Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes

Brilliant. That's one of the best words I can find to describe Julian Barnes' latest book, The Sense of an Ending, for which he recently was awarded the Man Booker Prize. This is a book that is fairly straightforward, yet its impact sneaks up on you.

When we first meet Tony Webster he is a high school student; he and his friends want nothing more than to be thought of as smart, witty, and successful with the opposite sex. Into their clique comes Adrian Finn, a new student who actually is smart and witty, and while Tony and his friends envy Adrian a bit, they all vow to remain friends even as they go their separate ways. Their lives proceed in this regard until Adrian's life takes a tragic turn. But many years later, when Tony becomes aware of information regarding this tragedy, and his role in it, he begins to look back at his past while trying to figure out how to make sense of this sudden discovery.

The Sense of an Ending is a book about memory—how it aids and how it fails us, and how our memories of events in our past are shaped by what we want to believe. Reading this book I discovered, much as Tony did, that nothing is quite what it seemed, and acceptance that you cannot change past actions is often hard to come by. Julian Barnes let the story unfold little by little, and it isn't until the end of the book that I was able to put all of the pieces together. This is a very short book but it packs a powerful punch, and it conveys the realities we learn as we age and as we analyze the directions our lives have taken. This is a beautifully written book and easily one of the best I've read this year.

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