The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a difficult book to review. Although I enjoyed reading it, I still feel somewhat in the dark about certain aspects of it. It has an apt title because for days, I was trying to make sense of not only the ending but the whole book. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the readers of my blog emailed me just to discuss it. Thank you Robert for your insights. I'm also enjoying the conversation going on at the comment section of Kevin from Canada's blog. Please do check it out if you've read the book. This is a novel that begs to be discussed.

Tony Webster is in his mid-sixties when he receives a letter from a lawyer with an unusual bequest from the mother of Veronica, an ex-girlfriend of his from 40 years before. He is left some money and the diary of his old school chum Adrian. Veronica makes it impossible for Tony to acquire the diary so what follows is Tony's recollection of that period of his life. Why did Adrian commit suicide shortly after hooking up with Veronica? Does Tony remember things accurately or has the passage of time blurred the truth?

After finishing The Sense of an Ending I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. After discussing it with others, I was able to understand it more. However, the more I analyzed it, the less I liked it. Although it is very well-written, I thought it was ultimately an unsatisfactory and frustrating read.

(Spoilers) The essence of the novel is how a flippant action can have severe repercussions. In this case, Tony's action of writing that letter to Adrian and Veronica wherein he condemns their relationship and predicts a lifetime of unhappiness for them. By some twist of fate, many of Tony's youthful conjectures came true. Tony at first recalled the letter as being brief and trivial. Later, Barnes brilliantly conveys the remorse Tony feels when confronted with a copy of the letter and how long, angry and vindictive it actually was. Nevertheless, I don't think Tony is to blame for what happened to Adrian and Veronica's family. He was a young man who was obviously hurt when he wrote the letter. Looking back, it's easy to lay the blame on him. But how many flippant actions have we ourselves done in the past? How do we know what effects they could have had?

I suppose it was Barnes' intention to deliberately leave the ending open to interpretation. However, I wasn't very happy with the double twist in the end. I think I would have liked this book more if the child turned out to be Veronica's and not her mother's. I still can't understand why Veronica felt so angry at Tony and why she blames him for something that happened 40 years ago. Somehow, if the child had been hers, it would have all made sense. Instead we are left wondering why Veronica still feels so bitter about it all. 

While The Sense of an Ending is a good book and I'm glad I read it, it's not a great one because at least for me it left more questions than answers. Given the competition, I think it does deserve to be on the Man Booker shortlist but I'm not sure it deserves the prize. It would definitely make an excellent book club choice because it will generate a lot of discussion and divide readers. And if generating discussion is an important point for the Man Booker judges then I can see this novel being the winner.

If you have read the book, then can you please answer the following questions? From what I understood from the last few pages, Tony may have had the answers to these questions but chose not to share them with us.

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?'

One reader commented that we, as readers, are not meant to know everything since we are seeing it all from Tony's point of view. He is left in the dark about a few things in the end. However, I think Tony should have pursued Veronica and her brother for more answers. It was frustrating that Tony, who in the book appeared to be of a curious nature, was happy to end his novel with too many open ended questions. 

UPDATE: The Sense of an Ending won the Man Booker Prize for 2011. Read my latest thoughts on the book here.


  1. I was curious about this one and yours is the first review I've read. Sorry it wasn't more enjoyable for you.

  2. I'm looking forward to reading this one - - I don't always like Julian Barne's writing, but I think I will like this.

  3. "... it left more questions than answers". That's a big turn-off for me, and it can ruin all the pleasure I had from the rest of the book (sort of like the ending of Lost :P).

    But it's generating a lot of debate, and that's usually enough to convince me to try it.

  4. @Alex - I think the book is worth reading and it will make a good choice for one of your book clubs.

  5. Hi,
    Very nice and comprehensive discussion! I completely agree with the points you have raised about the ending. It just felt so out of line with the rest of the narration. Tony's feeling responsible for the events just because he had written that letter forty years back seems childish at best.
    But as I mentioned in my blog, apart from the end I really enjoyed the novel, I think it is quite beautifully written.
    BTW I am blogrolling you. You have a very nice blog here :)
    Best wishes!

  6. Beautifully written as it is it made no sense. Maybe Tony was seduced that weekend by Sarah (Veronica's mother) and Adrian (the son of Veronica's mother that is) was the result. Tony repressed that memory - after all the novel is about the unreliability of memory/history. Might explain Veronica's rage - "you just dont get it" etc. Does this sound plausible? C

    1. I found the idea about being seduced by Sarah interesting and plausible but somehow I did not think that is what happened even though I am still trying to work out the symbolism of the broken egg Sarah threw away and the cooked breakfast as well as her parting hand gesture. Did anyone pick up hints of incest or am I imaging too much? What 'damage' is Tony hinting at? There was something so poignant about this novel; Barnes captures the mores, prejudices and ambience of the late sixties succinctly and I had no trouble relating to Tony.

    2. Right after finishing the book I also thought that Tony had father the baby. The reference in the second to last paragraph to Veronica's mother making a secret, a horizontal gesture; what secret could Tony and Veronica's mom have had? But, even in that paragraph Tony refers to the baby as Adrian's son. I just finish the novel, but I will make it a point over the next few day to make sense of its ending. I'm still confused; why the suicide? the blood money? . . .

    3. I thought it possible that Tony had a brief affair with Veronica's mother and that later, in his vindictive letter to Adrian and Veronica, had actually planted the seed for Adrian to go down the same encouraging him to seek her out and to "ask about her daughter." Therefore, Veronica (somewhat unfairly) blames Tony for starting this whole cascading series of events. An inconvenient episode that Tony has blocked from his memory but that we only gain from the "horizontal gesture" line and his "great unrest" in the book's last words.

      I don't think that Barnes is suggesting that either Tony or Veronica have it completely correct. Veronica is certainly damaged from her mother's actions and she is holding Tony for many complicated reasons that go beyond the circumstances of her half-brother's birth 40 years earlier. And of course we have here mainly Tony's subjective side of the story and only his growing and final terrible realization that his actions were in some way partially responsible for the eventual suicide of his friend and the implosion of Veronica's family.

  7. @Anonymous - I think it was very clear that the child wasn't Tony's but Adrian's. There's a passage where Tony describes how the son looks a lot like the father.

    1. Selvam, SivagangaiDecember 5, 2012 at 5:37 PM

      I agree.

    2. I agree as well. This circumstance might also account for Adrian's suicide--Adrian couldn't cope with an imperfect child.

  8. Hi Mrs. B!
    I think Veronica held Tony responsible for what happened with her mother and Adrian. The letter he wrote said something about how Adrian should get to know Veronica's mother, and maybe it was like a Mrs. Robinson kind of moment. Maybe she left him the money thinking he'd feel himself responsible for Adrian's suicide and it was to let him know he shouldn't; OR maybe it was just a plot device to start Tony looking at his past.

    In other words, there are many interpretations here!

    Nice review, by the way and very thoughtfully presented.

  9. Nancy O I like your idea. Its more consistent than mine but still a bit of a stretch - particularly as regards the money bequest to Tony. This novel is a bit like a lateral thinking problem but I am thinking that it is almost too opaque for its own good.. Is Julian Barnes having a bit of a laugh maybe?

  10. I found this a painful read, I have to say. It was definitely readable, I will say that. So, the judges of the Man Booker have achieved what they set out to do; present us with a shortlist full of books that are readable and won't stay half-read on the shelf. But is it worth reading? I'm not so sure. I agree with others, the ending was peculiar. When you have diligently read through a book, only to stumble on a half baked answer to a riddle that's been the driving force throughout, and to find that riddle explained in a paragraph, a page from the end, and in no terms satisfactorily either... it's very frustrating! It reminded me of other books that had similar 'it was all just a dream' type ending (Life of Pi). I was left, as I am now realising many of us were, sitting there reading and re-reading those last couple of pages, trying to make sense of it. The protagonist, Tony, talks us through every thought running through his head the entire book, and then doesn't have anything to say or think at the big revelation. This was like the literary equivelant of Michael Haneke's 'Hidden' (Cache), though without the finesse. Hugely disappointing. Especially as this is tipped as the favourite to win.

  11. Thank you for this.
    I raced through that book because someone had a reserve on it at the library and when I finished it, I had all the questions you just asked, especially, why she will the book & the money to Tony in the first place.
    I thought I'd either just read it too fast or that maybe I was just being thick.

  12. @Anonymous - I agree about your comparison to Cache (Hidden). That movie was completely riveting but in the end it fell flat and that's exactly the feeling I had with The Sense of an Ending. I've been wanting to watch Cache again actually to see if the answers are clearer with a second viewing.

  13. Hi...have just this minute finished the book. Really enjoyed it but found myself 'googling' the finale as I too was unsure about the ending - hence how I found this blog. LIke other 'posters' I found myself re-reading the final 2 pages but am still none the wiser. Although 'Mrs.B's' comment about the passage where Tony notices the "son looks like the Father" makes sense. Still, the theme throughout the book is memory and Tony is the epitome of the 'unreliable narrator' so the ambiguity of the ending is perhaps a very clever device that Barnes has used. It reminds me of the ending of the Sopranos - I still have no idea what's happened but very much enjoy the debate. Much like we are doing now.....

  14. @Mark Glover - It's been over a month since I've finished and I'm none the wiser either. Yes, maybe Tony is an unreliable narrator. I never thought of that actually.

  15. I just finished it last week and was pretty disappointed. I agree with NancyO in that Veronica held Tony responsible for what happened between herself and Adrian, although I think she may have left him the money because of how positively Adrian viewed Tony. I get the impression that she didn't think very much of her daughter.

    In terms of the unreliable narrator . . . I think it's less that Tony himself is unreliable and more that his memory -- all of our memories are unreliable.

    Anyway, I'm planning to post a review within the next week or so, so come on over and check it out! (Also, I see you're reading the Night Circus, and we're going to discuss that as well. Can't wait to see what you think!)

  16. I have just finished the novel and enjoyed it very much. So much was discussed in such a short novel that it was a whirlwind of analysis that possibly flew by too quickly. I had to re-read the paragraph when Tony found out Mrs Ford was the mother and not Veronica a few times before it sunk in!
    One conclusion that struck me after thinking about Mrs Ford was the possibility that Tony and Mrs Ford slept together and that this was something that Tony blcked from his mind. Two things go some way to 'support' (I use this term loosely) this scenario as a possibility:

    "She didn't bother to answer, just smiled at me, almost as if we had a secret." Could it be that Tony slept with Veronica's mum the second evening or while the rest of the family was out the first morning when Tony had slept in?
    Also, the odd wave Mrs Ford gave Tony when he was driven away; it was a wave that Mrs Ford seemed to not want anyone else to see.
    Tony's recollections are from a long time after these events...did guilt block this memory from his memory? He does later receive a letter from Mrs Ford (not long after Tony and Veronica are no longer together.) Also, he does tell Adrian (in the vicious letter he wrote to him) he should go and see Veronica's mum as well which, in the context of the letter, could possibly indicate that he would surely 'get some' from her.
    This is just a thought anyway, and gives reason for the inclusion of the visit to Veronica's house in the novel.

    I look forward to seeing what else people come up with about the book.

    1. Wow... I think that you're pretty spot on. Given Tony's admitted selective memory (Barnes repeatedly touches on the ambiguous nature how history is recounted), Sara's correspondence with Tony and his inclusion in her will 40 years later, Adrian Jr's discomfort around Tony and Veronica's angry frustration that that Tony just doesn't get it and never will.

  17. Although it’s creative to think the plausibility of Tony sleeping with Mrs. Ford, I consider it highly unlikely. We, as humans may forget many things, but we damn well know if we slept with someone…On a separate note, I felt deprived of knowing more about what happened in Veronica’s life all those years after Tony.

  18. I enjoyed your review, and agree, it's a very difficult book to review. I'm not sure what you meant, though, that the ending was open to interpretation? My own thoughts are on my blog, here.

  19. @Joel - What I meant by 'it's open to interpretation' means that everyone will have a different take on it and that's exactly what Barnes wanted I think. It's kind of like that movie Cache (Hidden) by Michael Haneke. In an interview, Haneke said that if you are still trying to figure out who the culprit is then you're missing the entire point of the film.

  20. Well now that JB has won the Booker with this novel I suppose we will all view it through a different coloured lens. I think, as has been hinted at earlier in this blog, that there is no answer to the opaque ending and that this is quite deliberate on the part of JB. Well at least it has engaged everyone's interest (and of course it is beautifully written), but maybe the book would have been better named No sense in the ending"....

  21. To answer Mrs. B's questions and follow up on my last post:

    *Why did Veronica's mother leave the bequest to Tony?
    It was a secret she'd kept for 40 years - but didn't want to go to her grave without sharing. She didn't want to destroy her own family by telling them - so she chose someone who knew Adrian instead. Who else could she tell but the one person she knew was his friend (as far as she knew): Tony. Unfortunately, Veronica found out...

    *What did Veronica mean by 'blood money'?
    Exactly what she said. She sees her mother as complicit in Adrian's death - in the sense that he killed himself when he found out he'd made her pregnant. To absolve herself of "guilt" or "make amends", Sarah paid the only one of Adrian's "kin" left (presumably Adrian's mother and father were either not known to her, dead or deemed unsuitable to tell?). This is, remember, Veronica's version of events - plus she's deliberately being sarcastic, obviously. There's no evidence Sarah herself felt remorse (She calls Adrian's last few months "happy", callerd her son "Adrian" and her note to Tony displays no malice or regret towards Adrian). Quite why she actually leaves £500 is unclear - she clearly feels unhappy about how he was treated at their house - it could be simply repayment for that episode. Or - as others have said - it could be to grab his attention.

    *What did the carer mean by 'especially now?'
    Slightly more obvious this one. It's just that Adrian Jr. is still traumatised by his mother's death 6 months ago - so is sensitive. Presumably, Veronica/Mary has not told him (nor perhaps anyone) what she discovered about his real father yet. Perhaps the name "Adrian", originally given by her Mum in homage to her (Veronica's) dead boyfriend, which initially seemed sweet and sensitive, has also come back to haunt her - now that it has overtones of someone who so thoroughly betrayed her.

