book review – ‘the sense of an ending’

sense-of-an-ending-203x300 Barnes, Julian. The Sense of an Ending. New York: Vintage, 2011.

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a post for this blog, and a while longer since I’ve written a book review. I hope to remedy both of these issues now. I will be writing and publishing regular posts here on the blog from now on – posting at least weekly, which will include book reviews, perhaps some original writing, and various other thoughts and essays. My personal life was in something of an upheaval in the latter part of last year, but I am settled now and ready to resume work. As for book reviews…I didn’t review the dozen or so books I read at the end of last year, but I plan to pick back up with reviewing the books I read this year.

I could not have asked for a better book to resume writing reviews than Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. I’ve never read anything by Barnes before, and picked up this volume on a whim while browsing in the bookstore last week. It looked interesting. The blurb was intriguing. The book did win the Man Booker Prize. So I added it to my stack, and I am terribly glad that I did.

First I must answer the question I always posit – is this a well-written book? For me, even if the questions a book poses are profound, the answers deep and delicate, the characters engaging, and the plot amazing, if the book is not well-written, then it falls entirely flat. This is not a flat book. I love not only the construct of Barnes’ sentences, but his subtlety with language, his turns of phrase, and the way he leads the reader along, not only with the book’s movement, but the movement of his word choice as well. He is a skillful author, deft with his use of the English language as few have the ability to be.

The Sense of an Ending is a beautifully constructed book. There is a definite plot, definite action and movement, but the majority of the novel is philosophical, taking part in the inner monologue of the protagonist. I won’t offer any spoilers, but – the novel is in two parts, the first part relating a fairly small amount of time in the protagonist’s late adolescence and early adult life. The rest of his life is glossed over in just a few paragraphs (which would make an interesting study in and of itself…the significance of the insignificance the character ascribes to his own life), and we pick up the story about 50 years later. A series of events has put him back in touch with a few people from his past (some dead, some living), and this re-encounter of the past especially has driven him to a great deal of thought and reflection.

I must say that I am impressed with the way Barnes handles the thoughts of his narrator. There are important questions that the author wants to bring up, important ideas that all 3 of us (writer, reader, character) are asked to consider. The questions are posed, the novel reflects on these questions, and then the reader is left, after the close of the novel, to further reflection. This is pure brilliance, in my estimation – not only posing a question (anyone can do this), but doing it in a way which also convinces the reader that the question is an important one, deserving of thought even after the final page of the novel is completed. Barnes succeeds. The novel asks many things of the reader…to consider some of “the big questions,” some of “the uncomfortable questions,” and perhaps even some new questions. We leave our narrator reflecting on many things – the meaning of life, the purpose of life, the reliability and place of memory, personal motivations, the active life vs the passive life, regret, remorse, forgiveness, fulfillment.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I give rare few books a 5 star rating on Goodreads, but this book takes all 5 and then some. I’m a pretty good judge of books, and fortunately I rarely pick up a book that I don’t enjoy (because I’m very careful of what I read) – this book was a surprise, because in no way did I expect it to be what it turned out to be. Hands down a brilliant work, and one that everyone should read.

Buy The Sense of an Ending here!
You can find this book, and many others, at your local independent bookseller.

Post by Matthew Jackson