Booker Prize winner “The Sense of an Ending” by the highly acclaimed Mr. Julian Barnes, like most stream of consciousness writings, is by no means a happy novel. It does have its humorous bits in between, especially in the beginning, but it gets more and more morose as it goes on. The impressive aspect though is how realistic it is. The change in the mood of the novel from youthful merriment to self-criticism as the lead character gets older ignites the troubling thought of how life itself is perhaps like that. Mr. Barnes often compares youth with old age in this work of fiction, as in this paragraph here – “When you are in your twenties, even if you’re confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become. Later… later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more back-tracking, more false memories.” Indeed the genius in the novel emerges from the author’s poignant description of old age – “The less time there remains in your life, the less you want to waste it.”
The first part of the novel strikes quite a contrast to the latter part. It starts off as a story about a certain Adrian Finn and three lesser mortals as his friends, one of whom is the narrator himself. Adrian Finn is clearly a genius, but not in terms of how most of us in India would classify a genius as. Instead of excelling at mathematics or science, which is the general idea of exceptional talent in our society, Adrian Finn is a prodigy in the fields of philosophy, logic and literature. Indeed, the book is filled with philosophical citations which often make the reader keep the book down for a bit to contemplate on those ideas precisely. Examples of such thought-provoking phrases include “Camus said that suicide was the only true philosophical question” and “What possible evolutionary purpose could nostalgia serve?”. The ability of this piece of literature to make the reader contemplate and think of experiences from his own life is perhaps its biggest strength.
The transition from a light story of four carefree college friends looking for intellectual and sexual fulfilment to the rather gloomy self-realizations that the author undergoes in the latter part of the novel is actually quite subtle. For instance, the following description occurring towards the beginning of the novel is clearly meant in jest – “Our parents thought we might be corrupted by one another into becoming whatever it was they most feared: an incorrigible masturbator, a winsome homosexual, a recklessly impregnatory libertine. On our behalf they dreaded the closeness of adolescent friendship, the predatory behaviour of strangers on trains, the lure of the wrong kind of girl. How far their anxieties outran our experience.”.
But the thin line between jest and seriousness becomes increasingly blurry as the novel progresses, as reflected in the following quote from later in the novel – “Some Englishman once said that marriage is a long dull meal with the pudding served first.”