Firstly, many thanks to my good friend, Christopher, who kindly bought me this book recently.

I had not previously read anything by this contemporary British author (though I have had a copy of his Arthur & George sitting on my shelves for a while). This, his latest novel, was awarded the Man Booker Prize late last year, and it is just the kind of book that I am often drawn to: a self-reflective narrative told by an aging character who is looking back over his life and trying to make sense of some of some of the key events.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The narrator of the piece is Tony Webster – a very ordinary and modest man in many regards – who is now in his retirement. He reflects back over his life and especially the period at school and college where he and three other pals swore they would be friends forever. However, certain events took place which changed their ideas, their plans and their relationships forever.

The narrative is beautifully written in parts; here is a passage from the opening page:

We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.

It is in a way, a study of memory, of nostalgia; of the interpretation and re-interpretation of events by different people at different points in time. It is, in short, my kind of book.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy: L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, or Ian McEwan’s Atonement, or perhaps something by Vladimir Nabokov, such as Pale Fire or Lolita.