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The Sense of an Ending


The Sense of an Ending Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. What does the title mean?

2. The novel opens with a handful of water-related images. What is the significance of each? How does Barnes use water as a metaphor?

3. The phrase “Eros and Thanatos,” or sex and death, comes up repeatedly in the novel. What did you take it to mean?

4. At school, Adrian says, “we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us” (p. 13). How does this apply to Tony’s narration?

5. Did Tony love Veronica? How did his weekend with her family change their relationship?

6. When Mrs. Ford told Tony, “Don’t let Veronica get away with too much” (p. 31), what did she mean? Why was this one sentence so important?

7. Veronica accuses Tony of being cowardly, while Tony considers himself peaceable. Whose assessment is more accurate?

8. What is the metaphor of the Severn Bore? Why does Tony’s recollection of Veronica’s presence change?

9. Why did Tony warn Adrian that Veronica “had suffered damage a long way back?” (p. 46). What made him suspect such a thing? Do you think he truly believed it?

10. In addition to Adrian’s earlier statement about history, Barnes offers other theories: Adrian also says, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” (p. 18), and Tony says, “History isn’t the lies of the victors  . . .It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated” (p. 61). Which of these competing notions do you think is most accurate? Which did Tony come to believe?

11. Discuss the character Margaret. What role does she play in Tony’s story?

12. Why does Mrs. Ford make her bequest to Tony, after so many years? And why does Veronica characterize the £500 as “blood money”?

13. After rereading the letter he sent to Adrian and Veronica, Tony claims to feel remorse. Do you believe him? What do his subsequent actions tell us?

14. When Veronica refuses to turn over the diary to Tony, why doesn’t he give up? Why does he continue to needle her for it?

15. What is Tony’s opinion of himself? Of Adrian? How do both opinions change by the end of the novel?

16. How does the revelation in the final pages change your understanding of Veronica’s actions?

17. Discuss the closing lines of the novel: “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest” (p. 163).

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 27 comments:

kas, October 26, 2013 (view all comments by kas)
***Profoundly Impressive, Unforgettable Read***

Personally, The Sense of an Ending is a novel that I expect will prove unforgettable. That is, it made some very strong emotional and intellectual impressions on me that I expect will come to mind in situational contexts and mental frames -- regardless of consistency of the memory content -- longer and more often than most novels I've read.

Part of the reason for this effect is that I simply loved this book! The most compelling books stick out more in the mind for the reasons they were compelling in the first place, right? Also, my reading inspired a deep admiration for Julian Barnes as an artist, so I will remember it as part of my exploration contemporary literary fiction. But, my expectations of how important this book will be in my future thoughts cannot be accounted for by these reasons alone. In discussing why this novel feels so sticky, as it were, I hope to give better sense of whether you'd also find this work compelling or valuable:

1) The Sense of an Ending deals with a few themes very specifically, directly and consistently through it's brief duration (approximately 163 pages). For me, the ideas in this novel were very emotionally resonant, and the issues raised engaged some strongly-rooted values as well as pre-existing philosophical questions I had about how and why to live.

Some thematic descriptors that come to my mind are:
--the differences between an event and what any given person will perceive about the event;
--the differences between perception and memory;
--the variability in depth as well as content in personal memory over the course of life;
--self-concept - how does it develop and change?
--Is there any absolute truth that can be known about oneself or another person?
--our level of responsibility for the consequences of our actions when knowledge is incomplete
--the dangers of recriminating emotional injuries by purposeful infliction of a seemingly lesser or equivalent injury ("eye for an eye")
--what we feel guilty about and ruminate about remorsefully vs. other potentially questionable things people do that we just let slide, as it were, in our psychology
--Narrator's deep-seated discomfort with as well as acceptance of "complacency" as a way of life in adulthood.
--Good reasons to live or die vs. bad ones, the unquantifiably damaging nature of human experience, you know -- that stuff. ;)

2) All this is done through a first person stream-of-consciousness narration of events and his reflections. The threads of his tale ultimately come together in a truly dramatic story of life, love and death. I, for one, was surprised and always interested by the twists of the plot.