    1. I think Sarah Ford leaves the money and the diary to Tony, because she did in fact have a brief affair with him when he visited the house with her daughter. Other readers have suggested that the quote "sleep the sleep of the wicked" which Tony remembers (a repressed memory that surfaces in the second part of the book, after Sarah Ford's letter) as a statement by Veronica, is likely something that Sarah Ford says to him after their liaison. He knows she is dangerous, yet he expressly tells Adrian to consult with the mother...thus he plants the seeds of the destruction of Adrian and Veronica's relationship, and he feels partly responsible for the birth of the damaged Adrian Jr. If he was truly a friend to Adrian, he would not have propelled him into the dangerous grip of Veronica's mother.

    2. Nick - you made me think again about Veronica and of her never knowing the truth until she found the diary, that could explain why she was so bitter..
      Another question: why did she never marry? it didn't say so but you got the impression she didn't - that wasn't explained either.

  22. The Booker prize prompted me to reread this novel. I very much shared Mrs. B's questions and dissatisfaction after my first reading. However, initially I came to roughly the same conclusion Mrs. B herself seems to have done now: following the plot twists was not the point. Tony's experience was story and proved a good example of how life is never fully “answered”; our "sense of an ending" is only satisfied in fiction.

    After a re-read I find I'm coming to precisely the opposite conclusion: the plot points are just as interesting as Tony's story - and the fact he fails to notice what's really going on, is testament to his general insensitivity and solipsism (which comes across as "mystery" to the reader who has no access to an alternative narrative). Although Tony's experience is certainly interesting, in many ways he is surely the least interesting character in what is a pretty dramatic story in the background. Let's recap the plot points of the "real story", as best we know them (assuming this will not spoil anything for anyone):

    * Tony goes out with Veronica - they break up
    * About 3-6 months later Veronica takes up with Adrian, Tony's friend
    * A year after the break up Tony sends a violent "curse" to both of them (but it's very POSSIBLE only Adrian saw it - would YOU show your girlfriend the letter?)
    * 3 months later Adrian kills himself
    * Somewhere in there Adrian slept with/had an affair with Sarah, Veronica's mother
    * Sarah gives birth to a mentally disabled child after Adrian's death

    Now - let's think about it from Veronica's perspective. How would you feel if you found out your Mum had slept with and got pregnant from your boyfriend? Angry, right? So angry it would be unlikely you'd ever want anything to do with the child of that partnership if you knew. So did Veronica know? What if she thought, for 40 years, that Adrian Jr. was just another brother by her father – and only found out the truth from the diary? What if her anger was still raw from this discovery, after intercepting a document that she was never meant to read?

    Who would she blame? Her mum - certainly. Adrian - probably. Trouble is, they're both dead. The only person who remains is Tony - who for some reason has the diary bequeathed to him. She probably only just found the letter Tony sent Adrian for the first time 40 years later (there's no explicit evidence she read it sooner or that Adrian showed it to her - Tony just assumes this). It’s clear that this was probably sparked things off. “The bastard”, she must think. With no-one else around to blame, she wants him to feel responsible - she wants him to suffer as she did when she first found out. She gradually reveals what impact he had on the affair, on Adrian, on the child. But all of this anger and vengeance is displaced from the people who were really to "blame": Adrian and Sarah.

    Excuse the dramatic license above but this seems to me a pretty plausible mode of thought for Veronica - and a likely cause and effect if she only discovered the diary and its contents herself recently (my hypothesis). In this version of events, she is hellbent on making Tony - only tangentially involved in this scandal - the scapegoat for her anger. Tony swallows it hook, line and sinker - selfish as he is. In some ways he may want to feel guilty - having had such a "peaceable" life, he may want to feel like he had some involvement (even responsibility) with the most dramatic story he's ever heard of in his lifetime.

    In summary, the book is about Tony, an old man who has had an uneventful life, discovering a scandalous truth about his friend and attributing responsibility for the event to his own actions, while oblivious to how minor his involvement really was. It is a diary of self-denial and indulgent remorse - a man half-awaking to his own lies he tells to and about himself - but not enough to stretch to seeing the whole truth.

    1. I've come late to this thread. I think that Nick Wright's comments make a great deal of sense. Also I feel that we have to take two points into consideration: 1. This book is about memory and memory is unreliable. 2. Because memory is unreliable Tony will be an unreliable narrator. 3. The book is written from Tony's point of view therefore the sensibilities and the conclusions it draws will be limited and confined by that character. I feel that what some reviewers are looking for is some sort of Authorial comment/exposition (Jane Austin or Charles Dickens like) which will not happen in a book of this nature. Lastly I feel that we need to bear in mind the theme that threads throughout this book 'this is not part of this story' ie. it hints that there are many different stories available (for example, what happened to Jack, why Veronica's mother left Tony £500) but which this particular book: The Sense of An Ending simply doesn't pursue. From my point of view I am keen to know how Veronica's mother got hold of the diary. I am assuming that Adrian did have an affair with her, that she told him about the pregnancy and that he killed himself and left the diary to her. But of course we don't know that because it isn't part of THIS story. It is possible (likely even) that Veronica knows the full story because she had/has the diary - but we will never know because as the book ends she has not revealed the truth to Tony. Tony has incomplete knowledge, therefore he draws conclusions which are subjective (this doesn't mean that his concusions are wrong, simply that we as readers can't divine the truth) and because of this is it means that he is an unreliable narrator.

      OK - that said has anyone noticed the similarity in theme (sort of), language (in places) and narrator device to that other quite brilliant book the Great Gatsby?

    2. I have only just read the book and discovered this thread in the process of trying to make sense of it. And there's one last point that none of the blogs has raised which continues to boggle my mind. Can anyone explain to me why, why, why the mentally retarded Adrian refers to Veronica as "Mary"? I fear my question reveals the extreme of my own stupidity. And how cleverly JB makes us all complicit in that stupidity, that obtuseness which symbolizes all of Tony's interactions; how successfully he leaves us feeling that we "just don't get it" either... In fact if there is one criticism I would offer of this quite brilliant book, it is that the author is sneering at his readers just a leeetle too much, that he is playing cat and mouse with us such a few times too many, that there is a degree of vindictiveness, a trace of gratuitous cruelty here which cannot in the long run make this a truly great book. If a reader is only left with the legacy of his/her own failure to grasp the multiple layers of meaning in a book, will its imaginative power "last" in the long run? Will it continue to feed the mind and satisfy the heart with its richness, its humanity? One can interpret events in every way possible to make sense of Veronica's rage but one does wonder whether it might not lead Tony to take actions that even she might regret "in the end". Were she less ready to blame when and if she ever learnt of them...

    3. "attributing responsibility for the event to his own actions, while oblivious to how minor his involvement really was". If that was the case, why would Adrian's diary's equations involve Tony. That would imply even Adrian thinks Anthony's involvement was worth attributing responsibility to, and Adrian has been painted out to be rather logical and moral and truthful.

    4. I enjoyed reading this thread very much. This may be a small thing, but I think it's worth drawing attention to the several references in the book to Ted Hughes - the poet who famously (or infamously) destroyed sections of the diaries of his ex-wife Sylvia Plath after her suicide (as Veronica destroys Adrian's diary). The world was furious at Hughes; they deserved clear answers, they insisted, and believed that the missing pages of the diaries would cast a crucial light onto the final state of mind of their beloved literary genius. But Plath and Hughes's children deserved protection, Hughes argued, and that need was paramount to history's need for clear answers - or, more cynically, to its simple curiosity to "know what happened." They deserved protection from the violence of their mother's final state of mind, Hughes argued. Is Tony being grossly insensitive by demanding to know "the truth" when a greater reality is at stake: the feelings of Veronica, her mother Susan, and Adrian Jr, who were far more affected by Adrian's life than he ever was? When Tony's friendship with Adrian dissolved, he moved on with his life; but Veronica, Susan, and Adrian Jr. were never able to fully remove him from their lives. Veronica was likely devastated by the fact that her boyfriend (her "true love"?) had an affair (and possibly left her for?) her mother -- a mother, who, from the beginning, doesn't seem to have much respect for her. Her mother badmouths her to her first boyfriend (Tony) and then flirts with him, and then actually sleeps with her second boyfriend (Adrian). Tony believed that Veronica was "damaged", most likely by her alcoholic father; but the evidence is that her mother was, in fact, the far more destructive parent, despite the fact that, initially, she appears to be the most like-able member of the family. We don't know very much about Adrian's personal life except that he came from a "broken home;" his mother left the family when he was young for reasons that he either does not understand himself or chooses not to disclose to Tony. Either way, it does lay the grounds for Adrian having "mommy-issues," thus making him more prone to seeking the affections of an older woman (Susan). Adrian, for all his intelligence and self-discipline, is a broken man, ultimately incapable of reconciling logic with reality. He certainly leaves behind a trail of broken lives and hearts. Memory, history, and perception are mysterious, and the book asks whether it is better to have less or more information. Are you wiser for knowing more? If so, then why, asks the book, are the events right in front of us often more difficult to grasp than the events of distant history, such as the Roman Empire? Does distance give us clarity - or simply less information and fewer testimonies to contradict our version of events? Does Tony really need Adrian's diary to understand what happened? Or does history manage to reveal itself to Tony despite the missing diary? The essence of history is that "Something happened," says Adrian when he is a young history student. But "what happened" is what is (at least for most of us) so hard to understand.

    5. Nick, the explanation you give is perfect and i feel so much better about the book because of it. Ultimately i felt unsatisfied by it even though I enjoyed it. You have cleared up things nicely for me. Thank you.

  23. @Nick - Thanks for commenting. Your points are very interesting but one thing I find hard to believe is that all this was news to Veronica or the rest of her family. Tony said the half-brother was the image of Adrian plus he was actually called Adrian. I think Veronica knew from way back about the affair with her mom and that the child was his. Why else would you call your son after your daughter's dead boyfriend who also committed suicide? It's possible she only read the diary now and thus was pointed to the fact that Tony somehow led Adrian to her mother and that's what makes her hostile towards Tony.

    I like your ideas about Tony though portraying his part in everything as bigger than it actually was. This was just a moment in time. In a way, Veronica's wounds may have been reopened because of her mother's death. On a totally different note, I find it strange that the child Adrian called Veronica Mary. I wonder why.

    It's certainly confusing because we all have so many questions but I think we can run around in circles with this book because there are no real answers.

  24. @ Mrs B. Thanks for replying - sorry for the long post!

    I guess then I find it hard to understand why Veronica would want anything to do with Adrian Jr, if she knew he was the child of her Mum's affair with her boyfriend. That's the main reason I became suspicious of her relationship with him - which seemed so warm and genuinely affectionate (indeed the only time you hear her described that way). I guess I couldn't imagine her being that way if she knew all along. Just look at how she held a grudge against Tony for 40 years!

    I admit that Adrian Jr. looking like Adrian Sr. is a minor setback against my theory ;-) - though I find that this is something that could after all be something realised only much later (it requires you to think something could have happened, to notice it). Naming the son Adrian, after Adrian Sr. who was probably very "involved" with the family before he died, doesn't seem strange to me and would conceivably seemed appropriate to Veronica.

    Then again, this could all be bogus. I suppose 40 years could have been long enough for Veronica to have forgiven her Mum (who never seemed to have any remorse for her actions herself and clearly still had a lot of affection for Adrian even in her testament) - or at least got to know her half-brother. Perhaps she was herself so in love with Adrian that merely seeing someone in his likeness prompted an irresistible loving urge. I find it unlikely given her personality though.

    What I also find completely unlikely is that Veronica genuinely thought Tony had much to do with Adrian and her Mum getting together. Re-reading the letter, the only mention of Sarah is in a flippant, throwaway insult against Veronica "Even her own mother warned me against her. If I were you I'd check things out with Mum...". If anything happened between Adrian and Sarah, this letter was very unlikely to have been the cause. Much more likely that Sarah was simply an amoral flirt and Adrian fell for it - and they were always going to meet at some point, so i don't think Tony in any way "drove" him to her (she also flirted with Tony, who just didn't get it). I can imagine Veronica channelling her rage at Tony due to a) reading the letter which insulted her pretty badly (whether or not she had read it before is up for debate) b) her mother inexplicably choosing to give him Adrian's diary (instead of her?) c) reopened/new wounds due to remembering/discovering the main scandal - with Tony being the only outlet for her anger.

    Either way, I definitely agree with you that Veronica hadn't read the diary before her Mum died. The way she repeats "People shouldn't read other people's diaries" - together with Margaret's story earlier, suggests she regrets doing so herself - either because of what she found out or what she re-discovered (despite possibly knowing about the affair, she probably did not know the details until reading the diary).

    Adrian Jr. calling Veronica Mary - hmmm. I don't know - I know a few people who like to be called/are called by their middle name occasionally. It happenes. If she knew all along, maybe it was her way of adding some initial emotional distance between her and Adrian Jr. If she didn't know, well, who knows... maybe it's a sign of intimacy?

    End of the day, as you say, there are many questions left unanswered because Tony doesn't care enough to ask them and is too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice. It's the tendency that I believe also makes Veronica unlikely to share the full story anyway. If you read it back, Tony's approach to bombarding her with messages is pretty insane. I wouldn't share anything with him either, if I were her. By observing the relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, you can also see that neither of them consider him a particularly emotionally available person and don't share their own problems, concerns, feelings with him either.

  25. @Nick - I don't think it's surprising that Veronica had a good relationship with Aidran Jr. even if she knew the truth. He was/is a child after all plus he has special needs. I can believe she wouldn't fault him for the sins of the parents.

    I wonder if you read a comment above by an anonymous person saying that it could be possible that Tony had a one night stand with Veronica's mum and completely blocked it out of his memory. Hence that strange hand signal that the mum gave Tony when he left their home that weekend 40 years ago. What do you think of this theory? I think it's a good one. It could even be possible that Aidrian Jr. could be Tony's son or that might be less plausible given his name. It could also be a reason why the mum left the bequest. Maybe she seduced Tony all those years ago. I do wonder why she called the kid Aidrian Jr., that action just gives away her sins to her entire family. Aargh, this book is frustrating I know.

  26. @Mrs. B - You're more charitable to Veronica than I am! Even trying to ignore that we only see her through the prism of Tony's unforgiving eyes, she's clearly not a particularly nice person. I think she is reasonably vindictive and indeed an angry person - hence why I find her relationship with Adrian Jr. unlikely unless she didn't know.

