The Sense of an Ending is a little book that won a big prize. Depending on whether you count “blanks” as “pages,” the book comes in somewhere between 155 and 175 pages in length. Julian Barnes packed so much into these few pages, however, that he won the 2011 Man Booker for his efforts. But it is only when this character-driven novella finally shifts its emphasis to a dramatic plot development that the author’s aims become clear.
Tony Webster, now in his early sixties, has retired and is content with his rather solitary lifestyle. However, when he learns that he is to receive a bequest from a woman he barely knew, Tony is forced to reminisce about his past and some of the key players from his schooldays, particularly Adrian Finn and Veronica Ford. Adrian, a late-comer to Tony’s central London school, was almost immediately accepted into their circle by Tony and his other two friends. Adrian’s obvious intelligence soon made him a favorite of his teachers, and the way he handled himself in and outside of class made each of the other three boys want to claim him as “best friend.” Veronica Ford, whom Adrian later met at university, was his first serious girlfriend. That she would be stolen from him by a young man like Adrian comes as no surprise.
But life goes on, as it always will. Tony and his friends, Veronica included, manage to drift apart over the years despite their avowed intention to remain friends forever. Even their proposed reunions come to little or nothing. Time passes – and Tony believes that he understands his past as well as he ever will. Decades later, he will be astounded to learn how little he was right about.
The Sense of an Ending is deceptively simple at times, and frustratingly opaque at others, but it is a memorable piece of fiction. Whether or not the most deserving book has been chosen for each of the major literary prizes awarded each year is always arguable – and is always argued by book lovers. That will certainly be the case with the 2011 winner of the Man Booker. Whichever side of the question one comes down on, however, it is difficult to argue this is not a beautifully crafted piece of fiction that will have readers discussing it for years to come.
Rated at: 4.5