Review: Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending

What do you make of the mathematical formula that runs like a2 + v + a1 x s = b?

If you are able to decode it than you’ll have solved the mystery of the universe. Okay. Okay. Nothing so grandiose; you’ll have solved the mystery of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. Or would you?

But first the facts. The book is narrated by a middle-aged Tony Webster. Retired, on good-terms with his ex-wife, responsible father of a daughter, Tony is at peace with himself in the sunset of his life. However, a lawyer’s letter arrives to ruin that equanimity. Sarah Ford, it seems, has left him with 500 pounds, a letter. and a diary. But who is Sarah Ford? It turns out that she is (or rather was) the mother of Veronica, a girl Tony was seeing in his younger days. He had spent one weekend with Veronica’s family, and that was the only interaction he had with the latter’s mother Sarah. Subsequently, Veronica and Tony had fallen apart and the former had become involved with Adrian, one of Tony’s friends.

So why had Sarah left him this money? Her letter explains little. And the diary, which is of Adrian, never reaches him as Veronica refuses to part with it. Intrigued by all this, Tony contacts Veronica to get hold of the diary. And finds himself trapped in a labyrinth of unanswered questions.

Barnes’ novel is not a mystery in the conventional sense. There is no unravelling of secrets at the end of it. There is just the sense of what a character terms as a ‘fucking waste’ and an awareness that human relationships cannot be scaled down to some mathematical equation.

A poetic, powerful book that will stay with you for a long time. Recommended.


Opening Lines: I remember in no particular order:

– a shiny inner wrist;
– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
– gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall louse;
– a river rushing nonsensically upstream; its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.

This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

Title: The Sense of an Ending

Author: Julian Barnes

Publication Details: London: Vintage, 2012

First Published: 2011

Pages: 150

Other Books read of the same author: None

Trivia: Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2011


The rest of the post contains SPOILERS, so please do not read unless you have read the book.

To me it did seem as though, Veronica had kept Tony’s vitriolic letter because she has cursed Adrian and Sarah in much the same manner, right down to the child. And now feels guilty about her own role in cursing the child. How far, as Adrian’s letter says, does responsibility extend?


The book is easily available having won the Bookers for the year 2011. I borrowed it from the college library [823.09 B 262 S].


Submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, Back to the Classics, British Books, New Authors, Wishlist

7 thoughts on “Review: Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending

  1. I was reading \”The Tiger\” by John Vaillant. I have finished it – excellent read.Then, I started to read \”The Columbus Affair\” but gave up on it.I had started to read \”The Sense of an Ending\” now. Quite intrigued by it.


  2. The end leaves one with more questions than answers, doesn't it? But I thought that was true of life itself and I loved the poetic language of the author. Planning to pass it to Parey. Let's see what she thinks of it.


  3. I read this recently. The refrain \”you don't get it, do you?\” keeps playing in my head. Poetic and philosophical, but no sense of an ending. Here are my thoughts, if you are interested.


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