Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes


Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.

Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove

Audiobook from Audible

Written in the first person by a middle aged  Tony Webster who we find out is a rather unreliable narrator. The first part of the book is about his friendship in senior-school with the much more intelligent Adrian, and Tony’s relationship with Veronika who ultimately dumps him and hitches up with Adrian. A few years later, with Tony estranged from both Adrian and Veronika and Tony hears that Adrian has committed suicide.

Cut through to middle age, and Tony has married (and divorced) and is on reasonable terms with both his daughter and ex-wife. The other friends from school are not heard of again. A solicitor gets in contact to advise that Tony has been bequeathed £500 and Adrian’s diary by Veronika’s mother – a women he only met once on a rather disastrous weekend.

This brings Tony back in contact with Veronika who has Adrian’s diary – apparently. A series of all the more irritating encounters with Veronika in an attempt to get the diary (which she admits to having burnt part way through the narrative) leaves Tony – and the reader – wondering what’s going on. Finally a number of events, and Tony’s hanging round certain shops, pubs  and people (despite his assertion that he’s “not wasting my time”) allows him to make a conclusion which Veronika yet again has to point out “you just dont get it”.

Tony is rather an unreliable narrator – he has convinced himself (and tries to convince us) that he was a nice upper-middle-class boy, who handled his apparent betrayal by Adrian and Veronika with graceful aplomb. Veronika proves him otherwise however, and he is apparently stunned at the venom he displayed at the time.

Whilst he sees himself as dealing with Veronika the same way as you deal with banks and utility companies, you begin to realise that perhaps he’s a little more annoying and underhand that his banality implies.

The narrator of the audiobook reminded me much of Matthew Parris from Radio 4, and was a soothing voice to listen to, even when swear words were required. I listened to this over several weeks and suspect that I may have to listen to again based on the ending I heard the first time round – it’s implied, rather than stated outright, and I need to check that I understood it corretly.


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