    I did read that theory about Tony being the father - and I actually deliberately re-read the novel trying to see if that was a possibility. I even considered the "Fight Club" theory where Tony and Adrian were the same person and Tony was in fact suffering from a "hangover" from overcoming multiple personality disorder. I just don't see any evidence for either being true. I know Tony massively distorts things in his favour - but there's not enough evidence to show he'd black out something like sleeping with Sarah - to the extent that he comes up with a totally different theory. The strange hand signal is ambiguous but I take it to be just Sarah's generally flirtatious manner. Tony having the emotional intelligence of a doorknob just can't interpret it.

    Also, the timing totally runs against Tony being the father. He meets Sarah at least a year - probably 15 months - before Adrian commits suicide. Unless the baby was born well before Adrian committed suicide (in which case his suicide would have been totally unrelated with Sarah's pregnancy), it doesn't work.

    One outlandish theory I thought about was that it WAS in fact Veronica's baby after all - from Tony or Adrian. That somehow her mother covered up for her daughter and claimed it was hers? Doesn't really work either though: unclear why Sarah would have Adrian's diary unless she'd had some kind of affair with him. Plus, by the 60s I don't think that level of cover up would be necessary.

    Most likely is that via Veronica, Adrian found the love of his life, who turned out to be Sarah. Sarah says, and Tony's friend Alex confirms, that the last few months were Adrian's happiest. If that's indeed so, then it must be Sarah, as he'd met Veronica more like 6-9 months before he died, so it can't have been her. Adrian's suicide note says "life is a gift bestowed without anyone asking for it" - the phrase of course applies to his own life as well as that of his unborn child's. It's still really unclear for me why Adrian actually committed suicide if he was in fact in love with Sarah. Surely the morally right thing would be to be a father to the child? But instead he dies to "renounce the gift" given the "conditions it comes with" - both his own life and that of the child.

    1. Bear in mind that Tony discovers that Veronica has had previous experience with men, and so there might have been a man who came to the house--some history of the mother's predatory flirtation. Such a point is made of Veronica kissing Tony on the second night of the visit and hinting at the "wickedness" of the night ahead (sorry, don't have the book to hand to check what she actually said). Of course, for Tony this is simply an occasion for a "wank" (his habit of uninvolvement goes way back). But perhaps on some level V. knows that a boy's night spent in her house might well result in some misdeed with Sarah. Maybe she even sees the strange hand gesture in the waving goodbye, and maybe this is why her relationship with Tony goes nowhere. She doesn't know for sure sure that Tony, as it were, didn't "get it." Adrian did. He's that next integer in the equation, the multiplier. (Well, actually V. does know that T. did not "get it," because she later observes how inexperienced he is with the Durex. This just confirms for her that Adrian is going to be a better fit for her, though apparently he also falls short in condom use.)

  27. I would like to thank all the people who posted comments (especially Nick Wright). I don't have the opportunity to discuss my reading with other people, but "Ending" so troubled me that I sought out discussion on the internet, not really expecting much. The discussion here was intelligent and polite - rare qualities. I am still not sure if all the mysteries have been resolved, perhaps they are not meant to be, but I do sincerely appreciate reading each of your insights. Thank you.

  28. Sorry I haven't had chance to read through all of the above comments, but I noticed some questions about the 'blood money'. I interpreted this as The Mother giving Tony a small token to signify her guilt. Guilt for potentially contributing to the suicide of one of Tony's childhood friends.

    I also thought that the ending was perfectly in line with the beginning of the book where Adrian quotes 'history is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation'. The end of the book is in my opinion an amalgamation of both floored memory and fragmented documentation. Furthermore I feel one of the aims of the book was to point out the unreliability of memory. The past is what we perceive it to be, not necessarily what it was and so the same events can differ greatly in other peoples minds. Therefore it seems appropriate to me that such a book would leave questions and uncertainties just like past events barely remembered leave questions.

    All speculation aside though, I enjoyed this book immensely- admittedly confusing to me at times but still a pleasure to read.

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. Thank you to all of you above for participating in this discussion. It seems when we think we've answered one question, then another opens up.

    @Nick Wright - I think Veronica could be just a normal person and the fact that she appeared hostile and vindictive was because the discovery of all this information was still new for her. For all we know she could be living just a regular and happy life. Your thoughts though have opened up a new question for me - Why then did Adrian commit suicide if he was happy in the last few months of his life? I just don't get it. Unless he somehow knew he had made Sarah pregnant and that the child was going to have special needs. However, I don't think they had the technology to detect this in the 70s.

    As you can see the questions just go on and on. I wonder if any of you have seen my latest post on this, click here.
    I mentioned the movie Cache because someone above, I think it was Anonymous, compared this book to that film. I saw it years ago and the it was quite haunting so I watched it again and it leaves me with the same feeling as The Sense of an Ending although the plots are completely different. Do watch the movie if you can get a hold of it and do read my post above where I mention the explanation of the director/screenwriter Michael Haneke. I think his explanation can be applied to The Sense of an Ending as well.

  31. @Mrs. B - I think Veronica came across as quite snobbish, unkind from the beginning in her younger years with Tony too. Saying things like "I don't dance", "now you're at university, we must get you to think for yourself, mustn't we", "I don't stagnate". Admittedly, Tony is a bit of a knob and he could be deliberately making her appear worse than she was (in fact he has done this with his wife before and admits he has done this in his memories later too) but her later reactions are pretty bitchy as well. You have to admit, just sending a two word e-mail saying "Blood money" is pretty randomly hostile! Her mum also seems to think her duaghter is not the nicest person...

    I don't think Adrian knew the child would be mentally disabled - I also don't think that would have made him more/less likely to commit suicide. That would be too cowardly and I don't think that would have been like him. My best guess, though it's a long shot, is that - having come from a broken family himself he didn't want to a) break up another family (the Fords) or b) bring a child up in such circumstances. But it doesn't really work cos he should have just resigned himself to the situation philosophically. Maybe he actually was more of a coward than Tony believes him to be: in many ways suicide IS an act of cowardice, whatever the justification - of not facing up to the responsibility of the impact your death will have on others.

    I fall back on Adrian's earlier words on the matter: "But nothing can make up for the absence of Robson's testimony, sir". The same applies to Adrian - in his case, his testimony would have been his diary.

    I did see your earlier post re: Caché (Hidden). I certainly agree that Barnes' response to our useless hermeneutics would be similar to Hanneke's arch patronisation of his viewers. I have exactly the same response to Hanneke's comment as to Barnes' likely intention. I get that for Barnes the point is Tony's story - the fact that this situation makes him realise his entire life's memory has been woven to make him seem happier than he was, that he has realised that playing it safe has meant missing out on life, that he has ended up in a situation of regretfulness for wasted ambition, lack of initiative - that he has glossed over the negative AND the positive aspects of his past to mellow out his life story and thus missed life's richness. I get that.

    [SPOILER for Hidden]In the same way, I get that Hidden is about how the protagonist has spent his entire life trying to avoid remembering/completely erase the existence of an awful act of childhood betrayal - and the consequences of this past catching up with him, destroying his cushy middle class life, constructed to appear like the height of respectability and normality. However, I don't think the author of a novel or the director of a film has the authority to determine how the readers or viewers choose to interpret their work. For Barnes and Hanneke, their interest may lie with their protagonists and they may be comfortable with the ambiguity they leave regarding the lives and stories of other characters. This shouldn't preclude us searching for answers though. Albeit without ever finding conclusive evidence.

    If we didn't look - to me - or didn't have the urge to look, it would be tantamount to simply giving in to the "mysteriousness" of life, without ever asking "why?" or "how come?". Some people are comfortable with life's inherent ambiguity - others continually seek answers in quest they know cannot lead to ultimate knowledge but certainly can lead to greater wisdom.

    1. I'm wondering about the possibility of Adrian Jr actually being Veronica's son, raised as her mother's. This would explain why he calls her Mary (mother Mary). This would also explain her intense involvement in his welfare.

      As for Sarah seducing Adrian and Tony recall that the first day of the house visit Tony was not invited out with Sarah and her father and brother with whom she had a rather unusual relationship. Perhaps this was done solely so that Sarah could be alone with Tony.

  32. @Nick Wright - Yes, I guess you are right about Veronica. She was already quite strange at the beginning of the book although again since Tony wrote the book after all the events, we don't know how his memory of Veronica is somehow clouded by her present behaviour.

    Michael Haneke said "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." The same can be said about books and about this book in particular. We have come up with several different 'answers' or interpretations and that's what makes this book a rich reading experience. It's amazing how all our thoughts and feelings about the book have evolved. I started out completely riveted by it and then frustrated by the ambiguity. However, you just can't get it out of your head and so at the end of the day, it's certainly a worthwhile read deserving of the Booker Prize. I do wonder if there's any interviews out there with Barnes giving his own explanation of the book? If you do come across it, let me know.

  33. @Mrs. B. Yes - I agree. I imagine this weekend there may be some interviews with him in the Arts pages. Let's hope so at least... Though, let's be clear, I don't think for a second he'll give a full explanation - no author would.

    I was perhaps a little harsh on Barnes and Hanneke is my last post! End of the day, there is something smart in making us, as readers, share Tony's own experience of trying to "figure things out" - and leaving plenty of room to do so. That elusive "Sense of an Ending" he gives, is somehow very appropriate. We're given the impression, by Tony's misguided/incomplete penultimate paragraph that we've had it all wrapped up, when - as this long discussion proves - it's nothing of the sort.

  34. Really good discussion, have just finished this book.

    I found it to be perceptive and gripping. I used to spend time around the Chislehurst area and Barnes' description of the area - and the middle-class tensions - rings very very true to me. Many of the emotions Tony sets out around feeling inferior in some way with his girlfriend's family is eerily similar to some of my first experiences and, I suspect, most young men in their first couple of relationships.

    That is probably why up until the last quarter (or so) of the book I was led into severely disliking the caricature of Veronica. It is only at the end you realise the terrible truth of what has happened to her and the reality of her shattered home life and the ultimately sexually competitive and jealous relationship with her mother. I came to the conclusion the reason Veronica was so unwilling to sleep with men is perhaps because her mother had form for sleeping around - and she was reacting against her mother's nature in how she was around men.

    On the chain of events it is pretty clear to me that Adrian (Snr) had some sort of affair with Sarah and they had a child and this is almost certainly what pushed him to suicide.

    Tony's guilt comes, I believe, from the fact that he introduced Adrian to Veronica and wrote generally nasty things in the letter to them that ended up coming true in a round-about way.

    I think the parallel issue over the suicide of Robson is one of the key instruments to the book - that Tony and his friends had derided Robson's death as being in some way ignoble except when Adrian was faced with triggering a far "worse" pregnancy he chose the same way out.

    I also hazarded a guess myself that from Tony's descriptions of Adrian (Snr) being 'without humour' he may have been mildly on the autism disorder spectrum and this could have been passed onto his child...I may be reading too much into this though.

    I think the plot here is nowhere near as important as the observations within. We only see Tony's memories and he himself readily admits that they are unreliable and selective.

    I enjoyed it in all. To me the book gave a very good picture and analysis of the deep-seated damage that can be done by (perceived or real) mistreatment in early relationships, in particular the point about "looping" certain memories again and again whilst blocking out others. The author skilfully points out how we all - to one extent or another - manipulate certain incidents in our memories to suit our version of events.

    Definitely recommended.

  35. Thanks to all, particularly Nick Wright, for your thoughts and comments.

    Some books (and movies, etc.) have as one of their chief characteristics a complete, and completely plausible, chain of events that is revealed only at the end but that makes perfect sense. I’m thinking of John LeCarre, and other spy, detective, and mystery writers.

    Others make no effort toward a coherent plot; Alfred Hitchcok just wanted to get us on the edge of our seats and keep us there. He didn’t care if, walking out of the theater, we said, “Wait a minute, that didn’t hang together.”

    I’d assumed Barnes was in the first category. It was good watching the past re-interpreted during the second half of the book, seeing things from a new angel. Clearly Veronica is livid about something and the narrator doesn’t even realize the depth of her anger until desperately late in the book. And I’d assumed that there was a coherent plot at work that we could deduce once we’d been given every clue.

    But that’s not true; it can’t be true. We’ve no reason to think that Adrian Jr was known to our unreliable narrator until Veronica brings them together. Yet Tony’s presence upsets Adrian Jr, quite considerably, in the shop and in the pub. We are led to believe that it’s because the defective child sees Tony as a frightening reminder of his lost mum Sarah, and perhaps of other aspects of his earlier life.

    But how exactly does this work? Adrian Jr. is instantly frightened of Tony from their first meeting in the shop. Yet (although Tony was in the car when Adrian greeted Veronica/Mary) that was their first real meeting. Unless Veronica/Mary or Sarah had a large photo of Tony and instructed Adrian Jr daily that “this is the man who caused all this trouble,” Adrian Jr would know nothing of Tony. I can’t imagine that Veronica would tell A.J. about Tony’s misdeeds now -- it would serve no purpose, merely confuse and frighten him. Many things could have happened with the diary and the bequest; many causes can be adduced for Veronica’s fury; but I can’t find any combination of suppositions to make A.J.’s fear of Tony work.

    Some have said that this book is about uncertainty, the imperfection of history and of our understanding of our past and ourselves; so why shouldn’t there remain mystery? That’s true enough. But a clear inconsistency is not uncertain; it’s certain; and it doesn’t work. So why does Barnes permit it?

    Every author makes compromises. In the detective novel where it all makes sense at the end, that final revelation is in large measure the point of the book, and everything else is subordinated to it. Barnes has other fish to fry besides being consistent. He wants us to show how memory fools us, how we change over time, how choices that seem small loom large, how people can appear good one minute, bad the next, flipping characters like Escher staircases. And while the detective novel technique of revealing everything at the end is evidently compatible with a consistent although hidden plot, Barnes wasn’t able to undertake his progressive revelations and twists and simultaneously maintain a coherent explanation for all that occurs.

    It’s not that he chose not to. It’s that he made trade-offs, as all authors must, and decided it was more important to tell a tale of ambiguity and memory’s trickery in an elegant way than to have every piece fit just right. Walking out of this theater, we can let go of the plot details that don’t work and ask the questions that matter; among them, the biggest that Barnes raises: am I doing all I can with my life? Making a difference to my family? Making a difference in the world? Taking a risk now and then?

