I read and loved Flaubert’s Parrot in college, so I was really looking forward to reading another book by Barnes, especially a book that won the Booker Prize in 2011. The Sense of Ending is a slim novella that winds a lot of ideas into its relatively few pages. The plot outline is fairly simple: our first person narrator, a retired Brit divorcee named Tony Webster, receives a lawyer’s letter informing him that he has been left a diary in a will. The diary belonged to Tony’s high school friend, Adrian, and it had been part of the estate of the mother of Tony’s high school girlfriend, Veronica. The book slowly reveals how and why Veronica’s mother had this diary, with Tony gradually revealing more details of his relationship with Veronica as he attempts to reconnect with her (the main conflict in the book is that Veronica has custody of the diary and is reluctant to part with it).
The rather mundane plot is almost an aside until certain twists of misunderstanding are revealed at the end; Barnes instead uses the plot as a vehicle to explore larger themes, foremost among them repression of emotion, the flaws of memory and the inaccuracy of self-perception. Tony is an unreliable narrator whose memories of his teenage and college years- his time dating Veronica, his friendship with Adrian, his brief encounters with Veronica’s mother- all shift as he examines them under the microscope from his comfortable but lonely retirement perch. How much of what we remember is accurate? How do we reconcile a past version of ourselves with the person we have become? How do we take stock of who are and reconcile that our subjective perception to a more objective view? Is that even possible?
This one is melancholy but also a keeper- lots to ponder, and I strongly suspect that I could re-read it every 10 years and find new meaning in it on each read.
CBR11Bingo- Award Winner (2011 Man Booker Prize)