The Sense of An Ending – 2011 Man Booker Award Winner

When you tell the story of your past, do you embellish or change events to your advantage?  Do you really remember or just think you remember? In The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes relates a seemingly innocuous life story, with remembrances that may not be as they seem, and with unexpected consequences from making assumptions about the past.

The book is short – less than 200 pages.  Barnes includes so many insightful observations about growing up, growing old, and growing apart, that the plot only seems a vehicle to further his scrutiny.

“…when we are young and sensitive, we are also at our most hurtful; whereas, when the blood begins to slow…we tread more carefully…”

Tony Webster, now in his sixties, opens with reminiscences about his school days; his first love – Veronica; his erudite friend – Adrian; his marriage to Margaret; his “ordinary life.”  Suddenly, he receives a mysterious and confusing message that he has inherited some money and his dead friend Adrian’s diary from Veronica’s mother, who recently died.  The diary is in the possession of Veronica, who refuses to turn it over.

As Tony tries to reconnect with his past, he remembers his version of his relationships, including his visit to meet Veronica’s family when he thought their connection was serious, and a letter he later sent to Adrian and Veronica when they became lovers, after his own affair with her was over.

The story seems a little confusing as it becomes clear that Tony’s perception of the past may not be truthful, but rather his edited version of what he chooses to remember.  Veronica repeatedly tells him: “You… don’t get it” – and neither will you for a while.  Barnes finally solves the mystery of Tony’s letter and Adrian’s death at the end of the book, in a surprising twist.

“…when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others…”

I probably would not have looked for this book had it not won the award.    I was surprised at its impact on me, and may look for more by this author.