“That was another one of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.”
I get the impression that Julian Barnes is a bit of a Marmite writer, but safe to say I am decidedly in the camp that rates The Sense of an Ending highly. It’s just a slip of a novel – a novella, really – at 150 or so pages, but Barnes still manages to pack in a carefully constructed, emotional tale of love and loss.
In the book, we follow a group of kids at boarding school, and the introduction of a new member to their little clique: Adrian Finn. Barnes explores all the playful little jokes, intrigues and conversations that inevitably make up childhood and school life – but with plenty of clever philosophising to boot.
Finn is markedly different from his classmates, that much we are assured by our admittedly unreliable narrator Toby Webster – one of the group of friends. Webster discusses Adrian’s superior intelligence, his penchant for discussing the bigger questions, and as the group leave school and move on in their respective lives, there is already an undeniable tension lurking in the narrative.
Barnes’ novel—winner of the Man Booker prize in 2011 – reminded me often of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Not only because of similar themes of people drifting apart, friendship and loss, but also the idea of how we never really know anyone at all – even those closest to us. Our minds work in mysterious ways, and sometimes this understanding is impossible to grasp from an outside perspective.
The Sense of an Ending has beautiful prose and is endlessly quotable. It captures your attention and holds it, just as the mysteries are steadily unravelled and the questions answered. Yet, perhaps inevitably, the ending lets it down. The “twist”, as it were, seems a little off, and ultimately at odds with some of the other characters’ reactions. Sadly, it left me a little cold after the intrigue that had come before.
Often laugh-out-loud funny at times, Barnes’ novel is still definitely worth the read. His carefully formed sentences have you asking questions that you know full well won’t be answered until the end, so you read breathlessly on in search of answers. The Sense of an Ending must have done something right, because it ultimately left me wanting to read more of Barnes’ work. I therefore await his 2016 release – The Noise of Time – with baited breath. With him you never quite know what you will get.