I am so behind in reviews, it’s ridiculous (for me – I know some of you get WAY behind but I’m usually getting reviews up within 48 hours of completing a book. I finished this book two weeks ago). I blame life getting busy and choosing to not take my laptop on vacation. I finished a bunch of books, but had no way of writing and posting my reviews so they languished. But mostly I blame this book because I have a need to review in the order that I read and while I finished this book before I left for vacation I couldn’t quite figure out how to talk about giving a two star rating to the winner of the Man Booker Prize from 2011. So here goes, because I have other books I want to talk about.
I had been aware of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending from Cannonball Read reviews so when I embarked on Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge this year and one of the tasks called for reading A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade and I went through the lists and lo and behold there was The Sense of an Ending I thought great! Two birds, one stone. And while that is true, it really felt like I was carrying a very large boulder around while spending time with Tony Webster.
You see Tony is our protagonist and the story is told from his point of view. The style is meant to invoke a long conversation with Tony. The audiobook clocks in at four and a half hours. I have had phone conversations that have lasted almost that long so the conversational quality wasn’t what broke me. What broke me was the meandering.
This is not a long book. We are introduced to only a handful of characters and three major plot points. That’s it. This is a sparse work, and many who have praised it have praised it on those qualities. But, and perhaps this is because I am both the wrong generation and gender for this work, I found myself wondering again and again, “so what?” This might sound harsh to those of you who have read the book and know the plot points I’m speaking of (since this book works for some I am sticking spoiler free so you can enjoy it is you choose to) but while I know it is absolutely possible to make boneheaded terrible decisions in our twenties which have lasting ramifications (I at 32 know that I did and said things at 21-23 which have landed me exactly where I am) I also know that all we can do is move forward. This is perhaps why Tony in his 60s was a difficult man for me to identify with. He is seeing the end of the line while I am hopeful that I still have 30-40 years of life ahead of me.
There are things that are well done in this work. Language choice is beautiful, although occasionally repetitive. And Tony is well-drawn. My reactions to him as a character were the same to a friend sitting across the table. And even with a generation gap and a difference of gender there was much about the way Tony chose to live a safe life and what that has meant that I was able to understand and empathize with, which is evidence of Julian Barnes’ skill and craft. Overall this is a 2.5 star book for me, hopefully better luck for you.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.