The plot line is simple. A series of events forces a man to look back at his life, with regrets.
Londoner Tony Webster had three friends in secondary school (high school in the U.S.): Colin, Alex and Adrian. Their time together was intense, but they drifted apart once they graduated and left for college. Now middle-aged, retired, divorced and without purpose, a legacy makes Tony remember the past, forcing him to acknowledge the consequences of a letter he wrote after a love affair went south.
I’m not sure how he does it, but Barnes has managed to combine the complexity of William Faulkner’s stream of consciousness with the tight, concise style of Ernest Hemingway.
I’m not very interested in my schooldays, and don’t feel any nostalgia for them. But school is where it all began, so I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty. If I can’t be sure of the actual events any more, I can at least be true to the impressions those facts left. That’s the best I can manage.
Don’t let the novel’s small size fool you. Barnes packs a lot of emotion and exquisite prose in 163 pages. Like John Banville’s “The Sea,” 2005 Man Booker award winner, “The Sense of an Ending” will be studied in classrooms for years to come. Barnes’ ability to turn ordinary words into an extraordinary tapestry is wondrous. This book is something to be read and re-read time and again.
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