Thanks for reading this. I hope this provides someone with a better idea of what this book is.
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(5 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)
Ilana, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Ilana)
Best book I've read in a long time. Extremely tightly written, great language, and a quick read for such a dense novella. The themes of how memory, remorse, accountability affect interpersonal relationships are just so well done.
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(4 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)
Bookwomyn, January 5, 2013 (view all comments by Bookwomyn)
Previous review:

I found "The Sense of an Ending" to be of particular interest because I think that as we age, we all have some regrets about things we failed to do. This book offers wisdom about how one can avoid those lost opportunities - and how the life lived in a safe little cocoon is not always the most rewarding. Life is to be lived! Fully. At the top of your lungs! Dance til your feet fall off. Ah well ... at least live each day as if it were your last because sometimes it is.
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Product Details

Barnes, Julian
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
7.8 x 5.5 x 0.73 in 0.6 lb

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Featured Titles » Award Winners
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Featured Titles » Morning News Tournament » Tournament of Books 2012
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Coming of Age

The Sense of an Ending Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$23.95 In Stock
Product details 176 pages Knopf - English 9780307957122 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Julian Barnes won the Man Booker Prize for this lyrical little tome, and, in spite of the controversy surrounding the prize and the 2011 shortlist, I believe he deserved the award. It's the kind of book that one races through, stopping every now and then to relish a particularly elegant turn of phrase.

"Staff Pick" by ,

A reflection on time, aging, memory, and remorse, The Sense of an Ending packs a giant sentimental (but not schmaltzy) punch. Beginning in an English boarding school (I am such a sucker for boarding school stories!), the book follows Tony Webster through school, college, relationships, marriage, work, and middle age. Tony is completely unaware of his part in a tangled relationship between himself, his ex-girlfriend, and his best friend. Decades later, Tony receives a letter from a lawyer indicating that he has inherited his best friend's diary, yet his ex-girlfriend won't give it up. Trying to somehow comprehend the relationships, his part, the results, and the nature of this mess, Tony begins to question not only his own past but his memories of that time as well. The 2011 Man Booker prizewinner, The Sense of an Ending is quiet, clever, and lovely.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In Barnes's (Flaubert's Parrot) latest, winner of the 2011 Man-Booker Prize, protagonist Tony Webster has lived an average life with an unremarkable career, a quiet divorce, and a calm middle age. Now in his mid-60s, his retirement is thrown into confusion when he's bequeathed a journal that belonged to his brilliant school-friend, Adrian, who committed suicide 40 years earlier at age 22. Though he thought he understood the events of his youth, he's forced to radically revise what he thought he knew about Adrian, his bitter parting with his mysterious first lover Veronica, and reflect on how he let life pass him by safely and predictably. Barnes's spare and luminous prose splendidly evokes the sense of a life whose meaning (or meaninglessness) is inevitably defined by 'the sense of an ending' which only death provides. Despite its focus on the blindness of youth and the passage of time, Barnes's book is entirely unpretentious. From the haunting images of its first pages to the surprising and wrenching finale, the novel carries readers with sensitivity and wisdom through the agony of lost time." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "Compelling....His reputation will surely be enhanced by this book. Do not be misled by its brevity. Its mystery is as deeply embedded as the most archaic of memories."
"Review" by , "Barnes builds a powerful atmosphere of shame and silence....As ever, Barnes excels at colouring everyday reality with his narrator's unique subjectivity, without sacrificing any of its vivid precision....Novel, fertile and memorable."
"Review" by , "A dexterously crafted narrative of unlooked-for consequences."
"Synopsis" by , The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes's new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers.

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian's life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.

Now Tony is in middle age. He's had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?

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