Review: The Sense of an Ending

What’s worse, forgetting or not understanding?

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Barnes’ novel, The Sense of an Ending, is an interesting study of memory and time. The prose is simplistic but beautiful, which is my preferred type of writing. The words on the page sing together, and some of the quotes are so perfect I want to tuck them away in my pocket forever (“what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed” is a first page example).

This novel is about forgetting and remembering, as the narrator, Tony, tries to piece together his youth and understand why exactly it is that he has been left in his ex-girlfriend’s mother’s will, and why it is that she has left him his old friend Adrien’s journal. The plot itself is not the most exciting or interesting, but I don’t think the plot is the point of the novel: it is simply a device used in order to understand and explore memory and time.

My favourite part of this book is how Tony does not hide the fact that he does not remember the entirety of his “factual” recounting of his early adulthood. Tony freely admits that he made up parts of a conversation as he only remembers certain words that were said. I love this because I always wonder how narrators in novels can remember exact conversations from years and years ago when I can’t even remember what we were talking about an hour ago. Memory changes with time, the novel explains, and we only remember what we choose to, and a lot of the time, our memories are not based on reality, but on what we have learnt and felt since then.

The biggest problem with this novel is that despite the deep psychological themes, the actual plot and characters are rather shallow and dull. It reminds me, in some ways, of old philosophical literature, where the point is not the story but rather what the story reveals of humanity. This is not a bad thing, but character-driven works with strong plots and philosophical themes tend to be more interesting and easy to read, in my amateur opinion.

Most people are afraid of being forgotten, but I am deeply afraid of forgetting. The Sense of an Ending, although not a thrilling or exciting read, dives deep into this fear and examines the human ability to change our reality to only view what we want to. Time does not change with age, but memory does. Despite being a rather simple and basic read, The Sense of an Ending is a book that, I feel, will stay with the reader for a long time.

3 forgotten childhood memories out of 5

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