Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More Thoughts on The Sense of an Ending


The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes received the Man Booker Prize yesterday. I think the award is deserved. I reviewed the book back in August and since then my post has received about 1,000 hits. Surprising I know. I think it's because this is a book that begs to be discussed and analyzed. Here's the link to my review. If you've read the book then do read the comments section because it's interesting to see how readers had different interpretations. Reading my review, I see that I had several questions at the time that were nagging at me  - Why did Veronica's mother leave the bequest to Tony? What did Veronica mean by 'blood money?' What did the carer mean by 'especially now?' Why did Barnes leave so many questions unanswered?

I still don't have the answers to these questions but since reading the book I saw for the second time the brilliant movie Caché (Hidden). It's a French-Austrian film written and directed by Michael Haneke. It has nothing whatsoever in common with The Sense of an Ending except for having unanswered questions in the end. After seeing the movie, I read an interview with Michael Haneke who said that if you  'come out wanting to know who (the culprit is), you didn't understand the film. To ask this question is to avoid asking the real question the film raises. Films that are entertainment give simple answers but I think that's ultimately more cynical, as it denies the viewer room to think. If there are more answers at the end, then surely it is a richer experience.'

After seeing that movie, I thought again of The Sense of an Ending and realized that Haneke's words could be applied to Barnes' book. It was Barnes intention not to give all the answers but to actually leave more questions. However, I was asking all the wrong questions. Maybe the right ones are - What is memory? Do we accurately remember events in our past? Could we unintentionally have blocked out some memories?

24 comments:

  1. I haven't read this book, although it's been on my own 'longlist' since hearing a raving review on CBC a few months back. You know the story, so many book, so little time...

    I'm fascinated by the evolution of your thinking about this story. I read your initial review. Obviously, receiving 800 hits on your blog says a great deal about the interest, curiosity and questions the story created in you and your readers. Isn't that amazing!

    And months later, you continued to ponder the story. That, for me, is a testament to the book's quality.

    Great post! Thanks.

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  2. @Deborah Serravalle - Thank you for commenting. Yes, it's amazing how much this book has evolved in my thoughts. It has certainly helped that I was able to discuss it with other readers. You must read this book. It's only about 150 pages and beautifully written.

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  3. I rarely read the Booker winners or short-lists but I'm interested in this book. Your reviews have intrigued me.

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  4. Hi Mrs. B,
    Very nice post! This books does seem to be about the questions it raises, and also about Barnes' beautiful writing if I may add.

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  5. Hi Mrs B,
    Your initial questions were not irrelevant as i see it. Can we find out smthing in adrian's diary page and tony's realization of that. again why adrian mentions tony in that mathematical eqation has left me confused. as tony understands that the child is adrian and veronica's mother. is that why adrian kills himself?
    Pranav Khoche

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  6. I posted this somewhere else but my answers are: I believe that if tony hadn't written the letter telling adrian to talk to the mother adrian wouldn't have known about the damaged brother and if veronica was already pregnant by adrian the mother would have urged an abortion and adrian would have killed himself in despair and the blood money was because the mother would have wanted the abortion and would be thanking tony for telling adrian to talk to the mother and the carer said "especially right now" because the boy's real mother (veronica's mother) had just died and he was especially upset by the loss of his mother. That's what I think.

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  7. tony is mentioned in the mathematical equation because him telling them in the letter to ask the mother and learning about the brother is a major factor in the decision about whether or not veronica should have the baby. Also tony laid kind of a curse on the baby in the letter saying it would be damaged. because of the brother they might have factored in the curse. it would have spooked them at least. I believe.

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  8. And the comment if tony knew referred to if tony knew about the brother is that why he dumped veronica because veronica seems to feel as if she was dumped. so tony wouldn't want her because he would be worried that any child of theirs would be damaged.

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  9. If Tony had not sent a letter suggesting that Adrian speak to Veronica's mother then maybe Adrian would not have gone on to have a sexual relationship with Veronica's mother. The consequences of this affair were devastating to everyone involved. The child which came from this relationship was handicapped, Veronica's father began to drink more heavily leading to his death from oesophageal cancer, and Adrian himself could not cope with the results of his action and commits suicide. Veronica remained single, devastated by the fact that Adrian was happy in the months of his affair with her mother and not with her.None of this would have happened if Tony had not sent the letter. Adrian analyses how the situation came about and how Tony's contribution was the catalyst to disaster. he puts it into a mathematical equation to try and make sense of it all. The idea of everyone having a responsibility for each other's happiness and self worth reminds me a little of 'An Inspector Calls '! The reader is asked to review his own life and contemplate on his contribution to others' lives and in particular those memories of actions carried out in angry haste.

