Sense of an Ending

In the initial pages of the book, in reply to a teacher’s question of “What is history?”, Tony Webster replies, “History is the lies of the victor” while his brilliant friend Adrian Finn says, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of the mind meet the inadequacies of definition.” This sets the tone for the book to follow in its wake.

Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize winning novel, “A Sense of an Ending” is the story of Tony Webster and his friend Adrian Finn. We see the characters through the eyes of Tony who is now a 60-year-old aging man, recounting the lost memories of his youth. He constructs a memory in the wake of his fading mind and is not entirely surprised to find what he remembers and what actually happened have two different connotations.

In Tony’s recollected remembrances, he and Adrian were sex-hungry and book-hungry and they roamed the girl-less sixth form with the hope of meeting a girl who might be remotely interested in them. By a stroke of good fortune, Tony meets the spunky Veronica and before Tony knows it, the two constitute a couple. He explains the process more to himself, than us, as he says, this is what used to happen: you met a girl, you were attracted to her, you tried to ingratiate yourself, you would invite her to a couple of social events – for instance, the pub – then ask her out on her own, then again, and after a good-night kiss of variable heat, you were somehow officially ‘going out’ with her. Only when you were semi-publicly committed did you discover what her sexual policy might be. And sometimes this meant her body would be as tightly guarded as a fisheries exclusion zone.

Tony and Veronica break up but according to Tony, this is what makes up life for that fleeting experience of love makes everyone understand what validates life and what vindicates it.

In the ensuing days, Veronica and Adrian become a couple and Tony leaves for America where he waits tables, transports cars across states and paints fences. But he gets called back to England as a result of Adrian’s suicide. Tony views this in accordance with his other friends as a philosophical act by Adrian because the latter had always believed “life is a gift bestowed without anyone asking for it and if a person decides to renounce this gift, it is a moral and human duty to act on the consequences of that decision.”

Tony, on his arrival, gets an unexpected bequest of 500 pounds from Veronica’s mother, an enigmatic lady who he had met once when Veronica had taken him to her house. With a slight tinge of vexation, Tony recounts her mother warning him not to take any of Veronica’s shenanigans.

At the account of Adrian’s possessions, Veronica refuses to give Tony, Adrian’s diary which is meant for him. What he does discover indirectly through her though shatters his peaceful existence and leaves him with a mind full of cluttered thoughts. The suspense of Veronica’s mother’s bequest is unraveled slowly, laced with innumerable additions which are full of humor.

The book is a worthy addition to the list of great reads, something which would be as novel fifty years later as it is today. Barnes’ writing is poetic, and takes us almost to the edge of not understanding it, but that is the beauty of it. The writing is figurative and makes you think, and sometimes it gives you that sudden emptiness in the pit of your belly as if you just jumped off a plane without an air-support. And with the narration, Barnes has managed to make this a story for the ages, no matter how old the reader is. With this, I leave you with my favorite line – “What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”