Review: The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending
By Julian Barnes
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780307947727,  May 2012, 176pp.)

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

An elegantly written page-turner that left me cold.

The Rest of It:

This is one of those books that left me utterly divided on how I felt about it. The reading experience was pleasant and the story was interesting but it left me wanting more and not in a good way.

Tony Webster, a middle-aged man is forced to consider his past when a friend from long ago kills himself and the mother of an old girlfriend leaves him a small sum of money. The latter of which confuses him as he only met the woman once. Why in the world would she leave him anything?

The story alternates from the present to the past as Tony remembers his time with Veronica and how his close friend at the time, Adrian Finn ended up with her. A move that Tony has never forgiven Adrian for, even after news of his death.

This novel is all about memory and history and how with the passage of time, memory can change. I enjoyed the writing and felt that the characters were well-developed and intriguing enough for me to want to keep reading. But going into it, I knew that the ending was supposed to be a real shocker. Well, without giving anything away, I didn’t think the ending to be all that great or shocking and it left many questions unanswered. Usually, I don’t mind it if a book leaves you guessing, but in this case, I was frustrated by it. I remember posting about it on Facebook, thinking I maybe didn’t get it, or that I missed something big, but no. I got it just fine. It just didn’t surprise me as much as I expected it to.

Also, there were little mentions of things that I am still pondering, like the “horizontal secret hand gesture” that was mentioned. My mind was in the gutter while trying to figure that one out. Why be so vague? No one would say that when telling a story. It was an obvious attempt at keeping the secret and it bored me.

I know there are many that loved this book, but unfortunately… I did not.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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37 thoughts on “Review: The Sense of an Ending”

  1. I think the best compliment I’ve heard about this book is the writing. Everything else has been sketchy. I do have this loaded on audio, but I’ve been kind of ignoring it sitting there. I have even less tolerance for this type of book than you do.

  2. I am one that loved it. From the first page, I was swept away and really enjoyed the mystery and the vague ambiguity and it accurately reflected how frustrating it is to remember something wrong or only in pieces. I went into it blind – I didn’t know the ending was a hot topic so I bought into it just fine.
    I do like your review. I would say that if your readers like Ian McEwan, they might also like this book. Or just want to KNOW so to join the discussion. 🙂

    1. Care, It’s so interesting that you would mention Ian McEwan because this book reminded me a little of Amsterdam by McEwan, which I loved. The sentence structure and word choice in Sense of an Ending is even more lyrical than in Amsterdam but the plotting was much more to my liking in Amsterdam.

      1. It’s so funny you mention McEwan. I just read an article by him about fiction, and he makes me a bit crazy. His sentences can be so convoluted and long. Sometimes I admire his writing and other times it just frustrates me.

        I’ve heard a lot about this one, too. I’ll probably still pick it up, but I actually had an inkling it may be a book that would leave me conflicted.

        1. I agree with the McEwan comment. However, with McEwan at least I feel he is taking us somewhere. Here, I just felt as if Barnes kept dangling that carrot.

  3. I usually really enjoy novels with unreliable narrators but I didn’t love this one, though the language was crisp and impressive. Usually when a character is unreliable context clues from the other characters or specific events help guide me through the story so I understand what happened and then understand the meaning of the narrator’s faulty recollections. I missed that here. I wanted to know why Tony forgot/lied about certain things and why he was taking certain actions. I often felt he could remember but chose self-delusion. Was he jealous, regretful, resentful? I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d thought of it as a study of his failure to recall the past rather than looking for a “plot”.

    1. Excellent point. I wondered at one point if it was just his age that made him forget but nothing in the story alluded to any memory problems. His memory loss seemed intentional to me. I had no sympathy for him and why was he so wrapped up with Veronica. She was so horrid, in my opinion.

  4. I’ve gone back and forth on getting this audio from the library because I have seen so many mixed reviews. Odds are I won’t bother with it. I keep thinking it isn’t my thing and I’m probably right.

    1. Dar, this one is definitely not your type of book. I did listen to some of the audio but it had the same, cold sterile quality that I found in the book.

  5. There was someone else who recently read this one and just didn’t get the ending. Was it Lisa? I’ve been curious about this one–mostly because of the length and the award it received, but it seems lately more people don’t get it than do. Please tell me the cover is a play on “which comes first?” 😉

    1. Trish, I do think the cover is a play on which came first. but the only way it relates to the story is the confusion part. You can make yourself go silly trying to analyze it. I debated on saying it was well-written, because sometimes to me well-written ALSO means well constructed. I don’t feel that’s the case here but I did enjoy the prose and the interesting characters. But I don’t understand what all the early hype was about. I mean, the reviews I read when it first came out made it sound scandalous and shocking. SO, not that. Yes, I think Lisa reviewed it recently and did not like it either.

  6. With a title like that I would expect the end to be a bit unnerving or something. Hmmm…not really interested in this one, though I am curious as to why a woman he met once would leave him money

  7. I felt EXACTLY the same way. I was like “Huh? Did I miss something?” I had to do a bunch of Googling to see if I was understanding it (I was). I thought there would be more. And I don’t get the hand gesture either. We are 100% in alignment on this one!

  8. I actually did not read this one. I had heard all the mixed messages by the time I got it and passed. Seems like that was a good idea.

  9. I loved this book, too. In fact, it was a favorite of 2011. The writing is gorgeous and elegant, and I remember wanting to reread the moment I turned the final page. Of course, I haven’t yet, and appreciate the reminder. Still, I’m sorry it left you cold.

    I think the comparison with Ian McEwan is apt… his writing is amazing, too.

  10. Yup, I’m one of the “I loved this one”. It was the first book I read in 2012….still remember that. I thought the writing was great.

  11. I hated this book. Everything was so vague, and the fact that the ending was supposed to be so shocking, but ended with such a fizzle left me cold. I liked the writing, but the book was just a hot mess.

  12. If there is any consolation, at least it’s a short book! I am not sure about most of those Man Booker Winner books, they always left me cold. I haven’t read this one but I don’t warm up to it. 🙂

  13. I’ve been wondering about this one but wasn’t intrigued enough yet to pick it up so ill probably still not worry about it. The weird thing to me about this book is how much the cover changed from the hardcover to the paperback lol!

  14. I really do want to read this one but mainly because the idea of memory fascinates me. I’ve myself recounted different versions of some bad incidents because the actual truth was usually quite harrowing. It would be quite fascinating to read about that in a book.

  15. I always find it unsettling when I don’t like a book that most other readers do. But it happens. I guess no book is ever going to be loved by everyone. I’m sorry this book didn’t work for you. The issue of things like the “horizontzal secret hand gesture” annoys me. What’s the point? And my mind would be in the gutter, too, while trying to figure out what the heck it means. I think that’s just mean and condescending to the reader. I don’t know if I’ll ever read this. It didn’t excite me when I first read about it. I haven’t read anything by Barnes yet and I’d like too but there are several others I want to read before Barnes,

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