Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.
Now Tony is retired. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.
What does the passage of time do to history (in particular, the memory of personal history). And how does reflection compare with the true history of your past? Pondering questions such as these was the main driving force of this month’s discussion on Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending.
There were mixed opinions … mostly concerning the characters and the plot. The majority found Tony pompous, self-indulgent, and weak. Others, although in general agreement with these traits, found him extremely well written with an ability to draw the reader in with his contemplative dialogue. The perplexing Veronica and philosophical Adrian round out the drama played out in Tony’s memory and slowly lead us down the road to the novel’s closing stages, without a real conclusion.
This small book on the concept of time, history and memory gave us all reason to reflect on these intangibles and it turned into a very satisfying discourse. We all agreed that our memories, such as they are, tend to warp our histories into a story that generally suits our perception of ourselves. Barnes does not give us enough information on the main characters for us to challenge Tony’s version of the past, but there in lies the beauty of this well written novel.
The author gives us plenty of room to contemplate … and we felt this novel was not about the characters, or even the plot … but says more about the passing of time, how it becomes history and how we deal with our past.
In the end, Tony never really understands why things played out they way they did and what his role was in it all, but as readers we came away feeling we had at least some answers and a little insight into what makes this novel work.