On history, especially our own…read and loved “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes

I’m purging my bookshelf in preparation to sell my house this spring.  Going are some wonderful books whose characters and plots stick with me, but which I will not re-read anytime soon.  Also in the pile are books I have read but recall nothing about the plot, characters, whether I liked it or not–nothing stayed with me beyond the last page.

Against this background, a few weeks ago I read Julian BarnesThe Sense of An Ending  and it is still so much with me and has had me talking and thinking about it like a raving fan – one book I know I will not forget.

This was my first novel by Barnes, which I bought because it won the 2011 Man Booker prize and I always feel the winning novel must be worth a read.  (Last year’s winner was Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel).  And I’m glad I did – this short and simple yet elegantly crafted novel has captured and held me long behind the last page. This must-read might be one of my favorite novels of the past decade.  I’ve thought about it over and over in the last weeks since I read it, and I will certainly re-read it.

Barnes’ chief protagonist Tony Webster is a middle-aged man who has lived a very average sort of life and is quite content to look more forwards than backwards, accepting his lot.  That is, until a death bequest from someone he thought he barely knew rips open his past, sending him back to feelings and misgiving from his halcyon teenage years with his first “real’ girlfriend.  It turns out nothing is as he thought (no I won’t spoil it for you.)

Reading award-winning literary fiction is, sometimes, frankly above me.  [Case in point – last year I read A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book and came away feeling “meh” – and that I was probably not clever, or well-read enough to understand all the literary allusions in it.] Not so with The Sense of an Ending, which was so well done and of such emotional depth that it evoked a wave of introspection about endings and misgivings from my own college days and about how as Barnes protagonist Tony says “what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”  Ain’t that the truth.

Read it, come back and tell me if you enjoyed it as much as I did.

2 comments on “On history, especially our own…read and loved “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes

  1. Rachel Kesterton says:

    Hi Geri
    Haven’t read The Sense of an Ending yet but interested in your review because my sister has just also recommended it to me. I have read other Julian Barnes books and hated them – Louis de Bernieres apparently described Julian Barnes and various other well known male writers as full of metropolitan mysogynism and I tended to agree with him – but I’m looking forward to reading this one.

  2. Thanks for the pingback 🙂

    I love what you wrote about how some books leave you after the last page is done. I’ve been thinking about that recently and of how long I should remember books I’ve read for…even the ones I truly like, I find I can remember for a few months. A year down the line I can remember the story but often forget specifics. What I don’t forget though is how they made me feel! The only books truly burnt into my brain (rather harsh though that may sound), are favorites like LOTR, Agatha Christie, To Kill a Mockingbird – books that I re-read regularly and often know by heart 🙂 And I’m like you, I’ve often avoided award-winning books because I feel they will be too lofty for me, for fear that I will miss the profound hidden truth that they revealed to the critics that loved them. I’ve avoided reading the ‘Classics’ for that same reason. I’m glad I read this one though 🙂

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