Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Well, I didn’t get it either

The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes

At 176 pages, The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes Man Booker-nominated latest is barely even a novella. Yet, there’s something to be said for an author willing to tell a story in the time that is needed to tell it, and not feeling compelled to pad the narrative. Mr. Barnes has included exactly what’s needed within these pages and not a word more.

His tale is told in two parts, by everyman narrator Tony Webster. The first part, comprising approximately a third of the book, reads like a coming-of-age story. It recounts the formative relationships of Tony’s early life, both male and female, from his school days through early adulthood. We meet his closest friends, witness his earliest romances, and experience his first losses. This first section was good, but not great on its own.

The novella flowered in its second, longer part, set 40 years later. Now Tony is in his early 60’s, amicably divorced, and a generally content man. One day, he receives notification of an unexpected and frankly bewildering bequest—which is then even more bewilderingly withheld. These contemporary happenings open windows to events of the past and Mr. Barnes held me rapt with the tale.

Despite the compelling plotline, go into this novella expecting it to be character-driven rather than plot-driven. In the end, the inheritance is a MacGuffin, and not really that important after all. It’s the relationships of the characters that really tell this tale, and they are beautifully rendered.

Throughout the latter part of the story, Tony is told repeatedly (and without explanation, of course), “You just don’t understand!” Well, he thought he did, and I thought he did. But it isn’t until the very final lines of the novella that the full truth is made clear. The Sense of an Ending is brief, and it is masterful, and if it wins the Man Booker Prize in a few minutes, it will be entirely deserving.

UPDATE:  He won!

1 comment:

  1. Whew! I managed to get my review posted a full half-hour before the announcement that Barnes had won. Way to go, Mr. Barnes!