    Simon Whitney, Houston, Texas

  36. A problem that I have with this book is the unreliability of the unreliable narrator. It makes sense as to why he doesn't know everything that happened in the story. But shouldn't an unreliable narrator still give his (unreliable) interpretation of events at the end of the story?

    As is, not only is the reader forced to confront the fact that the reader CAN'T know what truly happened, but the the more thick readers (me, and apparently many others) must deal with not understanding what Tony believed to have happened. Of course, the Nick Wrights of the world can deduce from the puzzle that Barnes left for us as to what Tony believed happened, but why did Barnes need to leave this as a puzzle?

    As it was, I closed the book with no "sense of an ending" at all, and had to come online to understand what I was supposed to figure out. This left me without the feel-good-shudder that I'm accustomed to when I finish a good book. Quite the ripoff! Of course, had I been able to figure out what Nick Wright figured out as I spent 10 minutes on the last two pages, I think the shudder I would have received would have felt incredible.

  37. @Efrem - That was another thing that bothered me about the ending. Tony mentioned in the end that he finally 'got it.' What he got exactly, we'll never know. I thought it was out of character for him not to share what he finally 'got,' don't you think? Unless of course it was something so horrible that he was ashamed to share it (i.e. he's the father of Adrian Jr. or he remembered that he slept with Sarah). Didn't he mention in the end that he finally understood what that hand signal from Sarah was? Could it be that he finally remembered what had actually transpired between them but was too ashamed to admit it to us?

  38. @Loz - Spot on. I hadn't really fully picked up on the likely sexual jealousy between Veronica and Sarah - but of course, that will factor hugely. Think a re-awakening of that feeling may be why Veronica's so pissed off... then again, I found it curious that when Veronica described to Tony her family history in the intervening years that there was no obvious antipathy towards her Mum (she seemed to become a hedonist - what with the smoking, painting and, deliciously, "took on lodgers even though she'd been left well provided for" - the most perfect euphemism for "sleeping around" ever?). In fact, it's curious how little she actually reveals about what really happened in this rare moment of "self-revelation", don't you think?

    @Simon Whitney I'm afraid I can't agree that Barnes made "no effort towards a coherent plot" (nor, for that matter would I agree that Hitchchock did this...) - I would agree that he hasn't forefronted certain plot elements as much as other novelists might have done. Full response in my next response though (not enough space here).

    I did want to respond to your point about Adrian Jr.'s reaction to Tony. I don't think that Adrian Jr's reaction need at all be related to Tony as a person - in my view it's merely his reaction to any stranger in a time of extreme trauma for him (losing his mother). Apart from Tony's own melodramatic, self-pitying assumption that Adrian Jr. was somehow reacting to his "soul" or to his despicable past (as if he was passing some kind of judgment) - there is no real evidence of Adrian Jr. meeting/being confronted by anyone else and thus whether he responds this way to all people he has not yet met. I would suspect he might do so...

    In essence, I think Tony as a person has nothing to do with Adrian Jr's reaction. There "may" be a case that, as an exceptionally emotionally retarded individual, this may cause Adrian Jr. more than usual pain but that's just speculation. Tony's reaction to Adrian Jr's reaction says more about Tony than about Adrian...

    This is why, although I agree with your conclusion of what he was trying to do, I disagree that Barnes was "unable" to form a coherent plot. See full answer below (sorry!)

  39. @Efrem, Mrs. B & Simon Whitney (cont'd)
    The title "sense of an ending" is not just a dig at us readers, jibing & jeering at what we thought we'd get - it's also a pointed description of Tony's own "revelation". He thinks he "got" it - but as Veronica points out. "He just doesn't get it. He never has and he never will."

    That's the point.

    It's a "false" ending - not intended to be a true wrap-up or resolution. It's portrayed as a familiar "mystery story" dénouement, when in fact it's Tony's half-arsed amateur attempt at one. After all, this isn't an astute detective giving us the answers but a very flawed, emotionally illiterate human being.

    It's not because of Barnes' skill as a novelist - that much I think we can be sure of. While we can all lament his lack of clarity in recounting what really happened, there can be no doubt that if we were supposed to know, he would have spent longer clarifying - in other words, we're not supposed to know. What's perhaps irritating to all of us, is Barnes potentially believing we're not supposed to care...

    He might think he's done enough to make Tony out to be far more than an average unreliable narrator (I'd be inclined to coin an entirely new category for him - an "incompetent narrator"?), such that we couldn't possibly believe that a) we would ever know the full story or b) any conclusion he came to would be in any way 100% accurate...

    I would wager a large bet that Barnes himself knew exactly what happened - and probably has earlier drafts of the novel with the story spelled out more clearly. But he would have made a very conscious decision to excise this additional info, with the intention of making this a story exclusively about Tony. Remember, this is a very short novel - it already packs in a lot.

    One thing it may be worth bearing in mind is that the length of this book - typically called a "novella" - is in between a short story and a full novel. Barnes may be using the strengths/shortcomings of both forms to his advantage. Short stories thrive on ambiguity; novels are typically much more comprehensive. Barnes is giving us the illusion of comprehensiveness, while retaining the right to be ambiguous. Some might call it having his cake and eating it.

    I don't see this kind of delight in playing with traditional formats as at all out of character with the Barnes I've heard about - being (before the split) a long-time friend of Martin Amis (who always played with formal expectations). Also - probably worth bearing in mind that Barnes himself has written his fair share of more tradiational crime/mystery genre fiction, where endings have been much more nicely wrapped up - so if you're any doubt, he knows how to do it...or want to see a more conclusive work, that's the place to look!

  40. Like all of Barnes's books - and this is not a criticism - it's just about sex and death. It has been argues that ALL literature tends to be about sex and death, but it is a Barnes trade mark, like Greene's Catholicism.

  41. Like others here, having finished the book, I felt compelled to consult the Internet in order to make sense of the ending. Then the irony struck me...despite having only recently "experienced" the story, here I was, seeking corroboration from other observers as to what actually happened - an underlying theme throughout!

    For what it's worth, prefer the version where Tony sleeps with "The Mother", but wonderfully written book nonetheless. Thanks for everyone's comments.

  42. Did anyone else not find themself wanting Adrian to be the outcome of the 'break-up' sex between Tony and Veronica - after which the actual break-up occoured and for Tony to then remember the actual sequence, that it was a malicious act of revenge on his part to seduce Veronica (as the relationship had ended and he no longer had the inferior feelings towards her) whilst she was with Adrian.

    That his repression of the facts was such that he had confused the events over time with the guilt of Adrian's suicide. That in fact the child was either Tony's and the betrayal was shown to Adrian and suicide was his response.

    The author could then have presented the converse view that from Adrian's perspective (revealed by his diary contents) that he dispised his intellectual superiority over Tony and just wanted the freedom of a less analytical mind, without the pressures he felt and was actually jealous of Tony.

    Adrian could then have confided in Veronica's mother with the instruction never to tell him, but she decided that Tony should eventually find out?

    Hope this makes sense, just wondered on other opinions..

  43. My question is: Why does the Son (Adrian) dislike Tony? What does he know? What could he know and how does he even recognize Tony?

    1. most interesting question so far.

    2. It's enough that he doesn't know who his father is, and now there's a man of appropriate age saying he's a "friend" of Mary.

    3. I think that has been discussed earlier on, and I agree - Adrian jnr didn't know who he was - he was frightened of all strangers. Unfortunately I don't think that is very relevant to the story.

  44. Thank you. Reading this help me to understand the novel better.

    Can u indicate which part/page that suggest Andrian having affair with Veronica's mother?

    1. "This was Adrian's son. I din't need a birth certificate or a DNA test -- I saw it and felt it"

      then later, when Tony finally "gets it" ..

      "The one born to 'The Mother' at a dangerously late age"

  45. Most likely Veronica's mother left Tony the money as a thank you for sending Adrian her way. I think she loved Adrian and their son. I'd love it if Julian Barnes would write/publish Adrian's diary. We'd have a clear cut ending and not just the sense of one. Going inside Adrian's beautiful mind would be a trip. It was a fabulous read.

  46. Just finished reading this book and like so many of you was baffled with the questions I was left with.So I found this blog and can't say I'm any the wiser because there are so many possibilities. But my concluding thoughts still stand - it's a great read, a beautiful piece of prose - the whole 'story' revealing the unavoidable subjectivity of memory and...history. A deserving winner of the Man Booker Prize....(merely my own subjective opinion! Thanks JB for the read).

  47. The discussion on history in the book is the key though isnt it? Adrian and Sarah are not around to tell the story they have to tell- it could have been a great once in a lifetime love affair or a drunken fumble that led to the pregnancy. Neither of them can (like Henry VIII) tell there own story. The diary - which is at least contemporaneous - is destroyed (possibly). Any version of the history we contrive is through the prism of guilt and the need for self justificstion of Tony and Veronica. The book is deliberately vague to teach us this? Tony and Veronica are histories winners - they are still alive- and need to construct a version of history they can live with. Tony cannot conceal that both dead characters are apparently benign in dealings with him.

  48. Very well written. And for a very ordinary story you are captivated until the end. Perhaps it is befitting the title very well. You have a sense of an ending but not at all satisfactory. The grudge held for so long seem a little absurd. I had thought that perhaps Tony was the father and thats what the sleep on implied that morning when he had his eggs. Then I would have sorta got it but that wouldnt add up either. Either the author didn't know himself or he was messing with us. It definitely opens up huge amounts to discuss. I am not a member of a book club but the urge to discuss this seems huge.

  49. What a brilliant book! Never before have I felt compelled to contribute to a blog on a novel – I read it last night because I couldn’t sleep – and I recognized parts of myself in Tony. Unfortunately. I was wondering if they all had biblical names for a reason? Western Literature and all that?

    Sara – Sarah – gives birth late in life – is beautiful even in old age - In Biblical times, the changing of one's name was significant and used to symbolize the binding of a covenant. In this case, God promised to put an end to her barrenness and give her a child (Isaac). Sarah isn’t barren as she has Jack and Veronica, however. Sarah in the bible and in the novel is deceptive and seems to be her daughter’s rival. Why does she write to Tony, then later leave him £500 and the Diary of Adrian? Tony’s letter has been saved with the diary – both are connected to Adrian’s suicide – but only emerge after Sarah’s death. Sarah kept them to be returned to Tony – why – so that he would understand the connection? To punish him? To reward him? Blood money is reparation to the next of kin following an unlawful death – is she paying Tony because she herself always felt responsible/guilty for Adrian’s death?

    Mary – Virgin Mary? Mary Magdalen? Veronica in the novel is known by two names – Veronica and Mary. Known as Mary to Adrian junior – why? Is he the child she never had? Born damaged because of Sarah’s age? Is Adrian jr a holy fool?

    Veronica - Saint Veronica or Berenice, according to the "Acta Sanctorum" published by the Bollandists (under February 4),[3] was a pious woman of Jerusalem who, moved with pity as Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha, gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the offering and after using it handed it back to her, the image of his face miraculously impressed upon it.
    The name "Veronica" itself is a Latinisation of Berenice (Greek: Βερενίκη), a Macedonian name, meaning "bearer of victory". Folk etymology has attributed its origin to the words for true (Latin: vera) and image (Greek: εικόνα). Does Veronica have any victory? Is she moved with pity for the “cross” that Tony bears? He only realizes the cross upon re-reading his vicious letter – but will be burdened by guilt until death now. Her name means true image – Tony tarnished her image for the reader and his wife Margaret - to salvage his own hurt/rejection/mystification. Maybe Tony’s unease stayed with him – realized during the weekend he stayed with Veronica’s family – and exhibited through his failures in later life to engage with his wife and daughter, keep in touch with his friends etc. Unease about who and what he is in relation to others. It reminds me here of Sebastian Faulkes “Enderby” – an inferiority complex of such magnitude that it becomes sinister!

  50. rest of my comment:-

    Anthony – Anthony the Hermit (c. 468 – c. 520), also known as Antony of Lérins, is a Christian saint. Anthony was born in Italy in the late 5th century, and raised from the age of eight by his relative St. Severinus. Upon the death of Severinus, Anthony was sent to Germany and put in the care of his uncle, German bishop Constatius of Lorsch.
    In 488, at about 20 years of age, Anthony returned to Italy to take up an eremitic life. He was eventually joined by numerous disciples and chose to seek greater solitude in Gaul.
    At Lérins, Anthony continued his life as a monk and became well known for his holiness, although he resided there only two years before he died.
    Anthony the Hermit is commemorated on 28 December by the Western Rite Orthodox and in the Roman Catholic Church.[1]

    Tony leads a closed life – when he emerges from it - it is disastrous to his sense of self as he had written it. He is not seen as “holy” – but he does see himself as “justified” – and nice – until he is forced to acknowledge that he isn’t! He is a stalker at the end, isn’t he? Spending his time over an obsession to understand before death the meaning of life – which is not understandable! Are we all stalkers after truth? Killing truth – turning our back on it?

    Adrian – name of saints, the English pope – and educator. He explains things to Tony in the novel. He tries to examine misery via logic. His inability to deceive himself results in his suicide. Self-deception is necessary to life, and life is good, therefore self deception is good?

  51. Sarah's wave confirmed Veronica's perpetually aloof (odd) behaviour, including, possible incest (perhaps unrequited--massaged). It also affirms the dysfunctionality portrayed between the siblings; the father's beer breath (midday) and the odd email responses from the brother. Tose emails don't supply any hints, calling into question the relationship of Jack & Adrian2. Adrian1, committed suicide faced with the reality of what he had done: Fathered a child by his best friend's ex-girlfriend's mother. The carer alludes to the death:that's all. it is real life; just brilliantly detailed and racontred. The 500p: apology--or payment for an introduction?

  52. To Anahita: Adrian2, had seen her (Mary) with Tony. Perhaps he sensed her anxiety and angst.

  53. Adrian and Sarah scapegoated Tony, telling Veronica that Tony was in fact the father, hence the blood money - indicative of her guilt. The suicide, possibly Adrian's. Veronica's response to whatever was in the diary - confusion, betrayal and incendiary anger afresh. Perhaps baby was born after the suicide, a reason to name him Adrian, especially if he hadn't copped to fatherhood publically.

