By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Richard Morant
Julian Barnes writes about life in “The Sense of an Ending”. Barnes reveals the loss of truth in memory’s recollection of the past. This is a memoir of a man’s life; after retirement, after marriage and divorce, and after children’s growth to adulthood. It is an indictment of all who write about the past from memory. It is a mystery with unexpected twists.
The cognitive dissonance that exists when recalling what one thinks they know about what they did in the past is sharply defined by Julian Barnes’ story of reflection.
Remembering best friends, family, and loves is a natural habit as you grow older but memory of one’s past is distorted by contrived and prejudiced interpretation. Barnes observes that it is impossible to understand one’s past from memories without concrete documentation. Memory is not enough; i.e. it is unlikely that one accurately remembers their past.
Tony Webster is the main character of the novel. Barnes begins with Webster’s reflections about four friends that meet in high school, one of which, Adrian Finn, is smarter than the other three. Each of the friends stay in touch through college but Tony reflects only on what he remembers, the three friends, his first female relationship, and what they meant to him. Tony Webster’s particular focus is on Adrian Finn and Tony’s first girlfriend, Veronica.
Tony’s recollections are pieces of life that anyone over 50 has experienced and anyone under 50 will experience. The over 50 reader wants to know if there is something Julian Barnes knows that will make them feel better about their past; the under 50 reader wants to know if Barnes knows something that will help them in their future.
Tony recalls his first romantic relationship with Veronica. It is a story of a young man’s first obsession with sex, beyond wet dreams or masturbation. What Tony remembers is not what is found to be true. In remembrance of things past, Veronica and Adrian become lovers after Tony and Veronica split. A new perception of reality is created when a mysterious letter arrives; years after his friend, Adrian, has committed suicide. This letter creates a mystery and a re-evaluation of Tony’s memory of past events.
The letter is from Veronica’s mother. Tony only met Veronica’s mother once but, with her death, she bequeaths 500 English pounds and a diary of Adrian Finn to Tony Webster. Veronica refuses to release Adrian’s diary as requested in her mother’s will. Tony believes Veronica is refusing to release the bequeathed diary because it reveals too much about Adrian and Veronica and their tangled relationship with him.
This odd turn of events exposes the fragility of memory, the consequence of past actions, and the importance of corroborating documentation for truth and understanding of the past; i.e. memory is not a reliable truth.
Several secrets and misunderstandings of the past are revealed by the end of the book. It is these secrets and misunderstandings that compel listeners to complete
Barnes’ insightful story. The monetary bequest of 500 English pounds to Tony by Veronica’s mother is an unraveled mystery to this reviewer but the message of memory’s frail truth is crystal clear.
“The Sense of Ending” is more of a novelette than a novel but it is an entertaining audio book and a cautionary tale about how one should live their life and how human actions have unintended consequences. “The Sense of Ending” shows how memory and history are often misrepresentations of truth when not independently documented.