15 reviews

The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes

Published: 2012-05-29
Paperback : 163 pages
64 members reading this now
109 clubs reading this now
42 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 7 of 15 members
Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize

One of The Atlantic's Best Books I Read This Year

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single setting, The Sense of an Ending has the psychological and emotional depth and sophistication of Henry James at his best, and is a stunning new ...
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Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize

One of The Atlantic's Best Books I Read This Year

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single setting, The Sense of an Ending has the psychological and emotional depth and sophistication of Henry James at his best, and is a stunning new chapter in Julian Barnes's oeuvre.
This intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

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Discussion Questions

1. What does the title mean?

2. The novel opens with a handful of water-related images. What is the significance of each? How does Barnes use water as a metaphor?

3. The phrase “Eros and Thanatos,” or sex and death, comes up repeatedly in the novel. What did you take it to mean?

4. At school, Adrian says, “we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us” (p. 13). How does this apply to Tony’s narration?

5. Did Tony love Veronica? How did his weekend with her family change their relationship?

6. When Mrs. Ford told Tony, “Don’t let Veronica get away with too much” (p. 31), what did she mean? Why was this one sentence so important?

7. Veronica accuses Tony of being cowardly, while Tony considers himself peaceable. Whose assessment is more accurate?

8. What is the metaphor of the Severn Bore? Why does Tony’s recollection of Veronica’s presence change?

9. Why did Tony warn Adrian that Veronica “had suffered damage a long way back?” (p. 46). What made him suspect such a thing? Do you think he truly believed it?

10. In addition to Adrian’s earlier statement about history, Barnes offers other theories: Adrian also says, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” (p. 18), and Tony says, “History isn’t the lies of the victors . . .It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated” (p. 61). Which of these competing notions do you think is most accurate? Which did Tony come to believe?

11. Discuss the character Margaret. What role does she play in Tony’s story?

12. Why does Mrs. Ford make her bequest to Tony, after so many years? And why does Veronica characterize the £500 as “blood money”?

13. After rereading the letter he sent to Adrian and Veronica, Tony claims to feel remorse. Do you believe him? What do his subsequent actions tell us?

14. When Veronica refuses to turn over the diary to Tony, why doesn’t he give up? Why does he continue to needle her for it?

15. What is Tony’s opinion of himself? Of Adrian? How do both opinions change by the end of the novel?

16. How does the revelation in the final pages change your understanding of Veronica’s actions?

17. Discuss the closing lines of the novel: “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest” (p. 163).

From the publisher

Suggested by Members

Is our life story edited and refined in our minds to a more palatable version that we can live with?
by [email protected] (see profile) 05/01/18

Discuss what the term
Was Veronica
Is it credible to believe Tony would forget the tenor of his letter to Veronica and Adrian?
by rowchick (see profile) 05/21/13

Why did Veronica's mother describe the $500 as 'blood money'?
Do you think Adrain is the real father of Adrian Jnr?
Can we really see reflections of ourselves? ie: in our (possible) children?
by Petal22 (see profile) 06/24/12

we used these & they were helpful: http://www.princetonbookreview.com/book_pages/discussion/sense-of-an-ending.php
by HarrietD1 (see profile) 05/01/12

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by Laura L. (see profile) 07/25/23

by Mindy K. (see profile) 06/15/22

by Yvonne M. (see profile) 05/19/19

  "ARE OUR MEMORIES FAKE NEWS?"by javier f. (see profile) 05/01/18

Having just finished the book the two most striking thoughts that resonate are: 1) How our deep philosophical ideas are trumped by banal human predicaments. 2) How we mask our memories and see them through... (read more)

by Judith E C. (see profile) 02/09/18

by Heather B. (see profile) 10/14/17

by Melissa H. (see profile) 10/04/16

  "The Sense of an Ending"by Betsy M. (see profile) 12/14/15

Barnes appears to be good writer, but the slow moving plot, and poor character development, did not engage me, particularly; when it led to what should have been an AH HA ending.

by Lynne P. (see profile) 12/11/15

by Cheryl J. (see profile) 07/10/15

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