  54. I agree that Adrian is Adrian's son, not Tony's.

    I liked the John Ford minor character, and the way he did so little but Barnes shifts his shape as Tony's perspective changes.

    But I re-read the parts about Victoria, and I thought of Tony's perception of Victoria as the story unfolded the first time (when the reader doesn't know anything) and the second time (when the reader knows what Tony has told them.

    Tony (the narrator) spends pages being on the edge of reuniting with Victoria, and really wants to, to the annoyance of Margaret, his ex. Victoria is curt at first, but later in the process has a pretty detailed email exchange with Tony, when she tells him that (a) her father died of alcoholism, and (b) the mom moved up to London and started smoking (this, apparently was because they gave Adrian Jr. up to the group home) and lived there. Victoria shows interest in Tony, and wants him to show interest in her story.

    But he doesn't. He doesn't get it. She isn't going to tell Tony what happened in a narrative, and at least in the writing, he never asks. He never says "What happened between you and Adrian?" "What are the math equations? What do they mean?" He just says he wasn't good at math. He apologizes for his letter when she sends it to him, and then apologizes for what happened - - but doesn't get it.

    Victoria wants him to figure it out. But he can't because he won't ask. Only when he is told - - told - - by the care giver does he get the son's name (Adrian) and only then does he see the resemblance.

    I really liked this book. Once I read it again and started thinking of the story through the eyes of the non-narrator characters, I liked it even more.

    Tony is self-centered. That's why he doesn't "Get it."

  55. I can't seem to get a profile going--so I'm anon, again.

    Anon above 9.05

    If you read it twice, how is it you didn't notice the character's name: Veronica.

    I agree with your assessment of Webster. he does refer to himself as average, of course. He seems to be detached and wankerish, with a terrible memory.

    He had the opportunity to "make love", with Veronica. They were after all an item. he just couldn't get around to it ── so she found someone else. And in his letter to Adrian, he blamed Veronica. He guided Adrian to council with Sarah, but indeed, it wasn't made clear why. After all, he didn't exactly have a heart-to-heart with her.

    I don't think he got "life".

    Maybe Barnes feels like that. (I can't say, since this is the only book of his that I have read. I live in Australia (excuses). However, I will read more (of his).

    In some ways the story is inconsequential to the
    actual portrayal of the main character's mind.

  56. I first read this on a packed delayed train and on the first time round I thought maybe there is a possibility that she is the mother and the sister of the child. There is mention by Tony that maybe Veronica was abused (by either the father or even the brother). Why was Adrian really happy for the last few days of his life??? Maybe he knew she was pregnant, but then she told him it wasn't his? Also it could explain the child disabilities. But it doesn't explain the mother etc

    This is probably a little outlandish and having read it a second time I agree with the rest of you.

  57. I am surprised nobody here mentioned the equations Adrian wrote in his dairy. Do they make any sense?

    Here is what I think:

    Because of Tony's letter to Adrian, Adrian became close to Sarah and they had Adrian Jr.. Adrian commited suicide because of guilt. Veronica took the responsibility of the baby after Sarah died. Sarah left the dairy to Tony as she thought there would be noone to take care of the baby after she died. When she died, as Veronica was ready to take the responsibility of Adrian Jr., she decided to take all Sarah's things also and that was when she found this dairy and realized what caused all this. In my opinion, she would still had been married to someone as we don't read anything about what happened in her life after Adrian passed away.

    Veronica was all angry at Tony because she thought it was him/his letter that destroyed her life, her family's and caused Adrian's death.

  58. Veronica, was never much fun anyway: writhing about on Tony's hand. Very odd. I don't think that she got anything either!

    Anon: From 2 above.

  59. They did have sex once, maybe it's really the narrators kid. He surely makes himself less guilty in his memory, and adrian killed himself when he found out the child is not his. The mother gives 500 pounds because the real father was never able to see his kid. I think it is veronica's child btw....

  60. It's all a bit too much, the suicide of one of their classmates, Adrian being the cleverest and then betraying his friend by going out with his friend's girlfriend, then betraying his girlfriend by sleeping with his girlfriend's mum and then killing himself fearing his paternity as that classmate did...what was wrong with him?!
    And why would Veronica not tell him the truth directly if she went to meet him?
    And what about the 'blood money'??
    It sounds like Barnes couldn't find a solution to end the story...

  61. In short, I was very disappointed. I empathise very closely with many of the posters here who expressed frustration.

    The book held my attention, despite the predominance of narrative over dialogue and 'action', largely because of its suspense element. I was keenly anticipating a full denouement and frustrated that I didn't get one.

    Naturally, I expected to have to do some thinking to pull the pieces together. But so far I've not managed to succeed. I assumed that there would be ambiguities about various motives and plot points. But I also assumed that the alternative possible answers would be consistent and plausible.

    Has anyone (here; presumably Julian Barnes himself never contributes?) constructed a fully satisfying scenario please? One that includes answers to the following questions that I'm still fretting about?

    1. Why did Adrian kill himself? Some profoundly intellectual argument that I haven't grasped? Guilt over Sarah and the pregnancy? Something else?

    2. Why was Veronica so hostile to Tony after all these years? His vitriolic letter?

    3. What was it he was supposed to 'get'? That Adrian had fathered a disabled child with her mother? Why didn't she spell it out? How could Tony have known? (Especially without Adrian's diary.) Why would that have been his fault anyway?

    4. Was Veronica mentally unhinged herself? Why her persistent refusal to talk to Tony in the car after agreeing to meet him? What was all the crazy driving about?

    5. Sigh - I'm losing the will to continue the list. So many outstanding puzzles! The diary left by Sarah to Adrian (who she'd met once)? The £500? What 'blood money'? The farewell wave? Tony's late lie-in? Adrian Junior's fear of Tony? Etc, etc.

    In short, I don't geddit. I don't see any plausible scenario that consistently solves all these loose ends. And I'm left unsatisfied and uncomortable because of that.

    Terry, East Grinstead, UK

  62. 'The Sense...' is a typical case of a twisted plot destablising a stupendous narration.

    The narration moves so smoothly till about middle of part II and then, alongwith Tony, the plot starts to get fuzzy.

    By the time you are done with it, you'll tend to try clearing your senses about twists in the plot by re-re-reading the relevant portions - unfortunately at the cost of savouring the better parts of the book.

    Andrain was son of his homonymous father and his mother was Veronica's mother...that much is apparent. Adrian's paternity has been established by 2 factors (i) by his name, (ii) by description of Tony where he claims that he finds Adrian (Jr)'s features comparable to (Sr). Veronice holds resentment against Tony to finally boot her out of her imagination....
    but what about the gaps viz.

    'blood money'..

    V's undepleting sense of victimisation by Tony..

    Tony's description of Mrs Ford and that he liked 'Mum', who saw him off swaying horizontally and was inept with the eggs...

    Adrian's undefined acts of degradation and their links to Veronica....

    Overall, the end tried to dominate the rest, obviously without much success.

  63. @Anonymous - I agree with you. The possible answers don't really make sense and all are ultimately unsatisfying and that's why we keep going around in circles trying to find possible answers. We'll never find one and I doubt Barnes knows all the answers himself. However, it did work. The book won awards and has provoked so much discussion. I still think it isn't a great book but I suppose it deserves the accolades if only because it's a great discussion piece.

    @auro mkh - I agree, the end dominated the rest without much success. It's too bad as it was beautifully written. If only he had left more answers in the end.

    1. Bear in mind the very important discussion in the history class about how impossible it is to define THE cause of WW I, especially given the absence of certain documents, as in Robson's suicide. If it all wrapped up neatly, then it wouldn't be titled as it is. It would be The Ending. Instead, we must always cope with the fuzzier "Sense of...," which is what this book vividly depicts.

  64. [Aside: From here on, I hope commenters will read all posts before contributing. This thread is becoming an obstacle course.]

    My take on the novel: Beautifully written...commandingly intensely compelling and provocative read.

    Trivia: Tony strikes me as being an ordinary person, a good person, and a bore. I don't find him or his actions (including his vindictive letter to Adrian and Veronica) particularly extreme or surprising. I think he's the perfect narrator for this work. I find Veronica to be a very unpleasant and unsympathetic human being, albeit interesting. With regard to plot, there are no “loose ends” that keep me awake at night. It seems clear that Adrian1 and Sarah are Adrian2’s parents (in Adrian’s math, a2 is Tony). I don’t think further revelations are necessary or pertinent (however, I can understand that reader questions may chafe).

    In other words, I’m a very satisfied reader of The Sense of an Ending. I consider it rewarding and worthwhile and an appropriate Mann Booker Prize winner.

  65. The Sense of the Ending completely folded me in and properly stimulated my thinking. This, for me, is the purpose of a worthwhile novel - to be provoked into caring, whoever the protagonist, and so considering more our human condition and how we work. The issue of unreliability regarding time vs memory vs self-protection: Don't we all rewrite personal history to an extent to suit ourselves and help build the case of justifying who we are today? But how clever Barnes is to both comfort and disconcert by putting words to the uneasy truths about memory and time, using such an untrustworthy voice as Tony Webster.
    Perversely, I properly dreaded the last pages as ending the book would end my relationship with him; I would no longer be part of his wobbly perspective. A confusion, as he isn't a man I'd want in my life - as a lover, a brother, father or friend. And I suppose for me this is the beauty of the book and what makes it worthy of it's prize: extracting my genuine concern and interest in such an unreliable, wildly selfish narrator (like Murdoch's Bradley Pearson of The Black Prince).
    As for the finish? It too bothered me that I 'didn't get' the ending, but bothered me more that it had ended.

  66. Please note re above comment:
    With apologies to Julian Barnes for getting the title wrong. That of course should read - The Sense of an Ending. (It's just I was trying to make sense of the ending...).

  67. Here is perhaps another reason why it was not Anthony who fathered
    Adrian Jr.: Late in the book, when new memories emerge, we are told
    Anthony wanked into the basin (40 seconds after Veronica kissed him
    goodnight at the door). Anthony was a compulsive wanker. He would not have been "primed and ready" for Sarah if she came to his door. In fact, I think she DID come to his door; he confessed she was too late; this would explain her giving him a teasing hand gesture when he left after the weekend. Masturbation, I think, is not an insignificant element. The novel begins with it. It is a metaphor for Anthony's character.

  68. Hmmm. charlimit exceeded. 2 posts it is!

    IMO this is a magical novel, well worthy of the Booker prize it has been awarded.

    It cannot be read quickly if it is to be appreciated properly; its length belies its complexity. The intelligent reader will get far more out of the book with second and subsequent readings.

    To answer your questions
    What did Veronica mean by 'blood money'?
    It makes more sense to answer your question#2 first, as the answer to your question #1 is related.

    It seems from her behaviour and attitude that Veronica holds Tony responsible for some part or all of what happened: Her boyfriend Adrian sr had a relationship with her mother, Sarah, and from the relationship came a child (Adrian Jr, who has some form of mental disability). The relationship ended when Adrian committed suicide by slitting his wrists in the bath.
    It is unclear whether Adrian sr. committed suicide before or after the child was born, but I am guessing before.
    All this is unknown to 20-year old Tony, but 60-year old tony receives a bequest of 500 pound and two documents from Sarah: A letter, and Adrian's diary. However, Veronica has misappropriated the diary and has it in her keeping. She may have destroyed it; we are never told.

    To me, the implication is clear that Veronica thinks Tony should bear more responsibility for Adrian's death. The ending of the novel seems to suggest that Tony himself is contending with, and at the edge of coming to grips with that question himself: how much responsibility does he bear for his friend's suicide?
    A few thoughtless actions and words can have significant consequences when received by sensitive and intelligent individuals; Adrian Sr is clearly painted by the author as both.

    An interesting question might be this: Is 20-year old Veronica in love with 20-year old Tony? The more that I think about it, the more I suspect this might be the case, from her behaviour afteer they break up, and this would also go some way to explain the depth of her emotion .
    As for why she takes up with 20-year old Adrian - I'd point out that its not until after 20-year old Tony has hurt her and broken up with her that she starts dating him. She's after committment and young Tony isn't sure that he wants to commit - like most 20-year old males, his primary motivation (obsession?) is getting laid.

    Why did Veronica's mother leave the bequest to Tony?

    It's not clear from the novel. Sarah herself writes to Tony saying that she's not even sure of her own motivations.
    In some senses, perhaps Veronica's mother thinks that she is in some way responsible, and leaves the money to Tony half in thanks, half in regret.
    I believe she intends the diary to be a keepsake for him, a memento of his friend.
    Veronica, of course, is curious to know what her mother could possibly have left to her boyfriend of 40-years ago who she met once. Perhaps Veronica assumes (incorrectly) that Sarah had a fling with Tony as well. THe upshot of which is, of course, that Veronica takes the diary. And no doubt reading hte diary would have reopened all of the wounds from 40 years earlier: that her boyfriend would have left her for her mother, and perhaps more importantly, that her mother would be able to make him happy where she could not.
    Remember that in her letter to Tony, Sarah mentions that she thinks Adrian was happy in the last months of his life. The implication is that he was not prior to that.

    all this is my surmise; little is directly said in the book about this.

  69. Part 2:

    What did the carer mean by 'especially now?'

    Only a guess - but... Especially now that his mother is dead and his closest relation and is Veronica, whose feelings towards him will probably primarily be a mixture of grief and anger.
    His mother would have loved him as mothers can and do love their children. But his half-sister? I'm still pondering over the interaction we see between them. It is obvious from the way she drives and how short she is with Tony that Adrian jr brings up very, very strong feelings in Veronica.

    The novel is interesting for many reasons and from many perspectives. One is its status as almost a homily to the philosophy of history.

    Another is the symbolic, thematic presentation of "Eros and Thanatos" throughout the plot. In a sense, it seems to me like the few extended quotations we have from Adrian in part 1 are a sort of meta-commentary on the novel itself.

    And yes, I'm going to read it again.

  70. @David T Some really interesting ideas thrown up by your analysis, so thank you for that.

