The Sense of Ending by Julian Barnes

985 words | 4 page(s)

In order to best understand a work of literature the reader must analyze what they have read in order to process the information received. While many individuals will insist that they do not perform such a task, the fact of the matter is that regardless of the manner in which this is accomplished, either formally or informally, the process still occurs. One of the more recent methods of analysis that may be used is to review the work through the lens of new criticism, allowing the reader to be objective in their determination of how a piece works, abandoning prior means of analysis that require addressing the biographical aspects of the work and the sociological issues of the time in which the work was written (Delahoyde, p.1). In order to effectively analyze Julian Barnes The Sense of Ending, written in 2011, new criticism will be used, allowing for the reader to gain a clear understanding of the tale iself.

The Sense of Ending tells the tale of Tony Webster, a man in his 60s who must reevaluate his life based on news that he receives of an unexpected bequest. The information he receives that sparks this reevaluation causes him to look back over his old group of friends, individuals who swore that they would remain friends no matter what (Barnes, 2011). Alas, this friendship was not truly to be forever due to a fragmenting of the group following news of one of the individuals committing suicide; Tony, now old, must look to find meaning and clarity in the events of high school in order to understand his present situation (Barnes, 2011). The form of the book is in keeping with the subject matter and the speaker of the text; the prose is simple, precise, and unadorned, much like the narrator (Semeiks, p.1).

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The text follows the thought patterns of the narrator and is in keeping with the set age of the character, a man who often either misinterprets things or misses them completely (Semeiks, p. 1). As a result of this presentation of the facts of Tony’s life, the reader cannot ultimately be sure of themselves or of the conclusion that they have drawn at the completion of the novel. While the pacing is steady and the insights offered by the story could be described as poignant, the reader must determine for themselves where the true state of the ending lies (Paulk, p. 1).

The narrator, Tony, starts out the tale in a manner that works to set the pace of the story itself, indicating in the first words on the first page the type of discontinuity that the reader may experience as he states that he remembers certain objects and scenes “in no particular order” going on to describe several and following it up with the comment that “The last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed” (Barnes, p. 1). The text’s form remains similar to this throughout the text, working to present information from the perspective of decades long past and discussing the fickle quality of memory.

Barnes is not focused on patterns of sound, though the tale is pleasing to the ear when read aloud, instead concentrating on the imagery that he is able to convey, allowing the reader to clearly see all that he describes. The narrative structure is in keeping with the point of view utilized throughout the text, allowing the reader to not only follow Tony on his journey through the past in attempt to unravel the present, but to do so from the appropriate aged perspective, presenting the reader with a fuzziness that lacks the accountability it would have had if Tony were unraveling the events from a distance of five years as opposed to several decades.

Reviewers have called the ending forced, stating that the book is a worthwhile endeavor in spite of that due to the ability of the author to transition between the voice of a schoolboy, a college student and an elder (Paulk, p.1). The title offers the reader much to speculate on, so say the reviews, but indicate that there are other works of Barnes that they prefer more (Semeiks, 2012). In spite of this preference, it is stated that the issues of the book are presented early on – the question of memory, the issues with its imperfections and its permeability and the difficulties present in dealing with historical documents (Semeiks, p. 1). The premise is described as one that may be viewed as interesting and engaging, and the tale is written in such a way as to ensure that the reader is able to understand why the end of Tony’s tale is just as easily as they are able to understand the progress that Tony has made before he himself does (Semeiks, p. 1).

Barnes’ work and investigation into the different qualities of the mind is something that is easily able to capture the attention of the reader, not only due to the information presented, but to the manner in which that information is presented to the reader. In addition, the concerns that the author brings up regarding memory, history, and the recording thereof are enough for any person to ponder. While the work itself could use some polishing, overall it is well done, simplistic in keeping with its narrative voice, and though the reviews are not all bad, they are not all good either. As Barnes continues to write and perfect his craft, it is likely that far more interesting works will come penned in his hand.

  • Barnes, Julian. The Sense Of An Ending. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.
  • Delahoyde, Michael. ‘New Criticism’. Public.wsu.edu. N.p., 2014. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  • Paulk, J. Sara. “The Sense Of An Ending.” Library Journal 137.8 (2012): 43. Business Source Complete. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  • Semeiks, Jonna G. “The Sense Of An Ending.” Confrontation 111 (2012): 241-244. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.

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