The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes


„How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves”.

Anthony Webster, the main protagonist of the novel could be one of us. He doesn’t exceed in anything, she doesn’t possess either a special talent or a fatal flaw. For his whole life, Anthony has his ordinary breakfast, drinks his ordinary tea. His wife was not Aphrodite with milky lips. Perhaps this ordinariness of Anthony’s life is what makes the book an interesting subject matter for reading. In fact, Julian Barnes uses a clever maneuver. By creating The Sense of an Ending, the author does not write about extraordinary, but about ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

The story, told by the main character who is an old man waiting for his death, seems to be a thread of recollections and memories, entwined by the profound reflection about life and death. These retrospections lead to the point that no reader could even suspect. The protagonist’s youth, filled with the study of inner self and discovering oneself in a complex web of reality, comes down to three main aspects, that is a group of friends, his first girlfriend and a suicide of the schoolmate. But do those three aspects have something in common?

Julian Barnes decided to x-ray life: an x-ray that clearly shows every success and struggle of the main protagonist. He reveals that the alleged triumphs in the schoolboy days turn out to be failures. He shows how our perception of the world is different from the reality, how many seemingly unimportant events can be brought together to show the naked truth and expose human stupidity. Barnes is not afraid to criticize the main character, to destroy his worldview. He divulges the subsequent elements of the puzzle, realizing that the final version will not overlap with our vision of Anthony’s life.

What astonishes in this novel is the fact how much is said right at the beginning of the story. It won’t be easy to decode the hidden message on the first page of the book unless we read the whole story. Finishing The Sense of an Ending there is an impression that everything was said right from the start and then the idea comes to mind – all elements of the puzzle fit perfectly well. We realize we were witnessing the process of solving a jigsaw – a jigsaw of life.

The novel forces you to distance yourself from own life, to open your eyes and search for answers within yourself. The answers to questions that seemingly we have already answered a long time ago. Did I judge this person accurately? Is the story of my love I remember actually true? Could I recollect the names of all people with whom I spoke? Would I remember them so well to recognize the writing on a gray envelope?

Author: Katarzyna Anita Piotrowska
Translation: Dorota Osińska