    I was particularly struck by your thought that Veronica may have assumed (both from Tony's letter and from the fact he received Adrian's diary) that Tony had ALSO had an affiar with her Mum. This makes absolute sense to me as an assumption on her part and certainly goes a long way to explaining her antagonism towards Tony. Especially since it happened to her once, she'd be more ready to think it had happened before.

    As you will have seen, some commenters believe Tony may well have slept with Veronica's Mum anyway. Personally, I don't think anything happened (Tony would have been too sexually clueless) but it would be very present to Veronica as a possibility.

    I certainly share with you the feeling that Veronica's anxiety the day she introduces him to Adrian Jr. may be induced less by Tony and more by Adrian Jr (a reminder of her Mum's ultimate betrayal). However, it was always a mystery why a) she lets it out on Tony, not Jr. and b) why she is so nice to Jr. Your explanation above makes it clear that, as far V. is concerned, Tony is possibly as implicated in the betrayal as anyone.

    Thanks again for shedding light on this!

  71. @David T - I like your theory and I'm surprised no one thought of it before. It makes perfect sense. Veronica has just come across the diary and the letter and she figures that Tony slept with her mother on that fateful weekend. Recalling the letter and what Tony wrote exactly plus her mother and Adrian's relationship then it would make perfect sense for Veronica to assume that the same thing had happened with Tony.

    I do wonder if Tony understood it to be this way too when he said he finally 'got it.'

  72. Perhaps Sarah is saying thank you to Tony for meeting Adrian - the BEST thing that ever happened to her.

    1. I agree-- her letter, as Tony recalls (the original has been destroyed), said that she thought he (Adrian) was happy for the last few months of his life.

  73. I just finished this novel and felt like a fool, since I could not grasp the ending, no matter how many times I re-read the last several pages. Thankfully, through Google I came across this enlightening discussion, and feel a little less slow witted now. However, while I think that we should be able to expect to understand books we read, I do wonder whether in dissecting the plot twists we lose some of the impact of the totality of the work--we enter a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees situation. In this case Barnes' forest is a lush one and is to be savored. This is especially true, I would think, for the older reader who perhaps more understands how recall and its selectivity can be quite slippery in reconstructing the past. I know that Barnes has set me to conjecturing on how I might have given a revisionist view to aspects of my own autobiography and, while plot and story are important, one of the hallmarks of good literature is its transferability to parsing our own lives.

    1. As far as understanding the books we read, I offer Wuthering Heights as example of an unreliable narrator and a novel difficult to understand the author's intent.

  74. I believe Julian Barnes has given few interviews on this book but he did give one to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp's Writers & Co with Eleanor Wachtel. You can listen to the podcast on their website. It's a great interview.

  75. The blog at has an excellent answer with supporting evidence.
    "Adrian’s strange formulas now suddenly make sense. b = s - vx + a1 or a2 + v + a1 x s = b. The first formula doesn’t involve Tony, and seems to imply little more than Sarah and Adrian together in Veronica’s absence. The second does bring Tony into the equation, which is certainly the more important of the two." Note: b = baby, a1 = adrian, a2 = Anothny/Tony, s =sarah

  76. I didn't read all of the comments, but my sense was that Tony's letter convinced Adrian to talk to the mother and she mentioned the genetic history and the danger of Veronica getting pregnant because she might give birth to a child like her brother. Then I assume that it was too late because Veronica was pregnant by Adrian and had to have an abortion and Adrian committed suicide because he loved her etc. Then the "blood money" for Tony would be the mother's gratitude to Tony for convincing them to talk to the mother and get an abortion for Veronica so she wouldn't suffer as her mother had. So in sum: Veronica was preggers by Adrian. Adrian went to mommy because Tony told him to in the letter. Mommy told the history and said abort. Adrian couldn't stand losing his love and the pain and shame and killed himself. Tony feels guilty because if they hadn't gone to mommy they might have had a normal baby and been happy. So he justifiably feels that he destroyed all three lives -- Adrian's, Victoria's, and baby's. But the mother was grateful.

  77. To answer your 3 questions, here is my interpretation...

    Why did Veronica's mother leave the bequest to Tony?
    Veronica's mother says in her letter to Tony that she isn't sure of her motives for giving the money to Tony, so I think the author admits that there isn't much of a motive, but perhaps Mrs Ford is grateful to Tony for advising Adrian to consult her and thus (perhaps) giving Mrs Ford the best romance of her life?

    What did Veronica mean by 'blood money'?
    I take it that Adrian commited suicide because he had got his girlfriend's mother pregnant, and was perhaps aware of the baby's abnormality. So I think Veronica means blood money because she believes Tony caused Adrian's death, or at least started a chain of events that led to Adrian's death.

    What did the carer mean by 'especially now?'
    The caregiver meant that Adrian the second (Mrs Ford's and Adrian's son) was especially sensitive since his mother had recently passed away.

    Interesting questions which are left open, but that was what I liked about the book because it made me think and answer the questions for myself. I dislike books that are clear cut and have no mysteries or questions; it's much better when everybody has different opinions and the book is open to discussion!

  78. Nick Wright... thank you. I came to Google immediately after reading the book to look for some answers. And your comments have been a big help.

  79. I think Veronica's mother slept with Tony on that one weekend and then later also had the affair with Adrian, producing their damaged son. Maybe that is why Veronica was so damaged, her mother was sleeping with her boyfriends? I am left wondering though, what had Veronica been doing for the past 40 years?

  80. Thank you all for this discussion, which has given me lots of food for thought and stopped me feeling so frustrated about not understanding how the book ends. I agree with the poster above who said that JB could have explained the ending clearly, so he must have wanted to leave us with all these questions - and succeeded magnificently!

  81. Shouldn't we believe that Sarah had had sex with many others in the past - perhaps others V had brought home? It would explain V's peculiar behavior.
    My question is the meaning of the horizontal wave Sarah gave Tony. Is that a British thing? Does is have a special meaning I don't understand?

  82. Two questions: Why did Veronica invite Tony home at all, if she had cause to fear her mother's behavior? And why did she leave them alone in the house together in the morning?

  83. She invited Tony home because she wanted to 'test' him- whether he would succumb to her mother's charms or not. He doesn't ( due to his essential pigheadedness), and realizing this(perhaps misconstruing the reason behind this to be the strength of their relationship) Veronica opens up to him, kissing him goodnight , finally accepting him as the right person for her, somebody who would not be seduced by her mother. She tells her brother as much, and he replies, " What does the Mother say to that ? " , as if challenging his mother.

  84. Veronica is undoubtedly the most tragic character in the book,lacking her mother's charm ,and too intelligent and bookish to be really undrstood by an average man ,which Tony is, and with whom she unfortunately falls in love. Not being able to understand her, and feeling inferior ,he dumps her. She tries to get him back by having sex with him, something that he had wanted all along, but this fails too. Later, she acts with dignity in suggesting to Adrian that he let Tony know about their relationship, but Tony's jealousy, lack of intelligence and essential 'meanness' make him write that letter which leads Adrian to Sarah. Sarah ,contrary to Veronica, is the proverbial femme fatale, given to artistic pretensions, a ravenous appetite for life and a weak moral fibre. This probably leads her husband to alcohalism and an early death.Veronica and Sarah are radically opposite in character.Sarah is 'carefree and dashing' and charming enough to captivate most men. She is probably one of those women who considers all other women as their rivals, even if it is her own daughter. Additionally, Veronica's essentially prudish nature must have made her reject her mother's excesses, and this must have resulted in an antipathy in Sarah towards her own daughter.Adrian probably falls for Sarah because;
    a. He takes Tony's comments seriously
    b. He finds more warmth in Sarah than in Veronica, who has been too 'damaged' by her life with her mother to give in very easily to intimacy.
    c.He is a motherless child ,remember, who professes to love his mother 'deeply'.Sarah probably fills in a void left by his mother's abandonement.
    Sarah's pregnancy must have filled him with horror at having created unwanted life, and hence the 'philosophiocal question' of refusing what one has never asked for:life.

  85. My theory as to why Veronica is so angry. Remember she has her own distorted memories and assumptions too. I think when her mom willed the money and diary to Tony, Veronica then thought (or maybe she had always thought) that Tony had been seduced by her mother that weekend. Thus, Tony and Adrian are interchangeable. She can't take out her anger on Adrian for destroying her family, so she takes out her 40 years of anger out on Tony, who in her mind committed the same sin of sleeping with her mother.

  86. Aparupa excellent comments

    The two lines that lead me towards Sarah sleeping with tony were one in the sex scene where he says 'did she think I was a virgin', its vague but kind of implied he wasn't and no other encounter was mentioned.

    also there's a line much later about trying to give the impression of having met Sarah once and liked her and that one of those two things was true. Well he certainly seemed quite well disposed to Sarah in the initial meeting so theres no reason to doubt his liking her.

  87. I have just finished the book and was about to start reading it again (which I will do anyway)to try to make sense of it all, but instead came across this website which answers most of my questions. What an erudite lot you all are, especially Nick Wright, and thank you for making it all much clearer.

    The one thing that still mystifies me is Veronica's bizarre behaviour in taking Tony on the bumpy encounter to see Adrian Jnr. How is the hapless Tony expected to understand what he is witnessing when she won't say a word? And then tells him in exasperation that he just doesn't get it? Surely the only way to achieve her purpose is to explain it to him?

  88. I have read all the posts with great interest. How about this scenario:
    Tony and Veronica have sex after they break up. Veronica becomes pregnant. Veronica has the child and he is raised as her brother. He is placed in a home, in collusion with Sarah, who lets him and the people in charge believe she is his mother and Veronica is his sister Mary.
    Adrian finds out that Veronica had been pregnant with Tony’s child. He receives Tony’s vitriolic letter and shows it to Veronica. She is shaken by the “curse” on their offspring but forbids Adrian from telling Tony that she is pregnant and that the child is his. Adrian is destabilized – Tony introduced Adrian to Veronica, got her pregnant, Sarah will adopted the child as her own, agreeing to raise him as Veronica’s brother …Adrian cannot handle the reality of this situation- of which Tony is not aware- and commits suicide. [the formula involves two As- Adrian and Anthony- V for Veronica, B for baby and S for the pseudo-mother…]. Adrian confided his diary to Veronica's mother with the instruction never to tell Tony the truth, but she decided that Tony should eventually find out. She bequeathes him “blood money” and leaves the diary to him. Veronica picks up the diary during her mother’s senility in her last days. Veronica may or may not have burned the diary, keeping only the page she sends tony.
    Veronica lost the love of her life- Adrian – and spent her life living a lie- denying her maternity of a”damaged” child – hence her lack of patience with Tony. She felt he needed to know, but couldn’t bring herself to tell him…”you will never understand…”
    Eros and thanatos…

    1. didn't tony wear a condom when he slept with Veronica?

    2. Like the theory of child really being veronica's but pretty sure Adrian is the father. Maybe Adrian had the affair with Sarah before knowing v was pregnant. Would explain why veronica's life seems to have been so empty (wonder if she had a breakdown and spent some of the past 40 years in hospitals) Unwed motherhood was not acceptable in the 60's so v may have not been able to challenge her moms argument that she should claim maternity. Veronica's family is so disfunctional, it did seem like she was bringing Tony home for her mother and that there was something inappropriate between v and her dad.

  89. I've had about a week to dwell on the finish of this book and i've now come to the conclusion that Tony DID sleep with Veronica's mum, Sarah. The letter shortly after the end of the relationship with Veronica and the £500 in the will suggest Sarah feels guilt for taking Tony's virginity or 'innocence' and perhaps for breaking up the relationship with her daughter. She apologises for the way 'the family' behaved towards Tony, but perhaps what she really means, but is too cowardly to admit, is that she's sorry for the way SHE behaved and using the word 'family' has created in Tony's mind a false impression of Veronica's father and brother. After all, none of Tony's observations about their behaviour seem THAT bad to me and the brother was willing to help out Tony by giving him Veronica's e-mail address.
    My guess is the diary would have revealed that Sarah had confided in Adrian that she had slept with Tony, but that Adrian bore no grudge and was grateful to Tony for bringing them together.
    The recollection of that 'secret, hoizontal gesture' seemed to be part of Tony finally 'getting it'.
    What was the secret gesture? Was it an offer to sleep with him again if he wanted? or was she miming wanking him off into the sink?

  90. Tony has reached a point in his life where he has become self-critical toward his actions in his youth. Given the fact that he has always had an instinct of self-preservation and has blamed people around him when he was younger, it is not surprising that he is second guessing his thoughts and actions and wondering if he himself was not wrong.

    Especially so, once he started the quest to obtain Adrian’s diary and with the events that transpired afterwards. He concluded that Adrian’s (whose clarity of thought he envied) words “So for instance, if Tony…” were a rebuke, a criticism, of his whole life - if Tony hadn’t been Tony.

    But in Adrian’s opinion, the “desire to ascribe responsibility might be more a reflection of my own cast of mind than a fair analysis of what happened”. So I’d like to think that he does not blame Tony for what has happened, but he definitely believes that Tony was one of the links in the chain, one that was arguably necessary for the end result (to plant the idea in Adrian’s head to discuss Veronica with her mother).

    What was interesting was why both Sarah and Veronica thought that Adrian and Tony were close. Maybe Adrian did like Tony better than Alex and Colin. Maybe that is why Sarah left the diary to Tony, and which would explain why Veronica called the 500 pounds “blood money”.

    Julius Barnes ends the story with Tony wallowing in a sea of guilt. The blurb on the book jacket says that the story is about Tony "coming to terms with the mutable past". I'd hate to think that Barnes believes that Tony just lives with remorse for the rest of his life. But unless that is the case, the title of the book "The Sense of an Ending" seems inappropriate.

    If it is up to the reader’s interpretation as to what happens next, my guess is, Margaret will help Tony get over it. Taking out the Serbian gunman out of the equation would not have averted the war.

