This review was written by Cynthia Haskell, a member of the Tuesday Evening Book Club.

Published in 2011, The Sense of an Ending is the eleventh novel by British novelist Julian Barnes. It earned him the Man Booker Prize that year. The fact that this short novel (it is barely 150 pages long) packs in such a load of information about the middle-aged narrator,  his past and present, and his friendships and relationships, without seeming cursory, is a staggering feat on its own. However, the fact that Barnes also achieves this with such elegant and literary prose is wondrous. His references to the classics and to philosophers are awe-inspiring. His facility with vocabulary (I had to look up the word ‘susurrus’ - it means ‘whispering or rustling’) is extraordinary.

So what’s the novel about? As its title suggests, the theme of death threads throughout the novel, starting with the suicide of a classmate and later a friend, but the book is not morbid. Barnes cleverly weaves these suicides into a mystery. He also masterfully compares the idea of the memory of history and the memories of our own past as being imperfect, something my fellow book club members and I could relate to. This also raised the issue of whether younger readers would enjoy the book as much as we did, all of us being d’un certain âge. Perhaps you could let us know. We also could not puzzle out the reference to ‘blood money’ in the note sent to the narrator by the mother-in-law of his deceased friend.

Another issue I assert is, is it because of their age, that recent books by the British ‘greats’, such as Barnes, McEwan and Faulks, hark back to the 50’s and 60’s, and a certain class of British public school and Oxbridge elite with its socio-economic dysfunctionality? Having said that, Barnes’ penning of his protagonist’s school, university and sex life is faultless.

This book is a literary masterpiece.

 

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