating read that will spur profound thought on several topics, but especially the ending and the meaning of the title. The book is insightful, expounding on the intricacies and fragility of being human and the condition of aging. Recommend for book clubs who enjoy a literary read. Winner of the Man Booker Prize.
*Author Website: www.julianbarnes.com
*Other Books by Same Author: “Arthur and George”, “Pulse”, “Flaubert’s Parrot”, “Nothing to Be Frightened Of”, “A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters”, The lemon Table”, England, England”, “Thr Best of Frank O’Conner”, “Talking it Over”, “Love, Etc”,”Before She Met Me”, “Metroland”, “Cross Channel”. “Something to Declare”,“Staring at the Sun”, “Letters From London”.
1. What does the title mean?
2. The novel opens with a handful of water-related images. What is the significance of each? How does Barnes use water as a metaphor?
3. The phrase “Eros and Thanatos,” or sex and death, comes up repeatedly in the novel. What did you take it to mean?
4. At school, Adrian says, “we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us” (p. 13). How does this apply to Tony’s narration?
5. Did Tony love Veronica? How did his weekend with her family change their relationship?
6. When Mrs. Ford told Tony, “Don’t let Veronica get away with too much” (p. 31), what did she mean? Why was this one sentence so important?
7. Veronica accuses Tony of being cowardly, while Tony considers himself peaceable. Whose assessment is more accurate?
8. What is the metaphor of the Severn Bore? Why does Tony’s recollection of Veronica’s presence change?
9. Why did Tony warn Adrian that Veronica “had suffered damage a long way back?” (p. 46). What made him suspect such a thing? Do you think he truly believed it?
10. In addition to Adrian’s earlier statement about history, Barnes offers other theories: Adrian also says, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” (p. 18), and Tony says, “History isn’t the lies of the victors . . .It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated” (p. 61). Which of these competing notions do you think is most accurate? Which did Tony come to believe?
11. Discuss the character Margaret. What role does she play in Tony’s story?
12. Why does Mrs. Ford make her bequest to Tony, after so many years? And why does Veronica characterize the £500 as “blood money”?
13. After rereading the letter he sent to Adrian and Veronica, Tony claims to feel remorse. Do you believe him? What do his subsequent actions tell us?
14. When Veronica refuses to turn over the diary to Tony, why doesn’t he give up? Why does he continue to needle her for it?
15. What is Tony’s opinion of himself? Of Adrian? How do both opinions change by the end of the novel?
16. How does the revelation in the final pages change your understanding of Veronica’s actions?
17. Discuss the closing lines of the novel: “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest” (p. 163).
Knopf - October 5, 2011- 176 pages|
Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize
By an acclaimed writer at the height of his powers, The Sense of an Ending extends a streak of extraordinary books that began with the best-selling Arthur & George and continued with Nothing to Be Frightened Of and, most recently, Pulse.
This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes’s oeuvre.