The World According to Renee

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The Sense of An Ending

Warning: Contains Spoilers.

There are two ways to look at Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-winning novella The Sense of An Ending: a story about four friends, a girl and a mystery or, a mind-tease involving hints and clues but not telling the full (or correct) story. Either way, it’s probably the best book I’ve read this year.

The narrator is a sixty-something year old man named Tony who says “what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you saw”. Memory sets the tone for the rest of the story; the first part tells of Tony’s schooldays when he and his friends met Adrian Finn- a smart kid who likes to mess with your mind. But, like any mind-game played by true genius, you only realise it is a mind-game once you’re out of it.

Three friends and a girl named Veronica make up the narrative of Part 1. Their story becomes deeper entwined in Part 2, where Tony is now in his sixties, divorced and retired. He is told of a bequest, a strange ending to a life he knew nothing about. On a journey to find the purpose of the bequest, Tony finds out much more than he was supposed to know- the biggest mind-game he’s ever been involved in.

However, only the reader knows it’s a mind game, and only after the last page has been turned. Or is it?

(Here’s where the spoilers start.)

Once upon a time, Tony and Veronica were together. Around the time they broke up, they slept together. Tony later discovers his friend Adrian is now with Veronica, until the time Adrian kills himself in a melodramatic show of philosophy. Believing one cannot choose to begin life but one can choose when to end it, Adrian’s death becomes the background to the rest of the story. Years later, when Veronica’s mother dies, she leave a sum of money to Tony along with Adrian’s diary (now in the hands of Veronica). In the attempt to get the diary which is “rightfully” his, Tony becomes part of Veronica’s own mind-games once again.

Therein lies the beauty of the story. Tony is smart, but holds less than the full story (if indeed, his memory can be relied upon). The ending is perhaps not the bombshell promised; I made the mistake of putting the book down and coming back to it later, during which time the ending had already occurred to me. Still, the ending seems nice and tight, until you start reflecting on it and the entire novella starts unravelling itself again.

Tony discovers there is a child connected to Veronica. The ‘child’ is now about 50 years old and mentally handicapped. The narrative tells the reader that the man is named Adrian, looks like the Adrian of Tony’s memory, calls Veronica his sister and his mother recently passed away. Here is when the mind game starts: could Veronica actually be the mother and her pregnancy is the catalyst for Adrian’s suicide (echoing an earlier scene in the story from their schooldays?) Was the affair with Veronica’s mother and her pregnancy the final straw? Or is Tony misremembering both his own dalliance with Veronica and actually, the child is his? Or worse, the child is actually his but with Veronica’s mother?

Time and memory are themes in the novella; the opening paragraphs talk about time and how memory distorts and warps it. By the end of the narrative, it could be as straightforward as it seems or it could be that all the players have been part of Adrian’s mind-games.

Either way, it’s brilliantly written, a story for writers (Atonement by Ian McEwan is another written-for-writers novel) with quotes I would love to highlight and share in regular conversation. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read it again…

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | 1 Comment