Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
The Sense of an
by Julian Barnes, Borzoi, 2011
Reviewed by William Watts
Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending is
the winner of this year's Man Booker Prize. It is a compact novel
told entirely through the voice of the first-person narrator, Tony.
When Tony receives a surprising and unexplained bequest of 500
pounds from the mother of a woman he dated forty years earlier, he
is launched into an extended examination of his own past.
The plot of Barnes's novel is slight, but
the range of its introspection is both broad and deep. In the
course of reexamining his past, Tony discovers a letter he wrote in
his early twenties to his former girlfriend and his close friend,
who had become lovers. The letter is spiteful and full of angry
curses he hurls against his one-time friends. Some of these curses
seem to have come true, and have become intertwined in the
hardships suffered by the friend and girlfriend. Thus, Tony must
come to grips with the fact that he may have been-and may still
be-a cad who has brought real harm to others. In this way, Barnes's
novel is an extended meditation on memory and responsibility.
The Sense of an Ending contains a somewhat
bizarre twist at the end, which makes for an unsettling ending.
This may, however, be part of the point of the novel: we can never
be fully in command of the past, or of how the past shapes us into
the people we become.
- William Watts is Associate Professor of English at Butler