The Last Book I Loved: The Sense of an Ending

Sense_of_an_Ending_Knopf_200Hey y’all, sorry I’ve been AWOL as of late. Much traveling (four states in four weeks), much working, much settling into the new house, excuses, excuses, excuses. Hope to be back at this blog with gusto in the coming weeks!

In the meantime, have you read The Sense of an Ending yet? If you like Ishiguro or McEwan, this slim novel by Julian Barnes is for you. Quiet, pondering, reflective, and philosophical right up until the end (when shit hits the fan like whoa), Ending is, as my friend told me when she recommended it, the perfect book to read in one sitting on a porch somewhere when you’re feeling meditative.

On the surface, it’s a story about an aging Brit looking on his life and contemplating, with the clarity of hindsight (though not as much clarity as he, or any of us, would like) his relationships, how they’ve changed, and how his feelings about them have changed. The writing is beautiful and stately and plays with big questions about cause and effect, and the affects of time and perspective on what we call “history.”

This is my favorite section. As a history major, this paragraph exploring blame is basically like intellectual porn:

“We want to blame an individual so that everyone else is exculpated. Or we blame a historical process as a way of exonerating individuals. Or it’s all anarchic chaos, with the same consequence. It seems to me that there is–was–a chain of individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary, but not so long a chain that everybody can simply blame everyone else. But of course, my desire to ascribe responsibility might be more a reflection of my own cast of mind than a fair analysis of what happened. That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it, sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.”

And this subsequent conversation between adolescent students:

“History is the lies of the victors,” I replied, a little too quickly. “Yes, I was rather afraid you’d say that. Well, as long as you remember that it is also the self-delusions of the defeated. Simpson?”

Colin was more prepared than me. “History is a raw onion sandwich, sir.”

“For what reason?”

“It just repeats, sir. It burps. We’ve seen it again and again this yeah. Same old story, same old oscillation between tyranny and rebellion, war and peace, prosperity and impoverishment.”


“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

Ugh, and the language about time is so beautiful tooooooo:

“We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten?”

“Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability.”

Related Post: The last book I loved, East of Eden.

Related Post: On pairing classics with new classics. 



Filed under Books

4 responses to “The Last Book I Loved: The Sense of an Ending

  1. Cher B

    Great review! I loved it, too, slowed down my reading to stretch it out:

  2. I really enjoyed this book and read it quite quickly (I was addicted). I know some people didn’t care for it because of its less than concrete ending–but in my eyes, they have entirely missed the point.

  3. Pingback: The Last Book I Loved: The Orphan Master’s Son | rosiesaysblog

  4. Pingback: The Last Book I Loved: The Flamethrowers | rosiesaysblog

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