The Sense of an Ending

The Sense Of An Ending, Julian Barnes

From the actual material object to its content, this book never puts a foot wrong. The cover design alone is worthy of note, with its fading, washed-out typescript and dandelion clocks, the black edge carrying through to the pages. In these days of ‘one look suits all’ Kindles and iPads, packaging like this is a reminder that the art starts outside the book.

The perfection continues within. This is one of those books that you just hand to someone and urge them to read. There is no point in trying to describe it beyond the barest bones: Tony, now retired, is looking back over some early events of his life in the light of a letter he has received. Plot details, such as they are, are almost irrelevant, because the book is not so much about what actually happens in a life, as how we interpret, or even invent, what happens. It is a meditation on memory, both personal and in the form of history – “We need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us”, suggests one of the characters, tying the two ideas together. The title itself plays with the notion of interpretation, the word ‘sense’ here carrying more than one meaning. For all that the novel is reflective, it is pacy. The style is sharp, the tone true.  There are moments of humour, and even a growing element of mystery, the anticipation of a denouement (the sense of an ending).

Very few books will bring every single reader to the same question on reading. This one will. The answer might be uncomfortable.