I was so enthralled by Flaubert’s Parrot that I immediately ordered some more of Julian Barnes’ books and am slowly working my way through the rest of his oeuvre. I started on The Sense of an Ending with some caution, for very few Booker winning novels that I have read have lived up to the hype. (The Finkler Question sat half read on my desk for many months before it was moved to the back of the bookshelf. Sooner or later, it will be given away.)
The Sense of an Ending was a joy to read, though the subject was anything but delightful. After finishing the book, I googled my way into the Booker forums where readers avidly discussed the whodunnit with several theories of their own, and read some of the comments with almost as much pleasure as the book itself.
Spoilers ahead – discussions abound on whether Junior Adrian was Veronica’s child or Sarah’s, was Adrian Veronica’s long lost brother, why did Adrian kill himself, was it merely out of guilt for having had an affair with his girlfriend’s mother or was it the impact of something darker, like the stigma of incest committed unknowingly. The algebraic equations explaining the complicated relationships between the main characters and the vague conclusion do not take away the depth of the philosophical questions examined in the book, nor do they diminish the consistent beauty of the prose.
The conclusion was not so much affecting as the last few pages of the first part, which lays bare the stark realities of existence, transforming the protagonist from a precocious teenager into a bored middle aged man who can only reflect on the days of his early youth, having sleepwalked through the rest of his less than remarkable life.
This is one of the more disturbing hypotheses on the meaning of life. Philip Larkin said as much in This be the Verse. Rupert Brooke wrote it in Sonnet Reversed. And perhaps this is what Vikram Seth meant when he wrote that ‘That this is all there is, that this is so’. Only this moment can be claimed as one’s own.