This was my first Julian Barnes book, and I don’t think it will be my last. I’m curious about his other works now. I think I rather enjoyed myself even though there were few real characters and a perplexing ending.
The themes of the novel are those of memory, history, self-awareness, and mortality. I think given the shortness of this novella, Barnes tackled a lot in a short period of time. An excerpt from the book:
I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it: some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of. (p 44)
As I read this book, I didn’t expect much in the way of plot movement and so when the plot did move by Tony, the narrator and protagonist, receiving a money from the will of an ex-girlfriend’s mother, I was intrigued. From then on, I chased the novel’s ending for more on the mysterious Adrian and the full story about him, Veronica, and Sarah. I kept waiting for the twist; there was such a build up to it.
I wasn’t annoyed with any of the characters even though it seemed there was not much to give them credit for. Tony is self-obsessed, but I didn’t mind his take on things. He’s analyzing himself and the whole story seemed to be about him thinking back on his life so I could understood the self-reflection. I was irked with Veronica who kept saying, “You don’t get it and you never will!” and I just kept thinking, then tell him about it! She seems to have regressed since young Veronica was about to communicate to Tony about somethings, but not about ‘this’ (or whatever it is he needs to get) even after their meetings?
When I reached the last two pages, I was perplexed with the ending. Tony said he understood, but I felt dumb because I didn’t. I had to go online and read other reviews and blogs to realize that I was suppose to question the ending and what had really happened. Did Tony block out so much of his memory? Why the money from Sarah? Lots of questions. It did make me think which is good enough for any book. I wasn’t irked by the lack of ending though.
Books this reminded me of: You Deserve Nothing (which was the last book I read and fit with the earlier chapters of this book), Ian McEwan works such as Atonement, Amsterdam and Solaris, and Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea (not sure why other than it’s a Booker by an English person – perhaps it was the self-obsession). Barnes and McEwan have the dry and philosophical English contemporary literature that the Booker panel seems to love. I don’t hate McEwan, but I actually think I was less annoyed with Tony in The Sense of Ending than I have been with any of McEwan’s narrators. Makes me wonder why I’ve already read three McEwan novels, but I digress.
I think Barnes has said that you must read the book at least twice to get it. I doubt I will even though I did enjoy this book for the most part. I wasn’t as annoyed or irked with the ending or the seeming plot holes as other readers, but I’m not that involved. Maybe I am just use to literary novels (specifically, Booker winners) having these kind of endings. At least I didn’t want to throw this one across the room like I did God of Small Things.
Have you read this book and what did you think of it? What are your theories on what really happened? Or did you not care at all?
Here are a couple of links on what other readers thought of the book:
The Man Booker Prize forum thread on the book
The Aslyum Book Review with lots of comments on it
Read on March 28th, 2012.
The Man Booker Prize Reading List Update
Since this blog was defunct for three years, I know I’ve read at least five Booker prize winners in that time. Here is an updated list of of all the Booker Prize winners I’ve read so far. I’ll do a Pulitzer post in the future.