Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can think of few novels as aptly titled as The Sense Of An Ending. For that’s all the ending of this particular novel is- just a notion, a nuance, a perception. Or perhaps Barnes had another idea in mind: perhaps he is questioning the sense, logic, purpose to the idea of endings. For indeed there are no endings, only discrete moments in time that exist in our perception; as soon as a moment occurs, it become a memory, shifting in tone, color and meaning according to our unique perspective.

The delicious irony of Barnes’s conceit is that the ending isn’t the point. It is merely the point at which Barnes put down his pen and declared this story finished on the page. His timing is astute, to be sure. There is a natural climax that leads the central character to a philosophical perigee of universal truths, but it’s hardly an end to the story of the characters’ lives.

So, don’t be in a rush to solve the mystery of the £500 legacy or discover the whereabouts of Adrian’s diary or discern the reasons for Veronica’s inscrutability. You have only 163 pages to read- you’ll get to the ending soon enough. Savor the shrewd in-between, the paragraphs you must reread to understand, the pages you mark with Post-It notes to be reminded that you are not alone in thinking weird thoughts:

I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbors, companions? And then there is the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless and the ones to be careful of.

History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation

…when we are young we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.

Barnes may be the anti-Thich Nhat Hanh; reading this book forces a certain despair for one’s present – which is predicated on delusions of the past – and hopelessness for the future – which will be wasted on nostalgia, since the past didn’t unfold the way we think.

Acerbic and strange, tight and disturbing, with brilliantly-paced, crisp writing, this is an unforgettable read.

One passage made a particular impression on me: Margaret used to say that women often made the mistake of keeping their hair in the style they adopted when they were at their most attractive. They hung on long after it became inappropriate, all because they were afraid of the big cut..

The day after I finished reading The Sense Of An Ending, I had 8″ cut from my hair. At least I think that’s what happened. My reflection tells me so. But perhaps that’s only my imperfect interpretation of my dubious reality…

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

  1. Something of a type I’d never read.
    The author puts a blanket over the events listed in the story, limits your perception by revealing only what is necessary and takes you on a long journey broken down into various jaunts.

    For me it was a haunting account of a story the memoirs try to reconstruct. And you know that memories can be deceptive.
    And one statement from this novel will stay with me forever :
    “History isn’t the lies of the victors, nor is it the self-delusion of the defeated,
    rather it’s the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated”


  2. Pingback: Julian Barnes and The Sense of an Ending | Sylvie's World is a Library

  3. What a brilliant review! I feel I may have visited your blog before but, appropriately, this is more of an inkling than a conrete memory. Certainly, I shall be following and looking forward to reading more!

    Your summation of the idea of an ‘ending’ in the context of this novel is excellent and really made me think. I should also thank you for introducing me to the word ‘perigee’ – it’s not often that I pick up a word entirely new to me!

    My review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes


    • Matthew- thank you so much for your sweet words. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance and so glad you found me (again!). It will be wonderful to learn from you and to explore your reads.
      Warm regards,



      • No problem, yours is one of the most readable blogs I’ve stumbled across for the while. Keep up the good work – I look forward to many an insightful return.


  4. Claire, I look forward to your thoughts on ‘State of Wonder’. I loved ‘Bel Canto’ but SoW fell flat for me. Book hype is a difficult thing. Usually I’m disappointed, but occasionally it pushes me to choose something I might have passed by. I’m generally not one for post-modernist lit, but I loved this- it truly made me reflect on the notions of memory and perspective. And yes, I’m thrilled with my haircut!!


  5. I’ve tried to read Barnes in the past and never really suceeded, a sad fact that sometimes it really does take a bit of hype to push one into persevering – she says opening ‘State of Wonder’ having failed miserably with ‘Bel Canto’. I believe I will enjoy this though, your reviews resonate well with what I like. And yes, I can see this was life changing for you 😉


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