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  10. Barnes' novel seems to have studied the plot of that film "Damage" which was in turn based on a novel by Josephine Hart (?name)and adapted it to the opposite gender/sex. Barnes' work is atmospheric,broody and perceptive, but ultimately forgettable .. he is trying to do something with the intrigue of sex, the occult and psychology which doesn't come off... Still, it's readable

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  11. what's bothering me is the 'secret horizontal gesture beneath a sunlit wisteria' ... when at the original farewell (when Tony left after the weekend) he noted that the mother didn't wave the way other people do ...

    was she trying to tell him something? what was 'secret' about the gesture? was Veronica trying to set her mum up to begin with - as in 'he'll do' (what she said to her brother)?

    I loved how we the reader had to flip back in pages to reform our own ideas like Tony did - clever novel but the secret gesture is really bugging me! ... can anyone shed light??!

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  12. I don't know why mrs ford made the gesture, but it was a gesture of getting rid, of a permanent wiping out. I think.

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  13. Mrs Ford made this gesture, because she observed Tony jerking into the sink before he went to bed. So she knew that he would not be a sex-partner for her this night. Although she would have liked him. She speaks bad about her own daughter because she wanted to have him. In the morning, when she cooks the eggs, one of them was destroyed and she laughs. This is may be a symbol for the lost (destroyed) sperm of Tony.
    Tony believes that Mrs. Ford is the only "normal" person in this family. In fact this is the only crazy one and Tony is responsible to have made Adrian trust in Mrs. Ford...
    this is just my humble opinion...

    (I read it in German. There is many discussion in german boards, but no one has a really convincing solution)

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    1. I like this solution to be honest. Just trying to remember if the gesture was in this order to his masturbation and the eggs. if it is, i like this argument alot.

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  14. I feel that this book is more about our false perceptions of people and situations. Tony felt that Adrian had it all together, which proved to be the opposite. He felt Mrs. Ford was the "normal" person in the family, obviously not. He had many beliefs about how things where. False perceptions...the conundrum of the ego and not being able to see beyond your own noses. Anyway...just my opinion/perception ;)

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  15. How do I feel after reading this book: There is unrest. There is great unrest.

    I just read for book club and our meeting isn't until the end of Feb. can't wait that long to discuss and ran across this blog. I think the point of the book is NOT to try and figure it out BUT I can't help it. Here are my thoughts(which probably won't hold up to scrutiny or time line logistics of the book)


    - I think that Adrian Jr was, in fact, Veronica's child by Tony and that is why she was SO VERY angry with him.

    - After tony and veronica broke up they had sex - so it is conceivalble that the baby is Tony's.

    - Veronica and Adrian fall in love. Perhaps they romanticize that they can raise the baby together. the baby is born with disabilities and Adrian can't handle it - he's an intellectual and raising a baby is way to "real" for him. He rationalizes his way to suicide. Veronica, distraught and unable to accept responsibility basically abandons the baby to her mother, Sarah. Sarah raises the baby as her own. Veronica is presented as his sister. Veronica is a bitter and mean bitch because she feels guilty for not being able to rise to the occasion and raise the baby. She blames Tony for everything - getting her pregnant and ultimately for Adrian's suicide.

    - Veronica tells Tony over and over again that he "doesn't get it". So, I think he still doesn't get it in the end. He assumes the baby is Adrian and Sarah's but once again, in the words of veronica. "you don't get it. you never have you never will".

    - Tony is a coward and lacks the ability to really look at himself and see the truth. I think the hateful letter that we saw was probably the real Tony. He is ashamed of his behaviour, he may even suspect that Adrian is his but won't admit it.

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    1. This is the only explanation for me that rings true regarding Veronica's behaviour and her words to Tony. What else could explain those very words? And in a novella like this, there are so few words that we know each one is packed with significance.

      However, I do think the bigger picture, like others have said, is a flawed memory of a life and the musings about time.

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  16. I loved this book...especially the discussion of "What is History?"
    a)The lies of the victors (Tony Webster)
    b)Self-delusions of the defeated (Old Joe Hunt)
    c)Same old story, same old oscillation between tyranny and rebellion, war and peace, prosperity and impoverishment (Colin)
    d)Certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation (Adrian…quoting Patrick Lagrange)

    I thought question/analysis was the essence of the the book

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  17. Glad to know I wasn't the only one confused! I think the Anonymous letter on Jan.28th presents some very good points. Certainly makes the "you never will get it" comment from Veronica to Tony make more sense. Not sure how much time lapsed between Tony and Veronica breaking up and Adrian coming on the scene.
    I read the book in one day and meant to go back over the ending....but it was due at the library.

