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Submitted Literature

The Sense of an Ending

By Julian Barnes


Julian Barnes' novel, despite its brevity, works on many levels. The sense of time passing, of decisions and their consequences,  paths followed and paths rejected, the responsibility of words and actions towards the suicide of a friend. 

Like a patient spider, Tony Webster (the narrator), spreads his web - the recounting of his friendship with Adrian Finn. They, with other four boys, form an intelectual clique that lasts from the early days of college until the first university years. Everyone in the group admires Adrian's intelectual prowess, which manifests itself in philosophical aphorisms of great wit and cleverness. Like a young Wittgenstein (to which Adrian's style alludes), he pursues the true logic of life and is incapable of thinking of actions and life events which do not have an inner, inescapable logic. 

The stability of the boys' quartet is, however, shaken by Veronica Ford, Tony's girlfriend. He (bearing in mind his unreliability as a narrator) is not very sympathetic towards Veronica and in fact resents her. Throughout the first part of the book, we are presented with several episodes that testify for Veronica's unpleasant nature until the inevitable moment when the two break up. It is then when a surprising twist of fate is introduced -Veronica starts dating Adrian. Tony learns this fact in a letter from Adrian. The two friends started corresponding after they initiated university in different parts of the country. Tony's answer to this letter will however be the last exchange between the two friends. Spitefully, his letter denounces Veronica's horrible nature and in it, ironic wishes of a tragic fate together are pronounced. 

In the second part, we learn the consequences of this letter and more detailsin the life that Veronica and Adrian lived together.  We also learn of Adrian's tragic end, hinted in his surname - Finn (Fin, in french). 

In a brief coming of age account, we are introduced to the tragic consequences (even if unintended) that words can have, the weighing up of our own responsibilities for ourselves and others and the ethical duty we have towards our own life. It also raises deep questions on the validity of logic to deal whit the problem of suicide and with the nature of madness.

A thought provoking account on memory, guilty, responsibility and ultimately, suicide. 

Key Themes:

  • Suicidality

Significant Quotes / Pages

  •  " (...)  'Do you think it was because he was too clever?'  'I haven't got the statistics linking intelligence to suicide' I replied. (...)'Well, let's put it like this: you're a clever boy, but not so clever as you'd do anything like that.' (...) 'But if you're very clever, I think there's something that can unhinge you if you're not careful.' " (p.47)
  • "The veredict of the coroner's inquest had been that Adrian Finn (22) had killed himself 'while the balance of his mind was disturbed'. I remember how angry that conventional phrase made me: I would have sworn on oath that Adrian's was the one mind which would never lose its balance." (p.49)
  • "Then I thought about Adrian. My old school friend who had killed himself. And this had been the last communication he had ever received from me. A libel on his character and an attempt to destroy the first and the last love affair of his life. And when I had written that time would tell, I had underestimated, or rather, miscalculated: time was telling not against them, it was telling against me." (p.98)

Reference: Julian, Barnes. 2011. The Sense of an Ending. Vintage Books (London), 2012


Mr Ricardo Rato Rodrigues
Date Review Submitted: Sunday 27th October 2013