The Sense of an Ending

Hardcover | August 2, 2011

byJulian Barnes

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Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize and #1 international bestseller, The Sense of an Ending is a masterpiece.

The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes's new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers.

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian's life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.

Now Tony is in middle age. He's had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?

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From the Publisher

Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize and #1 international bestseller, The Sense of an Ending is a masterpiece.The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes's new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers.Tony Webster and h...

JULIAN BARNES is the author of three books of stories, two collections of essays, eleven novels, including A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and Arthur & George (finalist for the Man Booker Prize), and a non-fiction book, Nothing to Be Frightened Of. His honours include the Prix Medicis, the Prix Femina, the Somerset Maugham Aw...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:160 pages, 8.54 × 5.99 × 0.77 inPublished:August 2, 2011Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307360814

ISBN - 13:9780307360816

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent! A writing style that restores my faith in contemporary writing -- that is to say, Barnes writes with a wonderful blend of old-style diction and observation, in a modern context. An absolute pleasure to read.
Date published: 2015-01-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from If you read this book you will not be disappointed! The Sense of an Ending is the 2011 Man Booker Prize winner, as well as an international bestseller, and I can definitely see why! This novel is very thought-provoking, extremely well written and it gives the reader a sense of their own mortality. (Which is not always considered a good thing, but in this case, it is). I would definitely recommend this book to all!
Date published: 2014-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Soul baring book The book seems to generate polar opposite opinions from readers. I think it is excellent, a man reviewing his life. You see the decisions made, perhaps not fully remembered, perhaps too one sided. But it delivers as a book about a man looking back on his life. If I were a younger man, perhaps I would not have enjoyed as much but as an older reader, I see the life of this man only too well. It is a book I have read twice over the last year. The writing is clear and to the point. Highly recommend it.
Date published: 2014-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you read this book you will not be disappointed! Excellent Book. Barnes wit and style are sure to stand the test of time. Definitely worth the money.
Date published: 2014-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from If you read this book you will not be disappointed! A middle aged man, Tony Webster, is in the will of his first girlfriend's mother who has left him 500 pounds and a diary of a friend, Adrian, who had committed suicide years before. This starts him on a quest to discover why she did this and gets his memory working. The story takes us back to when there were four boys, friends, in school. Later, when Tony's first girlfriend, Veronica, starts going out with Adrian, one of the boy's friends, he writes the most horrible letter imaginable to Adrian. This story was short, but so thought provoking that it makes you remember your own mistakes and how we try to "remember them differently" so that we might not seem so bad. When Tony meets Veronica to try to get the diary, he feels that she is acting very strangely, as do I. Her words to him are "you don't get it, you never got it." I felt bad for Tony because it seemed that he was way over his head as far as his egghead friends were concerned. He was just a guy; did guy things when he was young and made mistakes just like we all do. But his bad letter writing mistake in his youth seemed to have consequences.
Date published: 2013-10-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not sure why I added this to my wish list I cant remember why I added this to my wish list, it did not become any clearly either during or after reading it. Honestly I would not recommend it unless you want an idea of what you might expect to happen to your memory as you get older. I can save you some time and tell you to live life to the fullest and never waste an opportunity even if it presents like a huge challenge. Not that I think that is the authors message but reading about a someone else self professed mediocre life, that's how it made me feel.
Date published: 2013-01-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Aims to be Plain and Achieves The thing about award-winning books that you read AFTER they've won the awards is you spend the entire time trying to fathom just what IT is, if this book is deemed to have had IT. This was my first encounter with the already-acclaimed Barnes, and upon completion of it, I've decided that it is a fine attempt to express something surprising, a Dickensian twist, but to do it in an intentionally normal, boring, and to use the author's word "average" life. The intent was to make it as human as possible, and though that's something many writers aspire to, there is much that leaves you wondering what the point is. The voice is not distracting, but nor does it make you thrill as many Man Booker winners in the past have made me do. It's fairly conventional, and yet there are times when it dives into the rumination of time or life or epitaphs that we find some of the most riveting work. And yet, it still just comes together too nicely, with a fairly plain mystery and a fairly plain explanation in the end. In the real world, it would be noteworthy, but in fiction it is just life.
Date published: 2012-10-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Couldn't wait for it to end I should have known that as a winner of the Man Booker prize, this book and I were not going to get along. This is a book about a man who mis-remembers his youth, is confronted with his self-righteous smug judgments of the past, and in the end nothing of any consequence really happens. At a scant 160pp, this book dragged on forever. Couldn't wait for it to end, but persevered to the last out of bookclub commitment only.
Date published: 2012-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow I have not read a novel so polarizing as The Sense of an Ending. Just look at some of the other reviews. It is so well crafted and achieved that the reader may question the fact it was on purpose. But all one needs to do after reading is look to the title and I defy you not to at least smirk. If you are the type of reader who enjoys a novel that is tied up in a nice bow by the end I would avoid this book. This novel seems ideal for any book club. The desire to discuss and confirm the narrator’s take on events in book make it self-reflexive. You look to other people around you to help you make ‘sense’ of the book. This process may be fun it is ultimately futile. The reader should try and decide for themselves before seeing what other readers have to say. This fact makes the book difficult to review or even describe to friends. All you can say is just read it. This book may not engage your heart but it will engage your mind. The Sense of an Ending is about, “Making sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives.” Deep. Check out my first published work Defenseless
Date published: 2012-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Riveting! You will not be able to put this book down--it is absolutely compelling.It is well written, clever, humorous and unpredictable.
Date published: 2012-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best novels The best novel I have read in a long time. This was my first time reading Julian Barnes. The language, character development, the movement of the story were exceptional. I am now curious to read more by him. Truly enjoyed the book and have no reservation recommending the book.
Date published: 2011-11-14

