Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

My extended family at Popham Beach after Christmas

On these cold January nights, there is nothing I like better than curling up by the fire with a good book.  Even before it won the 2011 Man Booker Prize, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes was on my to read list.  I’ve never read anything by this critically acclaimed British author and this one is set (initially) at an English boys school, just like my work in progress. I was therefore delighted to receive this novel as a Christmas gift from my British in-laws, especially since it had the gorgeous UK binding.  It was purchased from a favorite bookstore, The Wallingford Bookshop too.

The Sense of an Ending lived up to its cover promise.  The blown dandelions well represented the central theme of growing up and moving apart from old friends.  The random scatter of their lives was related with nostalgic bleakness.  The black and white image also captured the dichotomy of right and wrong, as well as the fuzzy grey in between.  The old typewriter font cleverly represented the past.  The title was perfect for a pensive book about suicide and severed relationships.

What I didn’t love about The Sense of an Ending was how the narrative style drew attention away from the story.  The erudite reflections lacked emotional connection.  None of the characters were likable, although they were well drawn.  The book was short (150 pages) and yet the pace was slow.

Still, I kept reading with pleasure.  I appreciated the fine, thoughtful writing and the many perfect sentences.  I even added a new word to my vocabulary: susurrus.  This beautiful, literary book is a welcome addition to my library. 

“The last isn’t something I actually saw, 
but what you end up remembering isn’t always 
the same as what you have witnessed.”

Movie Watch: I've added a disappointed film review to the end of my War Horse post

Blog Time Note: on some Wednesdays my weekly post might be published later than my usual 7am. I'm trying to restructure my time so that the other 4 week days are strictly novel writing days.


Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Great review Sarah. I have Barnes book on my Amazon 'wish list'. I can easily be seduced by a well-written book and forgive a plodding plot or characters that don't captivate ... so I think I will still give it a try. Love how you see and describe aspects of the book's theme in the cover design.

Elizabeth said...

The Julian Barnes I liked best was an early one: METROLAND.
Very much of my generation and much more simpatico than Martin Amis for example.
I wonder what I'll make of this one?
Do hope all is well with you and your family....and Scout.
ps am now engrossed in Downton Abbey ( first series) having come very late to the party!)

Cid said...

Great mini review. I can also be captivated by book jacket design (most recently The Night Circus which I loved inside and out) but am often disappointed when the story inside doesn't live up to it, sort of like great labels on a mediocre bottle of wine :-)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I just finished this last night.
I thought it was a rather masterful and compassionate portrait of middle age.
Particularly the descriptions of the feelings that come when one's corroborations of memory begin to diminish.

A Cuban In London said...

Here's a funny example of synchronicity. I bought a (different) novel by Julian Barnes recenty in Brick Lane. In reality I zeroed in on a book by Stefan Zweig in French (I like practicing my French every now and then and reading is a way of keeping it alive) and then I spotted the book by Barnes. It is also short (shouldn't it be called a novella? Didn't The Sense of an Ending fall in the same category?) and I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Many thanks for your lovely and useful review. I've heard the same comments you make about the divorce between writing style and plot.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

I'm trying this reply to comment option for the first time - it's about time Blogger had this feature. The plot didn't plod; it was just slow. The characters were intriguing but too self centered to be sympathetic. They felt realistic but people I wouldn't want to befriend. I'd love to hear your reaction to the book.

Sarah Laurence said...

Elizabeth, I guessed you'd be familiar with this author. If I read another of his books, it will be Metroland. Thanks for the recommendation. My family is finally healthy - we all got sick before or during vacation. Scout was spayed yesterday but recovering well. It's a challenge keeping her calm. Henry and I loved the first series of Downton Abbey. We're waiting for this latest one to come out on Netflix as it's on too late to watch.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cid, how funny: the last book I bought was The Night Circus, partly due to good reviews but also because I loved the binding. I'll be doing more cover art reviews in the future but only if I like what's inside too. So true about wine bottle labels - cheers!

Sarah Laurence said...

Pamela, good point about the middle aged perspective. Thanks for sharing your impressions of this book.

Sarah Laurence said...

ACIL, picking up a French novel reminds me how rusty I am - you're right to keep it up. Yes, I'd call this book a novella. It's a Barnes day on my blog - how fun!

tina said...

Susurrus is a new word to me too! I had to click on your link to find out what it meant. I love learning new words. That's too bad on War Horse as it was hyped to be great. I still hope to see it but I know it will be a tear jerker and I've seen too many of those lately on the movie channels. Movies help me to pass the time but soon spring will be here. This book was a very nice gift from your in-laws.

Amanda Summer said...

i appreciate the fact that even though one might not like a book it's possible to learn something from it. sometimes when i am reading books i find heavy handed and laden with obscure vocab, i relish writing down all the words and looking them up. susurrus is a keeper.

very much enjoyed the deliciously layered winter scene of popham beach ~

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, I’d love to hear your impression of War Horse. Others have liked it. The play was just so much better, in my opinion.

Sarah Laurence said...

Amanda, I liked the book but not the characters. I certainly learned something about writing while reading it. The meaning of susurrus was clear in the context, but I still looked it up to be sure.

Rose said...

Susurrus is a new word to me, too--it even sounds a bit like murmuring.

I can enjoy a book even if I don't care for the plot, if it's well-written. However, I do prefer that I like at least one of the characters. I need to find a good book out of my comfort zone soon--the last couple of mysteries I've read by formerly favorite authors have been disappointing. I probably won't join in the Book Review Club again next month because I haven't read anything I could recommend to anyone else:(

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Hello Sarah

I have read Pulse and The Sense of an Ending and enjoyed both books very much.

Thanks for you review!

Tracy :)

Booksnyc said...

I have heard wonderful things about this book - I am glad to hear you also enjoyed it. I will definitely add it to my To Be Read shelf.

cynthia said...

I've read other books by Julian Barnes, and I've been curious about this one so I'm glad to read your review. Love the cover.