Dan Sandman

31: A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

In Books, Fiction on 01/08/2014 at 12:00 pm

A Sense of an Ending by Julian BarnesTony is an intelligent and articulate divorcee looking back at his past. At school he was part of a quartet of intellectual boys, bound to compete against each other and to question their teachers. One of the quartet, a philosophical boy called Adrian, was more serious than the rest. As Tony delves into his memory, the tale twists and turns, unraveling a few surprises along the way.

The central theme of this short novel is memory and how time effects memory. Second to this, there is a concern with suicide and its consequences. As the quartet discuss after class, great works of literature sometimes contain suicide. For example, Romeo & Juliet kill themselves because they can no longer bear to live without one another, or perhaps because love has been keeping them alive in a cruel world where rival families fight on the streets. Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers commit an heroic act of suicide that brings the Capulet and the Montague families together. In contrast to this Elizabethan portrayal of heroic suicide, Julian Barnes presents the act in naturalistic terms. Whereas Shakespeare’s tragic couple are leading figures in exotic Verona, Barnes creates a middle class and well educated protagonist from contemporary London. Romeo & Juliet represent two warring and dignified houses, Tony’s problems are ordinary and his relationships less intense. Therefore, a very British restraint is applied to the tragedy which makes light of the serious subject material.

I think this is both a tragic and a comic book. Tony is an engaging and witty narrator, a funny man who makes astute observations. His narrative encouraged me to laugh and so I felt sympathetic towards him. Therefore, when the comedy turned to tragedy, I was convinced by his side of the story. It would be interesting to rewrite the story from another characters’ perspective. It is the structure of A Sense of an Ending – its use of memory and emails, for example – that encouraged me to imagine different narratives.

A fine book that warranted a second reading from this reviewer.

  1. Tragic and comic? Many comedians do what they do so they wouldn’t cry.
    I kept my word. Came back. =)

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