Book Review: The Sense Of An Ending

“I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is the question on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of.”

A 2011 novel by British author Julian Barnes, The Sense Of An Ending follows Tony Webster, now a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about – until one his closest childhood friends commits suicide and leaves his diary in Tony’s possession. Tony thought he’d left all of this behind as he built a life for himself, but now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. Presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, Tony is now made to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.


This following post is a review of only the book. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.

The Sense Of An Ending is a beautifully written book full of meaningful narrative, with its title borrowed from a book of the same name by Frank Kermode that’s aim was to make sense of the ways we try to make sense of our lives.

In the same way, The Sense Of An Ending follows similar footsteps as it explores the concept of how we can remember our pasts differently, often coming to doubt our own memories with age, and how one person’s understanding of a situation isn’t always the whole picture.

“Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.”

The book comes in two halves, seeing Tony tell the story of his life, but then seeing him deconstruct his own memory of it. Barnes’ writing is genius, as it makes you reflect on your own life and how you can learn from Tony’s mistakes to better yourself. We’ve all done things that we regret, but what The Sense Of An Ending does is to show you that we’ve all been there; it’s what you do with the understanding and your acceptance of your own mistakes that make the biggest difference.

You can buy the book here

Looking at how characters develop over time, the book highlights themes of reliability and truthfulness and looks at how age can affect our memories. We can forget about the good days when thinking about bad people and events, and how hindsight can change your perspective on everything.

The book also teaches its readers a lot about how we treat other people when we don’t know all of the circumstances. It’s a really interesting narrative. We can all look back on hard times and remember the worst of things, but it’s not until you’ve been given all of the insight that you can understand something fully; that you can truly tell a story from the beginning to make sense of its ending.

“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

However, whilst I took a lot away from the messages in the story, I wasn’t particularly invested in the story or characters. It’s definitely a slow burn of a book, although it is also very short and readable, which is what makes it so easy to take a lot away from.

There are definitely two sides to the story, however. One that feels very straightforward, and another that is so much more. One thing for sure is that this is definitely a book that benefits from a re-read, as it’s the kind of book that you will take away something different from every time, whatever feels more personal to you at that time of reading.

The Sense Of An Ending was adapted into a film in 2018, which you can watch the trailer for below:

About Charlie Morris

Proofreader and film blogger living in Cornwall.

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