Extra Content

Read from the Book

I remember, in no particular order: – a shiny inner wrist;– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;– gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;– a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door. This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed. We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return. I’m not very interested in my schooldays, and don’t feel any nostalgia for them. But school is where it all began, so I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty. If I can’t be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That’s the best I can manage. There were three of us, and he now made the fourth. We hadn’t expected to add to our tight number: cliques and pairings had happened long before, and we were already beginning to imagine our escape from school into life. His name was Adrian Finn, a tall, shy boy who initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself. For the first day or two, we took little notice of him: at our school there was no welcoming ceremony, let alone its opposite, the punitive induction. We just registered his presence and waited. The masters were more interested in him than we were. They had to work out his intelligence and sense of discipline, calculate how well he’d previously been taught, and if he might prove ‘scholarship material’. On the third morning of that autumn term, we had a history class with Old Joe Hunt, wryly affable in his three-piece suit, a teacher whose system of control depended on maintaining sufficient but not excessive boredom. ‘Now, you’ll remember that I asked you to do some preliminary reading about the reign of Henry VIII.’ Colin, Alex and I squinted at one another, hoping that the question wouldn’t be flicked, like an angler’s fl y, to land on one of our heads. ‘Who might like to offer a characterisation of the age?’ He drew his own conclusion from our averted eyes. ‘Well, Marshall, perhaps. How would you describe Henry VIII’s reign?’ Our relief was greater than our curiosity, because Marshall was a cautious know-nothing who lacked the inventiveness of true ignorance. He searched for possible hidden complexities in the question before eventually locating a response. ‘There was unrest, sir.’ An outbreak of barely controlled smirking; Hunt himself almost smiled. ‘Would you, perhaps, care to elaborate?’ Marshall nodded slow assent, thought a little longer, and decided it was no time for caution. ‘I’d say there was great unrest, sir.’ ‘Finn, then. Are you up in this period?’ The new boy was sitting a row ahead and to my left. He had shown no evident reaction to Marshall’s idiocies. ‘Not really, sir, I’m afraid. But there is one line of thought according to which all you can truly say of any historical event – even the outbreak of the First World War, for example – is that “something happened”.’ ‘Is there, indeed? Well, that would put me out of a job, wouldn’t it?’ After some sycophantic laughter, Old Joe Hunt pardoned our holiday idleness and filled us in on the polygamous royal butcher. At the next break, I sought out Finn. ‘I’m Tony Webster.’ He looked at me warily. ‘Great line to Hunt.’ He seemed not to know what I was referring to. ‘About something happening.’ ‘Oh. Yes. I was rather disappointed he didn’t take it up.’ That wasn’t what he was supposed to say. Another detail I remember: the three of us, as a symbol of our bond, used to wear our watches with the face on the inside of the wrist. It was an affectation, of course, but perhaps something more. It made time feel like a personal, even a secret, thing. We expected Adrian to note the gesture, and follow suit; but he didn’t. Later that day – or perhaps another day – we had a double English period with Phil Dixon, a young master just down from Cambridge. He liked to use contemporary texts, and would throw out sudden challenges. ‘ “Birth, and Copulation, and Death” – that’s what T. S. Eliot says it’s all about. Any comments?’ He once compared a Shakespearean hero to Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. And I remember how, when we were discussing Ted Hughes’s poetry, he put his head at a donnish slant and murmured, ‘Of course, we’re all wondering what will happen when he runs out of animals.’ Sometimes, he addressed us as ‘Gentlemen’. Naturally, we adored him. That afternoon, he handed out a poem with no title, date or author’s name, gave us ten minutes to study it, then asked for our responses. ‘Shall we start with you, Finn? Put simply, what would you say this poem is about?’ Adrian looked up from his desk. ‘Eros and Thanatos, sir.’ ‘Hmm. Go on.’ ‘Sex and death,’ Finn continued, as if it might not just be the thickies in the back row who didn’t understand Greek. ‘Or love and death, if you prefer. The erotic principle, in any case, coming into conflict with the death principle. And what ensues from that conflict. Sir.’ I was probably looking more impressed than Dixon thought healthy. ‘Webster, enlighten us further.’ ‘I just thought it was a poem about a barn owl, sir.’ This was one of the differences between the three of us and our new friend. We were essentially taking the piss, except when we were serious. He was essentially serious, except when he was taking the piss. It took us a while to work this out. Adrian allowed himself to be absorbed into our group, without acknowledging that it was something he sought. Perhaps he didn’t. Nor did he alter his views to accord with ours. At morning prayers he could be heard joining in the responses while Alex and I merely mimed the words, and Colin preferred the satirical ploy of the pseudo-zealot’s enthusiastic bellow. The three of us considered school sports a crypto-fascist plan for repressing our sex-drive; Adrian joined the fencing club and did the high jump. We were belligerently tone-deaf; he came to school with his clarinet. When Colin denounced the family, I mocked the political system, and Alex made philosophical objections to the perceived nature of reality, Adrian kept his counsel – at first, anyway. He gave the impression that he believed in things. We did too – it was just that we wanted to believe in our own things, rather than what had been decided for us. Hence what we thought of as our cleansing scepticism. The school was in central London, and each day we travelled up to it from our separate boroughs, passing from one system of control to another. Back then, things were plainer: less money, no electronic devices, little fashion tyranny, no girlfriends. There was nothing to distract us from our human and filial duty which was to study, pass exams, use those qualifications to find a job, and then put together a way of life unthreateningly fuller than that of our parents, who would approve, while privately comparing it to their own earlier lives, which had been simpler, and therefore superior. None of this, of course, was ever stated: the genteel social Darwinism of the English middle classes always remained implicit. ‘Fucking bastards, parents,’ Colin complained one Monday lunchtime. ‘You think they’re OK when you’re little, then you realise they’re just like . . .’ ‘Henry VIII, Col?’ Adrian suggested. We were beginning to get used to his sense of irony; also to the fact that it might be turned against us as well. When teasing, or calling us to seriousness, he would address me as Anthony; Alex would become Alexander, and the unlengthenable Colin shortened to Col. ‘Wouldn’t mind if my dad had half a dozen wives.’ ‘And was incredibly rich.’ ‘And painted by Holbein.’ ‘And told the Pope to sod off.’ ‘Any particular reason why they’re FBs?’ Alex asked Colin. ‘I wanted us to go to the funfair. They said they had to spend the weekend gardening.’ Right: fucking bastards. Except to Adrian, who listened to our denunciations, but rarely joined in. And yet, it seemed to us, he had more cause than most. His mother had walked out years before, leaving his dad to cope with Adrian and his sister. This was long before the term ‘singleparent family’ came into use; back then it was ‘a broken home’, and Adrian was the only person we knew who came from one. This ought to have given him a whole storetank of existential rage, but somehow it didn’t; he said he loved his mother and respected his father. Privately, the three of us examined his case and came up with a theory: that the key to a happy family life was for there not to be a family – or at least, not one living together. Having made this analysis, we envied Adrian the more. In those days, we imagined ourselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to be released into our lives. And when that moment came, our lives – and time itself – would speed up. How were we to know that our lives had in any case begun, that some advantage had already been gained, some damage already inflicted? Also, that our release would only be into a larger holding pen, whose boundaries would be at first undiscernible. In the meantime, we were book-hungry, sex-hungry, meritocratic, anarchistic. All political and social systems appeared to us corrupt, yet we declined to consider an alternative other than hedonistic chaos. Adrian, however, pushed us to believe in the application of thought to life, in the notion that principles should guide actions. Previously, Alex had been regarded as the philosopher among us. He had read stuff the other two hadn’t, and might, for instance, suddenly declare, ‘Whereof we cannot speak, thereof must we remain silent.’ Colin and I would consider this idea in silence for a while, then grin and carry on talking. But now Adrian’s arrival dislodged Alex from his position – or rather, gave us another choice of philosopher. If Alex had read Russell and Wittgenstein, Adrian had read Camus and Nietzsche. I had read George Orwell and Aldous Huxley; Colin had read Baudelaire and Dostoevsky. This is only a slight caricature. Yes, of course we were pretentious – what else is youth for? We used terms like ‘Weltanschauung’ and ‘Sturm und Drang’, enjoyed saying ‘That’s philosophically self-evident’, and assured one another that the imagination’s first duty was to be transgressive. Our parents saw things differently, picturing their children as innocents suddenly exposed to noxious influence. So Colin’s mother referred to me as his ‘dark angel’; my father blamed Alex when he found me reading The Communist Manifesto; Colin was fingered by Alex’s parents when they caught him with a hard-boiled American crime novel. And so on. It was the same with sex. Our parents thought we might be corrupted by one another into becoming whatever it was they most feared: an incorrigible masturbator, a winsome homosexual, a recklessly impregnatory libertine. On our behalf they dreaded the closeness of adolescent friendship, the predatory behaviour of strangers on trains, the lure of the wrong kind of girl. How far their anxieties outran our experience.

