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The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes I had never really intended to read this book, and I certainly had no intention of owning it.


I was browsing in a B&N sitting out a winter storm in Lincoln, Nebraska and ran across of stack of The Sense of an Ending with BOOKER PRIZE WINNER blazoned across the front of the book. I dug through the stack of third printings and there near the bottom was one book with BOOKER PRIZE NOMINEE on the cover. Well it is sort of cosmic for a collector such as I to find one first American edition in the pile. Small chance of the book ever being a collectible, but it is almost impossible (mental hindrances) for me to buy a later printing of a book. Being 20% off helped me throw it on my pile for the check out counter.

Well about 20 pages in I was shaking my head and muttering to myself about the $20 bill I lit on fire to buy this book.

What Barnes wrote about English Prep school was stale, as stale as a saltine cracker I found in the glove box of my pickup. (The mystery is I don't remember ever eating saltines in my pickup.)


Luckily Barnes moved on to more interesting material.

Tony Webster is a guy of average intelligence who was arguably the least interesting member of a group of rather bright friends. In particular, one friend, Adrian was head and shoulders above the rest with a true philosopher's mind that earned him a spot at Cambridge. Tom was always trying to understand Adrian and always felt as if he was not seeing the picture the same way as his friend. "Adrian had a better mind and a more rigorous temperament than me: he thought logically, and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: we make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense."

At prep school Adrian was the star impressing his teachers with lines like this. "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation." No big surprise that Tony spends the rest of his life seeking Adrian's approval. Their relationship becomes rocky when Tony's ex-girlfriend, Veronica, starts dating Adrian. Veronica's favorite line to Tony is "you didn't get it then, you don't get it now and you will never get it". She is one of those people that think everyone is supposed to understand what is in her head and refuses to give even the most minuscule bit of information to help Tony know what is motivating her decisions. Even though she is incessantly disrespectful to Tony he sees her as more intelligent, more hip than he is, and is always attempting to better himself in her eyes.

Reading a fragment of Adrian's diary 40 years after he killed himself, Tony, now in his sixties still finds himself in need of validation. "Had my life increased, or merely added to itself? This was the question that Adrian's fragment set off in me. There had been addition--and subtraction--in my life, but how much was multiplication? and this gave me a sense of unease, of unrest."

I won't discuss the hook of the story, the SHAZAM moment where everything becomes clear, but I must say my estimation of the book changed as the story moved forward. At only 163 pages I felt that the early pages spent at the prep school could have been skipped and made the story closer to flawless. A few flash backs would have sufficed to give the reader the background necessary to follow the plot. I will close with one more bit of introspection from Tony.

"Someone once said that his favorite times in history were when things were collapsing, because that meant something new was being born. Does this make any sense if we apply it to our individual lives? To die when something new is being born--even if that something new is our very own self? Because just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn't all it's cracked up to be."