Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes is at the height of his career, and that is easy to see. This novel, though short, delivers a strong message, made ever more poignant by an author who is relaxed in his style, who knows clearly what he can or can’t do.

My opinion is that art, in all its forms, has the main purpose of making people feel. Minimalism, dadaism, all the postmodern currents that have altered art and stripped it naked of all embellishments are proof of this theory . And ever so often, readers find a piece of writing to be remarkably beautiful. Whether is a fragment of description, or a particular quote that has a lasting effect on them. But Julian Barnes uses beauty scarcely, as if he knows that a reader can get diabetes if the prose is trying to achieve too much. He delivers a fantastic last line in the ending of the first part, which I loved because it was that clever and it made so much sense and struck a particular truth within the narrative itself.

On a technical side, The Sense of an Ending is a first person narrative. The plot is pretty straightforward, but the characters, that’s where Julian Barnes shows his profound mastery. He creates characters who resemble human beings, which is a pretty daunting task nowadays, he gives them enough ambition and intelligence and luck to be average, or slightly better, then throws them into a world where humans do as much as they possibly can to answer to all of life’s questions.

This is the author’s main achievement with this novel; there is, indeed, a sense of finality to everything, of life’s fleeting nature. Sic transit gloria mundi, as the Romans might say. There are no profound answers, no striking truths, no Eureka moments within the confines of this novel. Instead, Barnes allows us to feel the narrator and all the characters around him as living, breathing people, trapped in a world that, sometimes, proves to be too fast for them. This is it. And, in a way, Barnes proves us that not the answers matter, but what it means to ask for them, what it means to ask a question and go down on the long road to finding them.

A truly wonderful reading experience, The Sense of an Ending, winner of the Man Booker Award in 2011.

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