The Sense of an Ending is a quiet novel that made me stop and consider. It is a meditation on memory–how we reinterpret past events. It is also about the lost opportunities of life.
Tony Webster begins the novel by considering his past, particularly his relationships with his pals from school. He and two other close friends chose to enlarge their circle to include a new boy, Adrian Finn, who was extremely intelligent and analytical. Adrian’s indifference to seeming cool made him very cool indeed. The four friends remained close throughout college and for awhile after, until Adrian committed suicide.
Tony also remembers his first serious relationship, with Veronica Ford, particularly an unpleasant weekend he spent with Veronica’s family. After they broke up, Adrian went on to date Veronica. He wrote Tony a letter apprising him of this as if he were asking permission to date her, and Tony’s recollection is that he ironically assented.
Tony has lead a comfortable life avoiding too much effort in his relationships. He sees himself as a “peaceable man.” He believes he understands the events from the past until he receives a legacy from Sarah Ford, Veronica’s mother–the only member of her family who seemed sympathetic during that long-ago visit. In addition to a small bequest, she has left him Adrian’s diary. This legacy confuses him. Why would a person he only met once leave him anything, and why would she possess Adrian’s diary? When Tony asks for it, he finds that Veronica has taken it.
In Tony’s attempts to gain the diary and his subsequent inquiries, he learns things that force him to re-examine and reinterpret his memories of long ago events and to reconsider the consequences of his own actions. He ends up also contemplating where his own life has gone and how he has evolved into this “peacable man” from a boy full of curiosity and promise.
This very short novel is crammed with thoughtful observations, often wittily and wryly expressed. I found myself turning back to re-read and reconsider certain passages, which is something I seldom do. Sparely and beautifully written, the novel is an excellent illustration of the use of an unreliable narrator.