Reading 058 – The Sense of an Ending

November 18, 2014

The Sense of an Ending
By Julian Barnes

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Three people attended the meeting. One of them had read the whole book (Heather). The other two had read one-half and one-third, respectively.
Heather gave a summary of the rest of the book, roughly from halfway through to the end, for the other two attendants.
The events that transpire in the second half of the book seem to undermine the impressions that a reader, through the prism of the first-person narrator’s recollections, might initially have formed of the main characters. Things turn 180 degrees from the picture that was painted in the mind of the narrator at the start. However, perhaps in keeping with one of the recurrent motifs and points of discussion throughout the book, namely that of how historical record of any kind is made, transmitted, and taken in, it remains a question of personal decision to what extent, or whether at all, the narrator’s version can be taken at face value.
Mysterious clues such as the equations found in Adrian’s diary or an ambiguous remark made by one of the characters’ mother unravel toward the end of the book to reveal hidden motives, deep-felt personal truths, and all-too-human fallacies.
Some of the themes that the book deals with are instability and unreliability of memory, the subjectivity of all history, personal responsibility, and (the impossibility of) reconciling theoretical positions and convictions with practical, everyday conduct.
A brief discussion about the choice of title rounded off the meeting. “Sense” was felt to be multivalent in the context of the book, alluding both to the feelings at the root of a personal decision to put an end to something and to the rationale of such an act, from the point of view of both the person committing the act and the outsider. We found that there is another book by the same title, a critically acclaimed book on literary theory written by Frank Kermode in 1967. Whether it has any relation – such as being referred to by or having influenced Julian Barnes’s book remains to be researched.

Here you can find the themes and some excerpts discussed during the meeting: About The sense of an ending