The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

I don't think that I could have read this book on a better day in my life.  I read the entire book in a day (except for the first 20 pages which I read when I crawled into bed and promptly fell asleep) as I needed to finish it for book club last night, and it was a wonderful book to read in one hit.  It is a really long time since I have sat down and read an entire book in one go (I have kids for those who are wondering).  This is not the reason, however, as to why it was a great day to read Julian Barnes' "The Sense of an Ending" on Wednesday.

On Tuesday at my Wednesday writing group (which has suddenly turned into a Tuesday writing group due to my tutor's Masters lectures) we were talking about a character being developed in writing by the choices and decisions they make, and the consequences of these and did various exercises around this.

This book is a brilliant example of this character development.

Julian Barnes shows us over this novel the character of Anthony, the main protagonist, by letting us hear how he wrangles through life with the consequences of the decisions he made in adolescence, and the damage that is left for him to try to understand what happened.  It does take him a lifetime to learn about himself and those who he was entangled with to be ready to hear and to understand.  Tony, or Anthony, grapples with memory, as he remembers his adolescence as it was, or was it?

Me reading with my many tags of his brilliant lines

Julian's book is full of brilliant writing, insights and understanding of human nature.  He is an economical writer who lays threads throughout the novel, leaving the reader thinking, wondering at the end.  Each reader, as we found last night at book club (who all rated it 7/10-9.5/10), forms slightly different ideas from the threads that he lay within the story. A clever and thoughtful writer giving us a well formed story with a wonderful unsuspecting twist at the end to surprise most.

Definitely a book I would recommend. A most enjoyable thought provoking read of memory, aging, identity, relationships, letting go and holding on, and adolescence and young adulthood and the behaviours that surround those years.

x Meg


I want to share with you some of my favourite lines from this book - some of those lovely coloured flags that I stuck on!

"And there was no arguing against 'feelings', because women were experts in them, men coarse beginners.  So 'It doesn't feel right' had far more persuasive force and irrefutability than any appeal to church doctrine or a mother's advice" pg 23

"Some Englishman once said that is long dull meal with pudding served first." pg 54

"Have you noticed how, when you talk to some like a solicitor, after a while you stop sounding like yourself and end up sounding like them." pg 68

"The more you learn, the less you fear.  'Learn' not in the sense of academic study, but in the practical understanding of life." pg 82

"Margaret used to say that women often made the mistake of of keeping their hair in the style they adopted when they were at their most attractive.  They hung on long after it became inappropriate, all because they were afraid of the the big cut." pg 91

"I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness." pg 93

"Compliments of the seasons to you, and may the the acid rain fall on your joint and anointed heads." pg 97

Concerning character development, whether characters develop over time: "Our attitudes and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that something different, more like decoration."  pg 193

and finally...

"May you be ordinary, as the poet once wished the new-born baby." pg 144


  1. i like the last quote. we all live in the tension between wanting to be something special and missing the specialness of the ordinary!

    1. absolutely! oh, to be special, yet ordinary...

  2. "The Sense of an Ending" utilizes an unreliable 1st person narrator and the story is delivered in two sections. Structurally and stylistically, it reminded me of "The Good Soldier," which I was first given to read in college as one of the great early 20th examples of this approach. Like "The Good Soldier," there is a jarring incident in "The Sense of an Ending" in the 1st half of the book that is rendered in a way to make the Reader sit up and notice that the story the narrator is relaying is far from the whole story. This technique works well in this novel, too, and I began to perk up at this initial revelation, which takes the form of a letter the narrator wrote in anger to an admired childhood friend that is returned to him later in life when he is leading a spare, lonely and solitary life in retirement. The angry letter to the friend was written by the narrator as a young man after hearing that the friend has taken up with the female protagonist, originally the narrator's ex-girlfriend. The fact that the invective and bitter tone of this ancient letter is considerably more toxic than our unreliable narrator ever admits to puts the Reader immediately on notice that something (everything) likely is amiss. So far, so good.

    1. Yes, so far so good...still so many months later, I still think about this book, still reference this book to people when I talk about great books. This is a GREAT book and superbly written.