Books in the Club: Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

Click on the image to buy the book from Powell's
Yes, of course we were pretentious -- what else is youth for? We used terms like 'Weltanschauung' and 'Strum and Drang', enjoyed saying, "That's philosophically self-evident', and assured one another that the imagination's first duty was to be transgressive.

Julian Barnes won the Man Booker prize in 2011 for The Sense of and Ending, a very slight, very British novella, which I very much enjoyed reading.  The plot centers on an event in young Tony Webster, narrator's, life, involving a friend from his school days.  As Tony ages, divorces, and spends his days in rumination, the past comes back to him in the form of an ex-girlfriend and her mother's will.  Through a series of events that unfold, Tony is forced to look more deeply into his own life, and to rewrite his the narrative of his youth.

The scenes from Tony's youth are a joy to read.  He and his friends are lively and likeable, albeit a little pretentious (see above). Clearly, the elder Tony romanticizes his youth, making it read like any great campus novel.  The first person narration in the book, is, as first person narration is wont to be, unreliable.  I even thought that in parts it was unclear whether Tony's memory was reliable at all, or if maybe the thing with which he was most obsessed was beginning to fail him. 

I won't spoil it, but the end of this book is a bit of a puzzle, and it is controversial I suppose.  When my book club selected this book, I wasn't sure what we were going to talk about as I read it.  It is a slight book, and it is a pleasant, thoughtful read, but it wasn't until the end that I knew we would have a fruitful discussion.  And we did.  And I recommend the book, to individual readers and book clubs alike.

Title: The Sense of an Ending
Author: Julian Barnes
Publisher: Vintage Books
Date: 2011
Genre:Literary Fiction

150 pages.
Where I got it: Bought It
Challenges: Back to the Classics (Prize Winner)


  1. The passage from the book you posted here reminds me a lot of This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald--another pretentious college kid experiencing ruination, only in the 1920s. I also generally love works that deal with the pretentiousness of youth because, what with the technology-knowledge gap between the youth of today and their parents, it's growing more and more enormous by the hour.

    1. I love Great Gatsby, but I haven't read any other Fitzgerald other than a short story here and there. I love books about pretentious youths though, so maybe This Side of Paradise will be the next one I tackle.

  2. Maybe, MAYBE, one of these days I will actually get around to reading this one I've even had non-readerish friends ask me what I think about the ending and I'm always embarrassed that they've read it when I have not.

    1. Just do it. It is really so short. It's an afternoon's reading.


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