Rating: 4 Stars
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had no idea who Julian Barnes is until I picked up The Only Story from a bookstore in Karachi. Even then, I was unaware of his other books, or that he is a Man Booker Prize winner. When I saw The Sense of an Ending, the only reason I bought it, was that I knew the name of the author (even though I still have to read his other book), and that it was a thin book which I could carry easily while travelling.
I had the good fortune to read this book while I was in beautiful and serene surroundings, and I had time to savour each and every word of this equally beautiful work. This might be a work of fiction, but it resonates with the reader on so many levels. In addition, it has elements of suspense, a great bonus for a lover of thrillers like me!
The main character, the narrator of the book is Tony Webster, who starts off by recounting the story of his friendship with Adrian Finn. From the start, we are warned that whatever we are reading is based on Tony’s memories of what happened more than forty years ago. He keeps insisting that history or memory varies from person to person. Everyone remembers things that they want to remember and over time, might embellish them to make themselves feel better, and as more and more time passes, it becomes the truth.
“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
This is true about all kinds of history, popular as well as personal. When a person tells the story of their life, the listener has no way of knowing how much of it is truth and how much fiction, unless there is someone to corroborate it. The listener has no choice but to believe the story, until someone or something comes along to dispute it. This is also true of a person’s own memory.
It is human nature to see things from your own perspective, and that is how you remember everything that happens in your life, just the way you saw and perceived it. Julian Barnes takes a look into the human psych, and forces you to reassess all your memories. After reading this book, you will be compelled to take stock of your life and wonder how much of what you remember of the past has been coloured by your personal prejudices and experiences.
The Sense of an Ending is one of those rare books that stay with you long after you have finished reading them. It may be lean in terms of volume, but in my eyes, it is a heavyweight of a book. I loved it.