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  18. Why did the caregiver say Veronica's name was Mary.

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  19. I have just finished reading the book and am looking for more analysis...and found this site

    My fantasies are as follows.

    Sarah Ford leaves the diary to Tony becasue we all want people to know the truth about our heart. I can admit to that desire in myself, wanting to leave some trace or evidence (printed emails) so that some one will know the turth about my affairs of the heart, and I would not leave such documents to my children..but thats my projection...my interpretation saying as much about me as it does about the hostory

    Second the blood money question...this is Veronica's explanation for why her mother Sarah Ford is "paying off" Tony...so why would Veronica feel this? If we put ourselves into her shoes, she has fallen in love with Adrian, and her mother Sarah Ford, usurps her by taking Adrian for herself. Mother and duaghter are in competition, perhaps not for the first time...We feel this through Tony when Sarah Ford (mother) tells him not to let Veronica get her way....the two were perhaps in intense competition....and an alcoholic father who was sidelined...perhaps this was her Veronica's damage...So perhaps a blood money payment to Tony for his responsibility in destroying Veronica in Adrian's eyes and promoting the sanity of Sarah Ford. But again, we have to see blood money through Veronica's eyes, not through some objective analysis of Sarah and Tony. Perhaps there is no trust between mother and daughter...so everything Sarah does is a betrayal, and so payments to third parties are blood money.

    And then ..."especially now"...the carer says this because she assumes Tony knows that son Adrian's mother is Sarah Ford, who has recently died and as Terry says "he took it very baldy...he has been having problems lately" . She assumes Tony knows the complete story, yet at this point Tony doesnt even know that son Adrian is not Veronica's but Sarahs

    And what of the formulae. Why should we accept Tony's interpretation. Tony guesses that A2 is him...but could A2 be future son/daughter eventually named Adrian....and not "b" for baby. Perhaps b means something else, like behaviour or accumulation...whatever, but why should we accept Tony's self centricity in the interpretation? It feels flimsy, the point being, we accept it becasue we want certainty and no ambiguity....but the formula is so ambigiuous, it can mean anything, but we, the readers cant cope with that...especially at the end of the novel...we have to have certainty....so we believe his interpretation, yet we are disappointed...but we prefer disappointment over uncertainty.

    perhaps...and perhaps not...perhaps its just me who prefers disappointment over uncertainty. This is how solopsism, my mind...can make sense of my world...there is no objective truth, just as Barnes posits.

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  20. I just finished the book and came across this discussion. I read it straight through and was initially caputued by Barnes questioning of memory and the competing definitions of history. I was also drawn in by Tony's musings on his own "peacable" nature and how that may have impacted his life and marriage. The narrative was secondary until the rather bizzare twists at the end.

    While the theory that Tony was the father of the baby is compelling, the timeline does not work. the baby would have been born prior to the exchange of letters. Also, Veronica always told Tony the he didn't get it and never would, even when they where dating. I think she always loved him and he was never able to see it. his lack of confidence and blindness to her affection ultimately caused her irrational behavior, both in youth and at end on story.

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  21. For what it's worth, my take on it was that Adrian killed himself because he found out that he was madly in love with his own sister. He was said to have been very happy before his death, but obviously couldn't continue to be with her once he found out. The child of their union suffered genetically from the close kinship. The reference to blood money could mean that Tony was a Judas betraying someone he supposedly loved. The Sense of an Ending sure rang true in that many of our life events look completely different in retrospect than they did while taking place. Takes a great book to engender so many discussions and keep us talking even after the last page is turned.

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  22. My analysis of the book is the following: Sarah had an unnatural relationship with Tony. The breakfast scene, fliratious, laughing; she wrote to him after he and Veronica broke up. Tony does not admit to himself what actually happened at the Fords - he had a sexual relation with Sarah.

    Hence, Tony knew about her sexual proclivities and he basically baited Adrian to meet secretly with Sarah to find out about the damaged Veronica. I think Veronica left Tony (as he reflects intermittently on her with great fondness)and Tony had the grudge to bear. When Adrian subsequently gets together with Sarah, they have a relationship resulting in the child, Adrian.

    The blood money is Sarah's gift to Tony for 'delivering' another of Veronica's boyfriends to her. She wants the secret to be known. This is the shocker for Tony because he knew of Sarah's wiles.

    "[E]specially now" comment was meant to speak of Adrian's recent death of his mother Sarah.

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