The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Friday 28th October

I have just finished reading it and felt the need to write all of this down at once, while the bright ferrous is still smouldering, and before a degree of rust starts to set in, so to speak. I read the book, not because it won the Booker prize last week, but completely co-incidentally; it was on my list anyway.  I had bought the book before I even knew he was up for the Booker, I bought it because it was by Julian Barnes and I had so loved some of his earlier books; ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’, ‘A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters’, and of course ‘Arthur and George’ for which masterpiece he should have won the Booker and every other prize going, hands down, and not for this lightweight novelette.

Oh, where to begin – well then, the very shortness of the book for a start, whose meagre 160 pages seems a thin reward for paying over twenty pounds for my hardback edition; this may satisfy the dilatory casual reader but I must say I actually like a bit of a read. I need a good few pages to get into the characters and the voice of the book, and actually quite some way before the ending I began to lose interest, whether this was because I could feel the ever-thinning band of pages between my fingers or just that I didn’t care about the characters enough I am not sure.  This is a pity, as it started off so well, I quite liked the idea of just two chapters, separated by forty odd years, and I particularly liked the way he dealt with memories and our uncertainty as to what is remembered , or what one remembers remembering, a subject I touched on in my own book “Catherines Story”.  I also felt the co-incidence of the central enigmatic character ‘Adrian’ being the same as my own ‘Adrian’ was a good omen.

But as the book progressed I found I liked none of the characters, especially Tony, the narrator, who wallowed in a self-denigrating whingeing slew of self-pity.  Elegantly written, and with an ending that you only guessed almost at the ending, this should have been a triumph, but I am afraid he got the Booker for the wrong book.

I usually end up buying the Booker winners at some point in any case, it is after all the best recommendation there is; sometimes I have been delightfully surprised, (Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre) or rediscovered a favourite but recently neglected author, (The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood) or puzzled and almost didn’t finish them, (Keri Hume’s The Bone People) or discovered a writer I would enjoy for years to come, (Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner) but rarely have I been so disappointed as with this one.  So for ‘The sense of an Ending’ only four out of ten I am afraid, Julian.  The phrase ‘should have done better’ springs to mind, and of course he has done, several times already.