Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes

Tony Webster is an average man.  We read of his life growing up, and his circle of friends.  His most striking friend was Adrian, a brilliant student who the other boys never quite felt they knew.  We read of his first love, Veronica, and how that worked out.  We read how Tony felt when he and Veronica broke up and he later finds out that she and Adrian are now a couple. 

The book then skips ahead forty years.  Tony is now retired, having put in his years at an average job.  He is divorced and still sees his ex-wife for lunches, no great hate or love there.  He has one child he sees occasionally, and grandchildren he is more or less a stranger to.  Average, average, average, Tony's whole life has been about getting by without making waves.

Then a surprise bequest causes Tony to reevaluate his entire life.  He looks back at his schoolboy days, his college years and his marriage.  One piece of information after another opens the floodgates of memory, and he remembers conversations and actions that he has long forgotten, but that now reframe his life in a different light.  He tracks down old acquaintances and friends, until he uncovers a startling secret--one that makes him wonder what his life has been about and how his life has affected that of others.

The Sense Of An Ending won the 2011 Man Booker prize for literature.  It is a gem of a book, short but thought-provoking.  This is Julian Barnes at the top of his form, effortlessly shaking the snow-globe of memories to rearrange the outcome of events in myriad ways.  He forces the reader to examine what place memories play in our lives, and to question how accurate our memories are.  This thought-provoking novel is recommended for all readers interested in examining the human condition, and the ways we find to make it through life. 

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