Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes explores memory, loss, and lives built around the empty spaces in his Booker-winning novel, The Sense of an Ending. Ostensibly the reminiscence of the recently retired and contentedly divorced Tony Webster, the story deepens to tragedy when Tony reconnects with his college girlfriend and re-examines what he thinks he remembers about his past.

As Tony bit-by-bit abandons his understanding of passed events, he gives up the assumption that “memory equals events plus time” and realizes that “time doesn't act as a fixative, rather as a solvent.”

This scrutiny of memory makes the novel reverberate. Because I try cases on behalf of adults who were abused when they were children, I deal daily with imperfect memories, forgotten details, and re-created stories as my clients and the people we sue patch together their history. I’ve learned that truth – or as close as we can get – is three-dimensional and can be built only collaboratively.

Or, as Tony muses:

[A]s the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been. Even if you have assiduously kept records – in words, sound, pictures – you may find that you have attended to the wrong kind of record-keeping. What was the line Adrian used to quote? “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”


If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


The Sense of an Ending deservedly won the 2011 Booker Prize.  


  1. This is such an interesting topic, although I don't know that I could deal with the cases you handle. I think I would get too emotionally involved. However, I've had the experience of telling what I remember about a childhood experience and realizing that someone else who was there remembers the event entirely differently. Memory is such a malleable part of our minds.

  2. I wasn't particularly enthralled by, or even interested in, this book. I forgot what a different perspective you would have on the subject!

  3. I read the book last year and liked it enough to buy another one of the author's novels. However good the plot is in the beginning, I didn't like the ending because to me it just didn't seem right or plausible or whatever...

  4. Sounds like it might be a difficult read. THANKS for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved March Edition. I am in that list as #15.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Entry

  5. I found this book to be a memorable read. Thanks for linking up with Books You Loved

  6. We've been talking a lot about fiction and nonfiction in my writing class. My instructor insists that everything in nonfiction must be perfectly true. Very tricky, I think.

  7. The refrain, "you don't get it, do you?" Keeps playing in my head over and over again. I loved the lyrical and philosophical quality of the book.


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