The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

“Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then.
Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.”

This is a little book with big and deeper words. This is one of those stories that leave you with questions and you tend to close the last page and your whole life rolls down in your head. Barnes has beautifully portrayed how time can alter and affect an individual and his memories. The whole perception of one’s life is affected by the happenings and more by the memories we keep of them.

The two main characters, Tony and Adrian, have contrasting yet connected personalities. The friendship is seen up to a certain level of admiration and jealousy. Talking about the contrasts, the book has successfully seeded a question in our minds, about the approach to perceive life as either a logical equation with all the sum and minus and divisions and multiplications pertaining to the relationships or as a simple ‘go with the wind’ kind of living that might generate a self-insufficiency like guilt in the later years of one’s life for not taking enough chances to improvise.

The end truly sets you back with a shock, and you find yourself revisiting the pages looking for a slight hint of the end, but you fail. And this I think is the beauty. Although critics have suggested a number of alternative theories for a better end, but I personally find the original very intriguing.

This is a beautiful read which I highly recommend and also I am quoting down a few excerpts from the book. Just in case you want to talk about all the beauty Barne’s has put into it or quote him in your conversations about life, time and memories.

In those days, we imagined ourselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to be released into our lives. And when that moment came, our lives and time itself
would speed up. How were we to know that our lives had in any case begun, that some advantage had already been gained, some damage already inflicted?
Also, that our release would only be into a larger holding pen, whose boundaries would
be at first undiscernible.”

“I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is

the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we
admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to
themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to
be careful of.”

History isn’t the lie of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”

“We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But its all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as fixative, rather as solvent. But its not convenient — Its not useful —  to believe this; it doesn’t help us to get on with our lives; so we ignore it.”

I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness. This is how it will be when I grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. Which ones I was not sure, only that passion and danger, ecstasy and despair (but then more ecstasy) would be in attendance. However…who said that thing about “the littleness of life that art exaggerates“? There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life.
But time…how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but we were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time…give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.”

“How often do we tell our own life stories? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? ANd the longer life goes on the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, told to others-but mainly to ourselves.”

Whisky, I find, helps clarity of thought. And reduces pain. It has the additional virtue of making you drunk or, if taken in sufficient quantity, very drunk.
{I personally love this :)}

I gave up on life, gave up on examining it, took it as it came. And so for the first time, I began to feel a more general remorse– a feeling somewhere between self-pity and self-hatred — about my whole life. All of it. I had lost the friends of my youth. I had lost the love of my wife. I had abandoned the ambitions I had entertained. I had wanted life life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded  — and how pitiful that was.”

“Our characters and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities. But that’s something different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except that character peaks a little later: between twenty and thirty, say. And after that we are just stuck with what we’ve got. We are on our own. If so, that would explain a lot of lives, wouldn’t it? Also, if this isn’t too grand a word — our tragedy.”

The question of accumulation, Adrian had written……..You bet on a relationship. It fails. You go on to the next relationship, it fails too: and may be what you lose is not two simple minus sums but the multiple of what you staked.”

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. Back then, you can remember your short life in its entirety. Later, the memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches. It’s a bit like the black box aeroplanes carry to record what happens in a crash. So if you do crash, it’s obvious why you did; if you don’t, the the log of your journey is much less clear.”

Someone once said that his favourite times in history were when things were collapsing, because that means something new is being born. Does this makes any sense if we apply it to our individual lives? Even if that something new is our very own self? Because just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“She was more smartly dressed this time; her hair was under control and seemed less grey. She somehow managed to look — to my eye — both twentyish and sixtyish at the same time.”

“I had been tempted, somehow, by the notion that we could excise most of our separate existences, could cut and splice the magnetic tape on which our lives are recorded, go back to that fork in the path and take the road less travelled, or rather not travelled at all.”

“I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory. So when this strange thing happened – when these new memories suddenly came upon me – it was as if, for that moment, time had been placed in reverse. As if, for that moment, the river run upstream.”

My philosopher friend (Adrian) who gazed on life and decided that, any responsible, thinking individual should have the right to reject this gift that had never been asked for — and whose noble gesture re-emphasised with each passing decade the compromise and littleness that most lives consist of. ‘Most lives’: my life.”

There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.”

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