Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize
By an acclaimed writer at the height of his powers, The Sense of an Ending extends a streak of extraordinary books that began with the best-selling Arthur & George and continued with Nothing to Be Frightened Of and, most recently, Pulse.
This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about--until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he'd left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he'd understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting, with stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, The Sense of an Ending is a brilliant new chapter in Julian Barnes's oeuvre.
- Man Booker Prize for Fiction
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October 05, 2011
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Excerpt from The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
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 house;
- 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.
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.
* * *
I'm not very interested in my schooldays, and don't feel any nostalgia for them. But school is where it all began, so I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty. If I can't be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That's the best I can manage.
There were three of us, and he now made the fourth. We hadn't expected to add to our tight number: cliques and pairings had happened long before, and we were already beginning to imagine our escape from school into life. His name was Adrian Finn, a tall, shy boy who initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself. For the first day or two, we took little notice of him: at our school there was no welcoming ceremony, let alone its opposite, the punitive induction. We just registered his presence and waited.
The masters were more interested in him than we were. They had to work out his intelligence and sense of discipline, calculate how well he'd previously been taught, and if he might prove 'scholarship material'. On the third morning of that autumn term, we had a history class with Old Joe Hunt, wryly affable in his three-piece suit, a teacher whose system of control depended on maintaining sufficient but not excessive boredom.
'Now, you'll remember that I asked you to do some preliminary reading about the reign of Henry VIII.' Colin, Alex and I squinted at one another, hoping that the ques�tion wouldn't be flicked, like an angler's fly, to land on one of our heads. 'Who might like to offer a characterisation of the age?' He drew his own conclusion from our averted eyes. 'Well, Marshall, perhaps. How would you describe Henry VIII's reign?"
Our relief was greater than our curiosity, because Marshall was a cautious know-nothing who lacked the inventiveness of true ignorance. He searched for possible hidden complexities in the question before eventually locating a response.
'There was unrest, sir.'
An outbreak of barely controlled smirking; Hunt himself almost smiled.
'Would you, perhaps, care to elaborate?'
Marshall nodded slow assent, thought a little longer, and decided it was no time for caution. 'I'd say there was great unrest, sir.'
'Finn, then. Are you up in this period?'
The new boy was sitting a row ahead and to my left. He had shown no evident reaction to Marshall's idiocies.
'Not really, sir, I'm afraid. But there is one line of thought according to which all you can truly say of any historical event - even the outbreak of the First World War, for example - is that "something happened".'
'Is there, indeed? Well, that would put me out of a job, wouldn't it?' After some sycophantic laughter, Old Joe Hunt pardoned our holiday idleness and filled us in on the polygamous royal butcher.
At the next break, I sought out Finn.'I'm Tony Webster.' He looked at me warily. 'Great line to Hunt.' He seemed not to know what I was referring to. 'About something happening.'
'Oh. Yes. I was rather disappointed he didn't take it up.'
That wasn't what he was supposed to say.
Another detail I remember: the three of us, as a symbol of our bond, used to wear our watches with the face on the inside of the wrist. It was an affectation, of course, but perhaps something more. It made time feel like a personal, even a secret, thing.We expected Adrian to note the gesture, and follow suit; but he didn't.