The Sense of an Ending ruminates on memory’s slippery nature: on how the scrims of time, emotion, and overt or secret intentions, can collude with our youthful (and beyond) self-absorption, making us unable to accurately and objectively recall events. It also carries a hefty lesson about the repercussions of any casual cruelties and hasty judgements we might have inflicted on others during our youth and early twenties, while struggling to form our own personal and sexual identities. Reviews have been mixed, especially on the American side of the pond, given its tidy 163 page length (here we go again….bickering over the relationship between heft and quality), and its cool, quiet, elliptical plot, and its unsentimental, aging, and not quite reliable narrator. This novel is less precious than McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, less like The Turn of the Screw than Banville’s superior The Sea, (despite some critics’ contentions), less funny, if just as crisp, as Brookner’s similarly themed and plotted works, from whom Barnes received his most glowing review. I thought it a fine book, but not a great one, and I sense, despite the denials of the Man Booker judging panel, that Barnes was being rewarded for his entire body of work, rather than this particular release.
“I didn’t want to go to my grave and get a Beryl,” Barnes remarked after his win, referring to Beryl Bainbridge, who was nominated five times but never won. Early this year, in atonement for this criminal oversight, the Man Booker committee announced that a posthumous Best of Beryl Booker had been awarded to her 1998 novel, Master Georgie, via a public poll.
More about Bainbridge will appear on this blog, as I’m currently working through all her novels brought over from the UK: sadly, and inexplicably, her work is out of print in the United States.