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Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending

Category: Fiction | Published: 2011 | Review Added: 26-12-2012

Rating: 4 - A top read

Narrator Tony Webster splits up with his manipulative girlfriend Veronica while a student; shortly afterwards, she starts going out with a friend of his, the intensely serious and intimidatingly intelligent Adrian. Tony goes on to lead an averagely disappointing but quiet life; things go, to put it mildly, less smoothly for Adrian and Veronica. Tony has no conscious feelings of guilt for his former friends' misfortunes, until his memory is jogged by an unexpected, and initially inexplicable, bequest from Veronica's mother.

It's hard to discuss this short novel without giving away the plot: and as a kind of emotional thriller, its plot is of the essence. I wasn't sure while reading it whether it merited three or four stars. It has some flaws, foremost being a degree of narrative incongruity. In order to provide suspense, Barnes hides details in the earlier part of the story that Tony must, logically, already have known about. Barnes' philosophising is occasionally intrusive. And the final "key" to the story is as contrived and implausible as any "Midsomer Murders" dénouement.

But I've given it a four-star rating because, however artificial his means, Barnes succeeds in generating both great suspense, and a believable emotional arc. The characters and their motivations are entirely true-to-life. So, oddly, is the novel's semi-supernatural subtext: the idea that ill wished upon others can take on a life of its own and come back to haunt us.

This is a bleak and chastening tale; if less polished than some of Barnes' books, it is certainly one of his most compelling.

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