The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

For a reasonably slow reader such as myself, it is pleasant being given a 150-page book for my birthday (courtesy of my brother), which I can plough through in just a couple of evenings. It’s the first Julian Barnes book I’ve read, and I came to it with no particular expectations of the author or the plot.

The story is narrated by a retired man, who first remembers details of his school and university days, an unsuccessful relationship with a girl, a visit to her parents’ and the suicide of one of his friends. He forgets about the incidents until he receives notice that the girl’s mother has left him something in her will, and he begins to remember and re-evaluate the memories of which he was so sure, until his old girlfriend drops just enough clues for him to start to unravel the mystery.

As I mentioned, the novel is brief and deals with events on a small scale, barrelling along quickly towards its conclusion, while the substance is somewhat beneath the surface. The central theme is how memories can be misleading, and the narrator is indeed somewhat unreliable, painting himself and other characters in a positive or negative light that the reader can sometimes see through. A powerful, recurring image is that of the Severn Bore, a tidal wave, going upstream against the current, as the newly reconsidered memories of the past wash up the river of time to the present.

In general, I found the book very readable, the narrator likeable (or is he?) and the mystery intriguing. The thoughts described of the adolescent and young man seemed to ring somewhat true with my own memories of the time. On the other hand, the girlfriend’s reluctance to say straightforwardly what has happened seems a little artificial, as it serves only to spin out the revelation of the secret. At the end, we are left unsure exactly what happened – I read pages of speculation on the internet, and have chosen which version I find most plausible. For me, the ambiguity is frustrating, but perhaps I’ve missed the point. The lightness of tone made me a little surprised that it won the Man Booker prize, but perhaps I’ve missed the point of that too. In any case, I can recommend it, and whatever your opinion, it won’t take up much of your valuable time.




world view



the indistinct sound of people whispering



model of excellence or perfection of a kind



young and inexperienced



becoming liquid by absorbing moisture from the air



searching, rummaging



suitable for membership of a club because of one’s sociability or popularity.



capable of being broken



a large number or amount or extent



presenting favorable circumstances



being self-centred or selfish.

I made use of to find some of the definitions in one go.


About icfematerials

I am an EFL teacher in Moscow, Russia. I'm blogging about ICFE materials. I am in no way affiliated with Cambridge ESOL. My views are not those of my school or of Cambridge ESOL.
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