The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
(Knopf, 2011, 163 pages)
At the outset of the novel, Tony Webster reflects that “what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed” (3). The Sense of an Ending is Tony’s attempt as an older man to sort out what he remembers of his younger days from what he actually witnessed. In the first half of the book, Tony thinks back to key events involving the friends of his teenage and college years (with many qualifications about the unreliability of his memory). In particular, his relationship with Veronica, his college girlfriend, is the source of many the weightiest and most troubling memories of his early life.
Now divorced, retired, and seemingly content with this life, Tony finds events and people from his past once again pressing into his life. This causes him to scrutinize the memories he has long taken for granted. In this second half of the book, unexpected circumstances lead Tony to reinitiate contact with Veronica. As he learns the circumstance of her life, he is given cause to reevaluate their entire shared history.
As Barnes reflects on the nature of time and memory, he captures the malleability of remembrance and the fluctuations of time. The story is concisely and simply told, with no real earth-shattering occurrences. However, Barnes maintains a dramatic tension which gives the story a sense of mystery and urgency right from the first page. I’m looking forward to Barnes’ most recent novel, The Noise of Time.