The Sense of an Ending

Julian-Barnes-The-Sense-of-an-EndingI’ve looked. I’ve tried. I must be blind.

I just simply CANNOT find enough in The Sense of an Ending to justify the hype OR the teeny tiny matter of the Booker Prize.

It’s not that it isn’t good; it is. It’s an interesting little book that packs plenty of ideas in its few pages with a lightness of touch. As the first Barnes I’ve read, it left me keen to read a longer work where there’s a bit more to sink my teeth into. But Booker Prize worthy…? It left me feeling that I missed the brilliance somewhere. Were the 2 pages that turned the rest on its head stuck together on my volume?

The strengths of the novel lie in its exploration of memory and self-perception. The narrator constantly reminds us of the unreliability of what he’s recounting, told as it is as a memory from several decades ahead. So it’s not a huge surprise to discover that the young narrator was in fact less pleasant than he’s led us to believe. I’d go as far as to say it’s undramatic. Read Engleby if you want this sort of unfolding perception of what the narrator is done in a far more compelling manner. The strength comes in the narrator’s probing of his own feelings, his own sense of self and the narrative he has created around itself. The narrator has a series of attempts to reconstruct his narrative once the facts have changed, which at once elicit empathy from the reader and make the character less attractive – finely balanced.

This much is quite strong. But the plot itself – the chain of guilt, blame and anger that are revealed – are simply implausible. The core of the novel is the chain of responsibility, and one chain in particular. It hinges on the reader feeling that this chain of responsibility exists – but it seems illusory. The culpability the narrator is supposed to feel doesn’t seem quite fair; and nor does the rage directed at the narrator by others. We’re led towards this vital point with the promise that it will turn events on their head, but it can’t credibly fulfill this role. And for me, the whole novel falls through this break.

I closed the book with my forehead scrunched up, wondering what I had missed. But on review, and a poke around the internet, I’m not sure the missing link was even there.


2 thoughts on “The Sense of an Ending

  1. Pingback: Us | Room of Joy

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