  91. Just finished this book and like many, feeling confused about the details of what happened which were not revealed. Having read some of the comments and gone back over a few parts, such as the content of Tony's letter to Adrian and Veronica. I'm left wondering whether the whole thing about Veronica saying "you just don't get it" is actually referring to the fact that Tony thinks everything is about him. He hasn't ever put the relationship with Veronica aside, he still bristles from the perceived slights which are evidence only of his reaction to others rather than (potentially) what was intended. This is in his mind when he starts to try and recover Adrian's diary and he assumes Veronica has burnt the diary in some way to spite him rather than considering why she may have done that. I think Tony does not realise that for the others caught up in this story, he is largely irrelevant. He does have a habit of assuming and assuming and building up his own narrative rather than querying and reality checking his assumptions. He strikes me as insecure and introverted and would not have the gumption to have had any kind of liaison with Veronica's mother. As to the blame being placed on Tony, there is no direct evidence that Veronica, or others, blamed Tony for what he wrote, or indeed what reference Adrian was making to Tony (if Tony) in his own letter. I can't quite square why Veronica gave Tony his letter back - perhaps to remind him how little he wanted to do with her and Adrian at that time, and how that contrasts now with his insistence on having Adrian's diary.
    In any case I'm sure this book will play on my mind a while longer. Not exactly an enjoyable read but interesting nonetheless.

  92. Reading through most of the comments on here I'm amazed how unpopular the ending to this book was. Perhaps it's because I was a philosophy student at university but I found that this book touched me in a way that very few have. Someone on here mentioned that the theme of the book was "memory" but it is in actual fact "history". The only lessons we read the four boys attend together while at school is history class, Adrian speaks of needing to know the history of the historian (how much do we really know objectively about our protagonist Tony?), there is reference to a chain effect of events in which no single moment in time is independantly responsible for future events. This links to Tony's thoughts when he recieves the £500: "more than nothing, not enough to be something" or words to that effect. This phrase is symbolic of the perception as to what history is.

    And what of Adrian: what do we know of the history of this historian? While it is drawn to our attention that his parents are divorced this is as far as the reader is allowed to see (the equivalent to the amount Tony is allowed to see when Veronica sends him the single photocopied fragment of Adrians diary).

    I have only scratched the surface of the themes which resinate through what I consider to be the best book of the 21st century. Whether or not you appreciate what is said in this novel is neither here nor there such is the grace in whiich Barnes writes.

  93. Thanks for all your comments. I'm starting to think that Tony did sleep with Sarah and somehow he forgot about it. It hit him only in the end and that's where he said 'he got it.' I don't think the child was his though because the time frame doesn't fit. I do think Veronica just found out about it and that's why she was hostile. Hard to believe he would forget that though.

  94. What if Tony did sleep with Sarah and tell Adrian to talk to her because he knew that Adrian would also be seduced. This would ruin Adrian's relationship with Veronica, in the same way Tony's relationship ended. Both Adrian and Veronica would be hurt and Tony would be the Victor.

  95. For me, the key lies in the 'secret, horizontal gesture' beneath a sunlit wisteria' that Sarah makes as Tony is driving away. This, above all else, makes me think that Sarah and Tony slept together, and she's signalling to him to keep quiet, to never say a word, to draw a line under it. Is - too - the wayward way Sarah has with fried eggs symbolic of her own sexual abandon when faced with her daughter's boyfriend....?? Maybe it's a stretch... and as a reader I wanted a little more, rather than reveling in the story's unanswered questions... but any other explanation feels not nearly revelatory enough.

  96. If Sarah did not want Adrian's diary to go to her own family, surely Tony is the only friend of Adrian's she knows. Unless she destroys it (which may be hard for her to do possibly - given that it might old clues to his state of mind prior to committing suicide) there is noone else presented in the book who might be disposed to keep the diary. Of course when Veronica gets it she burns it.
    Given the topic of the book I think it is interesting how much variation we as individuals see in the storyline. I personally think that Tony did not sleep with Sarah. I also can't see how telling someone to talk to someone else renders you guilty if those people then choose to sleep with each other!

  97. I love the way this book plaus with the sense of false security, both for the characters in the novel and the reader. I think the whole point of the novel is to retain an air of confusion, or mystery. The way women can be 'clear-edged' or mysterious, so can the novel. At least it gives a lot of food for thought.

    I've been trying to figure out why the group of five calls Veronica 'Mary' insetad of her real name. Could it be that she has deliberately remained somewhat at a distance from her half-brother, that he doesn't know she is his half-sister, and that she uses this alias in order to remain anonymous? Adrian jr. might know, from his mother, that he has a sister named Veronica, and she wants to avoid him knowing her true identity, given the complicated history. Just a thought, of course...

    1. "I've been trying to figure out why the group of five calls Veronica 'Mary' insetad of her real name."
      Maybe by calling Veronica 'Mary', Julian intends to say that she is like Virgin Mary??? Was never pregnant herself, but now has to care for a 'son' Adrian jr.? Or is that too much of a stretch...

  98. I hated this book and found it painful to read.

    Once Barnes had finally piqued my interest in the story, he just ended it without revealing any resolutions at all.

    Even if Tony had just got a hold of the diary somehow, that may have redeemed the book a bit, but no.

    I feel dumber for having read this book.

  99. The uncertainty of history--personal as well as political--is the theme of the book. But that does not prevent us from trying to frame a narrative. Indeed, that is what people do.

  100. I was perplexed at the ending and appreciate reading here that I am not alone !

  101. I wonder if Veronica was the biological child of Sarah's husband? When Tony sees the father he is surprised that the man could father such an elfin creature such as
    Veronica. And he notes that there isn't much resemblance between Sarah and her daughter. I don't think that Tony slept with Sarah. Maybe Sarah left the diary to Tony to show him what he missed 40 years ago? As far as "damage", Veronica was damaged by her mother's promiscuity and Sarah was damaged by? Also, do you think that Adrian questioned the paternity of Sarah's baby? Adrian wondered out loud if Robison questioned the paternity of his girlfriend's baby.
    In conclusion, Tony is a shit. He did not want to be with Veronica because she did not want to stagnate and Tony wanted for life not to ask too much from him. He puts Veronica down so many different times "now dating a normal sized girl" f****** bastard. I have enjoyed reading everyone's comments

  102. I wonder what Sarah's letter to Tony really said.

  103. Thank you, Nick, for the timeline which helped make sense of the ending! Two comments: 1. I wanted to defend Veronica for a second. Tony's description of her during their relationship really wasn't so bad. She was a bit of a selfish lover. But, my god, did I royally screw up every guy I never gave it up for? Really? She was trying to be coy and conservative with him. Maybe cause she was serious about him. And in the end, as the narrator himself admits, it could be interpreted that he broke it off after she had sex with him. It wasn't until after the break-up that Tony describes their relationship harshly, not quite calling her a bitch, but pretty close to it. I found this surprising, as I read it, actually, and I thought it had to do with the theme of memory. He makes their relationship much worse than it actually was after it's over. And he makes it even worse after she starts to go with Adrian. As previous writers have commented, Veronica in the end is the most tragic character, having been screwed over by her husband, her mother, her brother (who gave Tony her email address which led to a flurry of crazy emails), and left with a disabled son to care for. Some have asked why she cared for Adrian, Jr. He was an orphan that she was intimately related to. Wouldn't you? Some have asked why her name was Sara? She was embarrassed of the relationship (particularly of its parentage!) and didn't want to start rumors among people she knew so took on the pseudonym.

    2. Many have asked why Adrian Sr. killed himself. And I'm simply at a loss. Does it really not make sense that a man would kill himself after having an affair with his mother-in-law and then finding out that they were going to be having a baby? How do you go on after that? You would need to be reeeeally open-minded. He did a shameful thing that he couldn't live with. And whereas before it was an illicit affair that, yes, perhaps made him happy. Once he found out they were having a baby, he realized that for the rest of your life, he would have to say, "Yes, this is my child. I had him with Sara who was my mother-in-law at the time. We're very happy now. All's well. No Greek tragedy here." Adrian couldn't live with himself. And made what was for him the very logical decision to kill himself.

    Overall, I found the book totally riveting and well-crafted.

  104. I've really enjoyed this book immensely. It's the first Julian Barnes I have read. I agree that the ending was frustrating and I am very glad for some of the above suggestion and quite possible explanations. The idea of looking at life as an accumulation of events and their possible consequences is a really interesting one. Whether it is valid or not to do so is another matter. Tony is being hard on himself, but then most of us appear to do something similar; it's called guilt. At times you felt like saying to him; 'C'mon, no one can have that far reaching kind of effect on the lives of others.'But this wonderful book really slows you down to the pace of its own meditation on memory and you do then wonder what effects our own words and feelings can have on others.

  105. There's a piece that appears twice in the book where Adrain is quoted as saying; "History is that certaincy produced when imperfections of memory meet the inadequcaies of documentaion". This, for me, is the central theme of the novel and allows all scenarios as "what really happened" plausiable.

    Great commentaries, Nick Wright.

    1. I agree-- 3 documents that could solve or at least refine the story are 1) Adrian's letter to Tony, 2) Sarah's letter to Tony and 3) Adrian's diary. Tony's done a good job of destroying documentation from the points of others' views, but he can't hide from the letter that Sarah/ Veronica saved.

  106. I agree.. on re-reading, it becomes clear that, inspite of the passionate discussion generated in this blog (and elsewhere) about the narrative and the characters( who was good? who was bad? what really happened?), they are actually inconsequential. The theme of the book is memory and its subjectivity...and the narrative ,which is subsidiary to the larger theme, has been framed just to illustrate this! This getting together of heads to dicern what actually happened is probably the exact effect the writer had set out to create, and he has been super successful at it! Definitely well written!

  107. Just finished reading this book in one go. couldn't keep it down. it took me a while to understand the ending though. i feel the books central theme was How something so small can have such larger consequences. In start old joe hunt asked if ferdinand's assassination stared the world war. As adrian pointed out that its just a way of blaming someone so that everyone else is exculpated. Similarly veronica looks at the chain of events and puts the blame on tony, and so does tony himself. While veronica was in state of grief, tony was feeling guilty about the letter . So they interpret the history in there own ways. As adrian explained history depends on the subjective interpretation of the historian. It doesn't matter what the truth was, what mattered was what they remembered and what they interpreted from it.
    Really loved this book, definitely worthy of man booker prize.

  108. I would like to revisit the "Fight Club" theory. Tony/Adrian are multiple personalities. Adrian's suicide is a metaphor for loss of the Adrian persona. This is how Adrian "Jr" can both look like Adrian and be the son of Tony. The accumulation attempts to quantify the complexity of the relationship among Sarah, Vernica and the multiple personality of Tony/Adrian (perhaps a clue that Tony/Adrian are a2/a1). Does Adrian's a1 designation (as interpreted by Tony) imply that Adrian is really the Primary personality?
    Recall how Ardrian drifts into being; he "initially kept his eyes down and his mind to himself. For the first day or two, we took little notice of him...We just registered his presence and waited."
    I also have no problem with the idea that Tony/Adrian portrays his sexual experience at Veronica's home as masturbation whereas the Adrian persona was actually having sex with Sarah.
    This is what Veronica understood and that Tony/Adrian couldn't get. This is why Tony has to "go back into my past and deal with Adrian" and "recalibrate Adrian".

  109. My take: Adrian stated at the beginning that all we can really say about any historical event is that something happened. Later he adds that trying to ascribe responsibility for events is usually a cop-out - we either want to blame an individual (the Serbian gunman) or historical process (Europe as a powder keg ready to blow) or chance (the world perpetually in anarchic chaos) and whichever we choose, it's so that everyone can simply blame everyone else or no one at all. But he thinks there is a chain of individual responsibilities for any given event, all of which are necessary to cause that event, but the chain isn't so long as to allow all the parties in it to blame everyone else.

    Veronica clearly chooses to believe that the event (the affair of Adrian and Sarah and the resulting child and suicide) is Tony's fault (i.e., the Serbian gunman theory). By so believing, she exonerates herself, Adrian, and even her mother, with whom she remained apparently on friendly enough terms.

    I think that Sarah is a proponent or representative of the chaos/chance theory of responsibility. She's described as a chaotic sort of person herself, breaking eggs, tossing them away, slinging the sizzling pan into the sink, even before we learn of her other more serious transgressions. There's no sense in the book that she holds anyone responsible, least of all herself, or that she has any regrets about any of it. The event just sort of happened, nobody's fault, happy till it ended, etc., and there's no indication that she thought the baby was a tragedy. Even the money and diary bequest to Tony appears just a kind of whim on her part.

    To some degree, Margaret may represent the "historical process" approach when she warns Tony not to go down that path of trying to get the diary from the "Fruitcake." In a sense, she's telling him that it could be a powder keg and he might trigger a great deal of unpleasantness.

    Certainly, as we learn at the end, the fragment of Adrian's diary shows that he tried to work out who the "necessary" links are in his limited-chain-of-responsibility theory, and he's not sure that Tony is one.

    Tony seems to accept that he is one of the culpable links based upon his nasty letter, but if so, then true to form,
    he still doesn't entirely get it at the end. (". . . we need to know the history of the historian to understand the version being put in front of us.") Adrian, of course, would have met Sarah sooner or later had he continued to date Veronica, so at most Tony's letter, if it did cause Adrian to consult Sarah, simply speeded up their meeting. If Adrian was honest with himself, and if Tony wasn't Tony, they both would have seen that Tony's sole causality in the chain leading to the baby was that he introduced Adrian to Veronica. He's right that it's too late to go back and change things - it usually is - but he's not actually a culpable link in the chain.

    He may understand that to some degree at least. Adrian's first words about history - all we can say is something happened - are echoed by Tony in the last words of the book where all he can really say about life is that "There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest."

  110. I have just finished "The Sense of an Ending". My current theory - before a second reading - is that Veronica really did love Tony - but he did not get it. She then blames him and her mother (who is the most truly culpable character) for breaking her relationship with him. She blames her mother for turning Tony against her with her words on the visit; she blames Tony for taking notice of the warning, for not thinking for himself; and she blames Tony for her turning to Adrian and the consequences of Adrian's entering her family.

  111. Hello, just finished and have some thoughts.. Tony talks of damage to Veronica when she was young. It may be a reference, not to damage by her father or brother, but by her mother. The relationship between mother and daughter can be fraught with maternal competition, this seems quite likely given the statement made by Sarah. So perhaps she tried to seduce Tony, failed, but succeeded with Adrian. Thus, the "blood money" was for Tony for sending Adrian her way. This would explain Veronica's inability to be forthright with Tony and the suicide of Adrian. He wasn't quite as brilliant as he had supposed or he wouldn't have been able to be used by Sarah to "hurt" Veronica. Tony was used by Sarah to inflict more pain into Veronica's life by his pursuit of the diary. The true mystery was what information that diary contained.

