Yes, of course we were pretentious — what else is youth for?
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a story told by Anthony Webster. He begins the story in his youth with a close-knit group of three friends. A fourth, Adrian, is added towards the end of high school. A very serious boy, Adrian doesn’t quite fit in with the three, but they respect him more than they do each other and all believe themselves to be the one Adrian likes the most. They end high school all promising to be BFFs, but gradually drift apart as they attend different universities, make new friends, and of course finally meet girls who will give them the time of day. Tony breaks up with his girlfriend, Veronica, who then starts dating Adrian, separating the group even more. After they graduate Tony takes a trip across the pond to backpack across the States. When he comes home he finds out Adrian has committed suicide. Tony moves on, lives his life, gets married, has a kid, gets a divorce. In short, his life is nothing but normal.
In part two we find Tony in his humdrum, solitary retirement when one day a letter arrives in the mail from a lawyer that begins, “In the matter of the estate of Mrs. Sarah Ford (deceased)”. Sarah Ford is Veronica’s mother who he met for only one weekend, but for some reason has decided to leave him 500 pounds and Adrian’s diary. This letter forces Tony to recall memories from his youth and to examine the man he has become today. He gets back in touch with Veronica in order to get Adrian’s diary, but she refuses to hand it over and instead leads Tony to discover the secret as to why her mother included him in her will in the first place. We end the book with Tony finally unraveling the secret.
I really enjoyed the book. I never quite knew where it was going. The narrator kept hinting that big events would unfold, but they never did until the very end. And that end itself brought up more questions. At the beginning Tony warns us he is an unreliable narrator telling us, “…but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” That thrown in with other hints throughout the book make you question the conclusion Tony has finally come to. Is there possibly more to the ending that Tony still refuses to remember? It’s a story that is not nicely packaged in the end, which will annoy some readers. But I love an open ended story that I can continue thinking about and even want to read again for more clues. So this book has my full approval!
This was another one of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like literature.