Now retired and reacquainted with the enigmatic woman with whom he first professed love, Tony Webster recalls the 1960s. He was a student, a young lad who formed friendship with boys who are, like himself, curious and sex-hungry, marked by ideals borrowed from literature though often too lazy hence easily outran by the mundane, and generally naïve on the mechanics of life.
At school, Tony met Adrian Finn, who grew to become an innate member of Tony’s clique until his shocking demise. As Adrian is far more intelligent and serious than young men his age, Tony found himself secretly seeking Adrian’s approval on his opinions and decisions. The clique swore lifelong friendship but inevitably, they led different lives and lost contact until Tony received a letter that urged him to reassess the events of his youth.
Julian Barnes’ The Sense of An Ending is more than just a remarkable novel. Structurally, the novel is told from the first person and its intriguing plot builds as Barnes’ narrative gently navigates between the restless days of the present and the rudiments of the largely forgotten past. But beyond the plot, Julian Barnes’ simple tale triumphs for its engrossing observations on life’s key turning points-youth and maturity, love and friendship, death versus survival. The Sense of An Ending could be an instructional manual on living and the reader better be ready with a marker to highlight important passages which we might just need to get by. For this soulful rendition, the novel granted Julian Barnes a Man Booker Prize.
Despite its quite slim storyline, The Sense of An Ending provides a detailed architecture of a life not so different from our own. Here is a human being confronted by suicide and his reaction was shock then sorrow because life, in the face of seeming pointlessness, may not be ours to take and may still possess something worth striving for. Here is a much older person who looks back on his past, tries to recount it, and surmises that while many of its details had eluded him, he could still be true to the impressions history had left behind. And here is a soul who calmly outlived his tragedies that mostly stem from failed relationships, now humbly asking to be forgiven for the foibles of his youth.
The Sense of An Ending is not your typical plot driven novel. But if you hold on for a couple of hours, you will in the end be rewarded with both a satisfying conclusion and a renewed interest on what life might be all about.