“…when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a book that demands to be discussed. Although the novel is slim, the Central Brown Baggers were eager to pore over all the details after savoring this compelling book. Nominated three previous times for other works, Barnes was awarded  the 2011 Man Booker prize on the merits of this short work.

Without giving too much away, this book has one major twist towards the end, but a few winding turns on the way to get there. As we met to discuss exactly what was revealed, it was both illuminating and possibly a bit confusing to explore what information led us to draw certain conclusions — sort of an enjoyable frustration! The book functions both as a personal recollection as well as a reflection on the very nature of memory and history.  Many of us agreed that Tony was sincere, but that didn’t mean he was necessarily a reliable narrator.

Other major themes we discussed included the changes that come both with coming of age and aging. It was difficult for Tony to reconcile Adrian’s suicide with the dismissive position their group of friend’s took regarding Robson’s suicide when they were in school; but it’s also important to note that Tony is considering the motives of a very young Adrian while he is much older. The same applied to the motives of Veronica’s mother, Sarah. Did we see her later behavior foreshadowed? Every plot point comes through the filter of Tony’s memories and prejudices. We agreed that this story would’ve been very different coming from any other point of view. This may seem obvious as a general point, but it seemed incredibly relevant here in determining what happened.

It was also a good contrast to compare this book to our previous month’s selection, American Pastoral. In that novel, our narrator constructs the plot entirely from guesswork and assumptions based a few facts. Join the Brown Baggers next month as we shift gears to discuss a non-fiction book, A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead.

Further reading and information:

The official website of Julian Barnes has links to interviews, videos, and over 25 different reviews of The Sense of An Ending.

JMRL also has many other works by Barnes, including both novels and nonfiction works. Click here to find them in the catalog.

Check the JMRL wiki to see what the Brown Baggers have read in the past and which other books we’ll be reading this year.

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