Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes

[Cross-posted on Goodreads.com]

QUADRUPLE SPOILER ALERT!

In terms of overt clues and Adrian's equation, Adrian had an affair (perhaps not so brief, near the end of his life) with Veronica's mother Sarah, who bore the child, also named Adrian, who was later sent (after Sarah's death?) to a caregiver facility.

I think what nags at Tony at the end is that there are other possibilities that could fit the evidence better. Unless Veronica spills it, or Adrian's diary is not burnt after all, Tony can never know for sure. In all scenarios he's guilty, in some achingly more than others.

The child could have been Veronica's by Adrian or by Tony. The memory of the trip to the river seems to imply a night of unprotected, romantic sex. Sarah might have cared for the baby when Veronica couldn't, or wouldn't. Veronica's pregnancy would have been when she and Adrian were newlyweds. He might have died thinking the baby was his. Or sure that it wasn't.

Tony says the child (seen now as a young man) looks like the presumed father, his old friend Adrian. But did Tony look like Adrian? Is Tony looking into a mirror and denying the familiarity he sees? Is Tony's remarking on the resemblance a clue to throw us off the track?

The child could have been Sarah's by Tony. This strange possibility best explains: 1) Sarah's bequest, 2) Veronica's rage, and 3) Sarah's enigmatic parting gesture to Tony, implying a secret they shared (that she'd seduced him during the visit). The fact that Adrian has repressed the memory of the sex act (but not the washing up after) would seem totally implausible, except in the context of this book which is all about how our minds rewrite history to suit our opinion of ourselves.

It's a mind twister, and credit Barnes for giving plenty of clues but being brave enough to perplex his readers by providing only the sense of an ending.
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