Reader’s reaction to The Sense of an Ending

Current Cardiff undergraduate Caitlin Coxon offers her reaction to Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, the subject of our February BookTalk.

I read The Sense of an Ending in one sitting. I found myself drawn in, not by plot, but the introspections of the lead character (I won’t call him the protagonist), Tony Webster, on the nature of memory. The novel captures its intangibility; the manner in which the images our mind seizes can be so much more lasting than words, yet however clearly we may be able to re-visualise a moment lost in time, these memories are just as fallible. Barnes’ writing shows we all construct our personal histories differently, as well as that they are constructions and they can come tumbling down if a founding fact is proved to be fiction.

What resonated most with me was the depiction of the self-importance of youth, and the conviction we hold that, one day, we will be s o m e t h i n g—underscored by the way this self-belief fades away with age. I felt a kinship with Tony; memories of my own teenage arrogance coming rushing back whilst I read. However, I no longer expect wealth and success; I call this realism, but in taking the path of least resistance and allowing myself to be content just with the hope for happiness, is this infact an act of resignation? I do not ever want to find myself in the position Tony finds himself: in his fifties and realising that while his life may have been ‘peacable’, it is no real life at all, merely an existence carved out day after day. The questions sparked by The Sense of an Ending have lingered far longer than the plotline itself, and I suspect they will continue to do so.

Ultimately, we are all like Tony and we know nothing. The clues to the mystery that pin up Tony’s meandering introspective commentary are scattered from the opening page, but understanding—true understanding of the situation—is denied to us as readers until the very end. As Veronica repeatedly tells Tony, we just don’t get it. This applies not just to the novel, but to the ways in which we live our lives in general.

Image by Delyth Angharad