When asked to define history, as a graduating class are in this Man Booker Prize winner, most would say it is the events of the past and the study of days gone by.
In Julian Barnes’ novella, the flaws and misuses of memory riddle the reflection of unreliable everyman narrator Tony Webster.
Tony recalls the last of his school days, when his little clique was joined by Adrian Finn – more serious-minded than his new friends and ambivalent about his inclusion. They move on to university and to their adult lives, with the usual promises of staying in touch.
Years later, a letter from a solicitor and a mysterious last will and testament link to the past. Now retired, divorced, a father-of-one and still unremarkable, Tony tries to re-examine his past relationships and his connection to a youthful tragedy.
Stricken with remorse, he reconnects with a woman he edited out of his own history – the prickly and perplexing Veronica. This leads Tony, and readers, down a bewildering path.
The Sense of an Ending offers a piercing observation of middle class mediocrity and insecurity. In particular, an achingly awkward weekend at a girlfriend’s home is keenly relived and felt, even as Tony is shifting his position on his own recollections.
He becomes a one-man revisionist school of thought as other viewpoints come to light, and old evidence – including an excoriating letter penned by the young Tony – is re-evaluated, evoking a powerful sense of regret, responsibility, and the elusiveness of memory.