Bookclub Guide

1. Would you describe Tony Webster as an ‘unreliable yet sincere narrator’? 2. To what extent do you think Julian Barnes uses “peripeteia”, the unexpected twist in plot, to encourage the reader to adjust their expectations? 3. Do you agree with Anita Brookner’s review, “his [Julian Barnes] reputation will surely be enhanced by this book”. The Telegraph, July 2011. 4. The Sense of an Ending is a novel about the imperfections of memory. What insight does it give the reader into ageing and memory? 5. Is the ending unforeseen, does it leave you with a sense of unease? Copyright ©2011 The Man Booker Prize 2011 at www.themanbookerprize.com

Editorial Reviews

WINNER 2011 - Man Booker Prize LONGLIST 2013 – IMPAC Dublin Literary AwardA New York Times Notable Book"The Sense of an Ending has the markings of a classic of English Literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading." —Dame Stella Rimington, Chair of the 2011 Man Booker Prize judges  “Barnes builds a powerful atmosphere of shame and silence. . . . As ever, Barnes excels at colouring everyday reality with his narrator’s unique subjectivity, without sacrificing any of its vivid precision. . . . Novel, fertile and memorable.” —The Guardian “Compelling. . . . His reputation will surely be enhanced by this book. Do not be misled by its brevity. Its mystery is as deeply embedded as the most archaic of memories.” —Anita Brookner, The Telegraph “Short and sharp. . . . A true master of his craft, Barnes’s precise and economic prose is often a delight, and he packs in some vivid characterisation, scene-drawing and emotional insight within his brief 150 pages.” —The List “Barnes has effectively doubled the length of the book by giving us a final revelation that obliges us to reread it. Without overstating his case in the slightest, Barnes’s story is a meditation on the unreliability and falsity of memory. . . . Such a slyly subversive book.” —London Evening Standard “A dexterously crafted narrative of unlooked-for consequences.” —The Sunday Times"A brief but potent work about memory, class, sex and the way we imperfectly bear witness to our own lives.... Each of Barnes's meticulously written sentences bears lingering over, and the novella's impact has a visceral power." —Winnipeg Free Press "Julian Barnes may well have written his best novel--he has certainly told a wonderful story that is all too human and all so real." —The Irish TimesPraise for Julian Barnes: “Julian Barnes is one of those marvelously inventive authors who writes a very different book each time. He experiments with historical and contemporary fiction, memoir, biography and essays, seamlessly moving from genre to genre. . . . His prose is rich without being showy; he has a precision and economy of language that at times recalls William Trevor.” —The Oregonian “Barnes is among the most adventurous writers—in style, versatility and narrative structure—of his Amis-McEwan-Hitchens generation.” —Christopher Benfey, The New York Times Book Review “Barnes is a versatile man of letters. From Flaubert’s Parrot to Love, Etc., Barnes’s fiction is rich and entertaining. His prose is as playful as it is supple and rich.” —Thomas F. Staley, Ransom Center Director “The David Cohen Prize is in effect a UK version of the Nobel Prize for Literature, open to writers of fiction and non-fiction, comedy and tragedy. . . . What is remarkable about Julian Barnes is that he has excelled in all these areas. The already extraordinary list of David Cohen Prize–winning authors has been fittingly extended.” —Mark Lawson, David Cohen Prize citation