Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Sense of an Ending a haunting, beautiful novel

Book 98: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Like an aging welterweight, The Sense of an Ending is lean, slow of foot, but scrappy, hanging around until author Julian Barnes can deliver one final devastating punch for the knock-out.

Shortlisted for the 2011 Booker Prize, The Sense of an Ending begins with Tony Webster recalling his school days when Tony and his two pals are joined by Adrian Finn, "a tall, shy boy who initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself" and who the fulcrum of this slim novel.

Adrian is the kind of boy all the others want to be like.  Self-possessed and clearly smarter than his mates he seems destined for certain success.

In university, Adrian begins dating Tony's former girlfriend. Later, Tony learns that Adrian has killed himself.

Tony marries, has one child -- a daughter -- and later divorces his wife, although they remain friends. Tony leads an altogether bland existence.  He goes to great lengths to avoid the upsets common to most lives. He is smugly proud of his ability to live a life that is comfortable, yet also free of any meaningful relationship.

Tony's comfort is disrupted when he receives an unusual bequest -- a gift of money from his former girlfriend's mother and Adrian's diary.  The money is quickly paid, but the girl friend, now a dour woman, withholds the diary and later burns it.

Tony is determined to unravel this minor mystery.  Why did a woman whom he'd met only once leave him a small gift of money on her death? What was in the diary? Why did Adrian take his life?

Tony makes several guesses, all of them wrong.  The answers, which Barnes skillfully withholds until the pages -- are unexpected and powerful. The impact lingers long. For Tony. For the reader.  

As Barnes writes in the closing of this haunting, yet beautiful novel:

"You get towards the end of life . . . There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest."

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