  112. Just read this in The New York Times, and it seems pertinent: "What we write about fiction is never an objective response to a text; it is always part of a bigger mythmaking — the story we are telling ourselves about ourselves." From a book review by Jeanette Winterson.

    1. reminds me of what adrian said, something about knowing the history of the historian.

  113. who's the boy on the cover? :)
    Please, can you answer...

  114. He's a model (a la Naomi Campbell), a stand-in for Tony.

  115. I found this book extremely frustrating. I think Julian Barnes is a good writer (and sometimes very good)but I found the characters to be either really dull or just tedious. The only characters I found even vaguely interesting were Adrian (Snr) and Veronica's mother - both of which we don't see that much of.
    Tony's constant niggling away at his ex-girlfriend (who obviously didn't want to see him and was rather unpleasant anyway)really started to annoy me. He was a bored, bland character with not a lot happening in his life.
    The book seemed to promise so much more...

  116. Not an amateur detective or vampire in sight. Hallelujah!

  117. I can't believe that no one saw this as I did (or a few others in our book club.) The woman Tony meets and talks to is not Veronica: it's Veronica and Tony's daughter. Hence, the comment that she looks so much the same as she did except for a little grey. Come on, many years have passed and it's not like he was so in love with her that he saw her as beautiful even in her old age. Veronica never told Tony about the child. If Tony is let's say in his 70's, the daughter could be in her 50's. Veronica's mother left Tony the diary so that he would finally know that he had made Veronica pregnant and the "blood money" because he was denied knowing this child existed. The woman did not find out about her true father until she read this diary. Go back and read the conversations of Tony and the woman (the woman has little memory and says nothing of the past with Tony.) She says he is clueless and he is. He thinks this woman is Veronica and it's really the daughter of Veronica and Tony. That's why her name is different.

    1. So now please also tell us who shot John Kennedy.

    2. Veronica does remember the one time she danced with Tony. Also, I think Adrian Jr calls her Mary because it was easier to say when he was a child.

  118. She signs an email to Tony "V", which surely indicates that she thinks her name is Veronica.

    The comments here are wonderful! But I still don't see a convincing reason for this double naming of Veronica - which seems, to Tony, to be part of the pattern he now understands: "And who called his sister Mary."

  119. I just finished reading The Sense of an Ending and found it to be a very enjoyable read, with thought provoking aftereffects that linger, with the reader forced to utilize his/her “imperfection of memory and the inadequacies of documentation” to speculate on “truth”. Bravo to the writer for foisting Tony’s condition upon the reader.
    I have a few thoughts that might add to everyone else’s speculations:
    1) Tony viewed Adrian as smart, but he was only book smart and had a keen ability to regurgitate information he read. When confronted with real life, he was a cripple and a coward. He made many not so smart decisions and then took the easy way out. Tony thought he was too smart and noble in death, not really. How ironic his son would be mentally impaired.
    2) The 500 pounds. – Sarah gave Tony the money in consideration of a task he was to perform. The task probably involved Adrian the younger (her son) and the diary would have revealed what the task was. It would have been her “last wish” to see it done. Tony is denied that ability because Veronica won’t let it be revealed, probably because it conflicts with her agenda. I assume Veronica was estranged from her mother, if not physically then emotionally, and she might not of ever had a meaningful connection to Adrian the son. When she does appear to Adrian (the son), possibly after the death of her mum, she operates under an alias to not allow him to connect the dots that she is actually the dreaded Veronica. Veronica does not introduce Tony to Adrian for Tony’s edification – she introduces him so Adrian will know who Tony is and she plants the negative (dangerous) seeds that make Adrian uncomfortable later in the bar. Sarah wanted Tony to be close to Adrian because Tony was Adrian’s (the dad) only true friend, almost a brother he never had (which would have been revealed in the diary). If you think about it, Tony would have been the closest thing to family, but Veronica was not going to allow it to happen. Everything else in Veronica’s actions is misdirection so Tony “won’t get it”.
    Ultimately, Veronica succeeds. Instead of allowing Tony to become close to Adrian II (which is what Sarah and Adrian I would want) she erects every possible barrier so it won’t happen. Unfortunately, Tony is so obsessed with how this is all about him, he falls for her bait and buy into a self-imposed exile from Adrian.
    From this tack, Veronica is a manipulative, vengeful, hateful bitch. Her aim could be to possibly control the estate, which could have been left to Adrian – who was obviously very close to his mom and suffering from her absence.

    I wish I had more time to develop this idea but have to go. Hope everyone thinks this is viable and look forward to a good re-reading to see what more I can deduce. I would appreciate any thoughts.

  120. I am very glad to have found this discussion because it helps greatly in trying to resolve some of the many puzzles. An earlier post commented that the book was read because the poster could not sleep. For me, it was the other way around! After reading the novel in one sitting, then returning to the last pages and their earlier references,I tossed and turned all night. The affair between Adrian and Sara seems most logical, particularly in light of Adrian Jr.'s physical description. Also, it makes the "broken egg" incident seem like foreshadowing. However, I am frustrated when too many clues are left unexplained, like Adrian's math sequence.
    As for Veronica, I think she was always just a contrary person, and it didn't help that Tony broke up with her at such a sensitive time. She never forgave him, and probably was not happy to have him back in her life.
    I found the examination of the mysteries of memory to be fascinating, and there were many memorable and profound lines, but I would not reread the entire novel again, because...
    even when I finally fell asleep, I spent the night dreaming that I was searching for my family!

  121. I think that the book is supposed to be left somewhat open-ended.

    It seems likely that the disabled man is Adrian and Sarah's son.

    The other disabled folk may also be her kin.

    This would mean that Adrian acted against his better judgement.

    Tony's nasty letter compounded the problem and contributed to the suicide.

    Or was it murder?

    Other outcomes are possible if the facts change as Tony re-thinks them again.

    Or, come up with your own ending ;]

    1. John Sunlight: Did you read the other posts in this thread? See above. Your comments make me think you haven't read them, and I think you would find most of them interesting and revealing. (We HAVE come up with our own endings.)

  122. 138 comments and not one has explored the issue of disability and how we are supposed to respond to the disabled son and his friends. Everyone seems to have bought into the idea that the birth of the disabled son is/was a disaster - some sort of retribution perhaps, which is certainly how Tony sees it. This is stereotyping the experience of disabled people and their carers and building on cultural expectations about disability.

    The disabled son seems quite happy (apart from mourning the loss of his mother) and perhaps he has had a happy life and brought nothing but joy to his mother and to everyone else who knew him. But the clear insinuation in the story is that his birth was a blot. And it seems to me that all of have automatically bought into this interpretation.

    I hope that Barnes was aware of the disabled politics when writing this story and wasn't buying into the stereotypes either!

  123. Adrian Finn's mother left when he was young and since then he only ever saw her when she came up to London. I think she (Adrian’s mother) is Susan Ford. As Susan Finn, she left her husband already pregnant with her next child (Veronica), and married Mr Ford (who already had an older child Jack from a previous relationship). Susan Finn/Ford keeps in contact with Adrian (in London) and hears all about Tony as the boys grow up – hence her comment in her letter that Adrian always spoke warmly about him – she is referring back to their childhood.

    Veronica starts a relationship with Adrian and becomes pregnant by him. However, it is only when she takes him down to Chiselhurst to meet her parents that Adrian and his mother (Sarah Ford) both realise that Veronica is his sister and therefore that their child will be the product of incest (as Adrian is her brother). As a result Adrian commits suicide.

    In order not to fall foul of the law (and for the sake of the child), Adrian Jnr is raised to believe that Susan is his mother, and Veronica (Mary) his sister. This of course is half true anyway, as Veronica is both his mother and his sister.

    This explains:

    • Tony wondered how Mr Ford could have such an elfin daughter – Veronica is not his.
    • Susan Ford has Adrian’s diary - because all his possessions would go to his parents on his death.
    • Adrian Jnr’s mental state – possibly as a result of being a product of incest.
    • Adrian Jnr believes Sarah is his mother, and Veronica (who he calls by her middle name of Mary) to be his sister.
    • The ‘blood money’ - only Tony could ever realise the truth (but doesn’t)
    • Adrian’s equation in his diary - the ‘S’ doesn’t stand for Susan but rather for Sister.

    The final irony is the fact that even when Tony thinks he has finally ‘got it’, actually he hasn’t at all.

    1. I'm way beyond trying to divine "the truths" of Tony's life as my respect for and enjoyment of this novel do not depend on them in the least. Therefore, I have little incentive to ponder the nature of Scilly Girl's comments, but they do strike me, in general, as very thoughtful and interesting...and perhaps more likely than many of the other possibilities discussed previously. Cheers!, Scilly Girl.

  124. @Scilly Girl - I'm dumbfounded and impressed. Your theory is simultaneously wildly implausible and scarily likely to be true. I can't find a flaw in your logic and it certainly ties everything together much better than any other theory I've seen. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I was always puzzled by Sarah's comment that "Tony always spoke warmly of you" - as if their relationship lasted years not a mere 3 months but your explanation completely covers this. It also explains why Veronica is pissed off at Tony after all those years (he was the unwitting instigator of the incestuous match-up) and why she can't tell him the truth - the shame must be enormous. It explains why she probably burnt the diary to cover her own culpability as much as anything else. It explains why Sarah feels guilty for the way her family behaved - Tony was not just her daughter's suitor but her son's boyhood friend.

    It explains better than Tony's own explanation Adrian Jr's mental disability - and why, as the last-but-one commenter mentioned his birth is more of a "blot" than it would otherwise be (a disabled child is not in itself at all shameful and I don't believe it's Barnes' intent to suggest otherwise). It explains why Veronica feels love for Adrian Jr. (not loathing - if it had been Adrian and Sarah's lovechild) but why he also represents her own shame and causes her strange behaviour towards Tony. It may also explain why she calls herself Mary with him, to somehow distance herself from her own responsibility for the incest.

    Most of all, it explains why Adrian killed himself - a puzzle I never truly believed I'd heard satisfactorily solved before. It seemed too cowardly of him to kill himself merely upon finding out he'd got Sarah pregant OR after finding out his son was disabled. Now it makes sense - incest remains one of those powerful, gut-level phenomena almost all people deeply abhor.

    I actually can't see any flaws in this theory - although I think there are several flaws in the over-melodramatic story behind it (admit it: it's pretty convoluted). This paints Tony as a tragi-comic character who is the only witness to a true tragedy of Ancient Greek proportions but can't understand it. If Adrian's flaw, that Tony points out in the first part of the novel, is that he "should have gone snooping" more into his Mum's life, then Tony's flaw is that his own snooping is misguided and self-centred. Not to say Tony could have necessarilyfigured this out - based on the evidence he got, it took over 100 commenters on this blog to figure out this actual sequence of events. Still, he could have asked more and better questions.

    I'm actually glad I can finally call an end to the search and find a theory that makes sense behind the secondary plot that acts as the dramatic foil to Tony's first-parson narrative.

  125. @Scilly Girl - I'm dumbfounded and impressed. Your theory is simultaneously wildly implausible and scarily likely to be true. I can't find a flaw in your logic and it certainly ties everything together much better than any other theory I've seen. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I was always puzzled by Sarah's comment that "Tony always spoke warmly of you" - as if their relationship lasted years not a mere 3 months but your explanation completely covers this. It also explains why Veronica is pissed off at Tony after all those years (he was the unwitting instigator of the incestuous match-up) and why she can't tell him the truth - the shame must be enormous. It explains why she probably burnt the diary to cover her own culpability as much as anything else. It explains why Sarah feels guilty for the way her family behaved - Tony was not just her daughter's suitor but her son's boyhood friend.

    It explains better than Tony's own explanation Adrian Jr's mental disability - and why, as the last-but-one commenter mentioned his birth is more of a "blot" than it would otherwise be (a disabled child is not in itself at all shameful and I don't believe it's Barnes' intent to suggest otherwise). It explains why Veronica feels love for Adrian Jr. (not loathing - if it had been Adrian and Sarah's lovechild) but why he also represents her own shame and causes her strange behaviour towards Tony. It may also explain why she calls herself Mary with him, to somehow distance herself from her own responsibility for the incest.

    Most of all, it explains why Adrian killed himself - a puzzle I never truly believed I'd heard satisfactorily solved before. It seemed too cowardly of him to kill himself merely upon finding out he'd got Sarah pregant OR after finding out his son was disabled. Now it makes sense - incest remains one of those powerful, gut-level phenomena almost all people deeply abhor.

    I actually can't see any flaws in this theory - although I think there are several flaws in the over-melodramatic story behind it (admit it: it's pretty convoluted). This paints Tony as a tragi-comic character who is the only witness to a true tragedy of Ancient Greek proportions but can't understand it. If Adrian's flaw, that Tony points out in the first part of the novel, is that he "should have gone snooping" more into his Mum's life, then Tony's flaw is that his own snooping is misguided and self-centred. Not to say Tony could have necessarilyfigured this out - based on the evidence he got, it took over 100 commenters on this blog to figure out this actual sequence of events. Still, he could have asked more and better questions.

    I'm actually glad I can finally call an end to the search and find a theory that makes sense behind the secondary plot that acts as the dramatic foil to Tony's first-parson narrative.

  126. Hi scilly girl - I think your theory has like all the other ones, its inconsistencies but there is one big one. First of, Veronica is not Adrian's sister. Adrian's mom when she left was not pregnant. page 9 "his mother had walked out, years before, leaving his dad to cope with adrian and his sister'
    Let me know if there is another part of the book indicating otherwise.

    now lets imagine that veronica is Sarah's child from her second union which would make her Adrian's 1/2 sister and certainly constitute incest etc.

    How is that Adrian would stay in touch with his mom Sarah closely enough and regularly enough that she would know of his friendships and hear about Tony, while Adrian would not know anything about Veronica, her daughter, his half sister. it would be strange that they have still an ongoing relationship that would bring the subject of his friendships but not of her new family. I also would imagine that Sarah would start feeling odd with two of her kids at a teenager age starting to come close in terms of friend's circle with a common friendship Tony. she might have intervene to avoid closeness. she would have defintely reacted immediately if she learned that veronica had a new BF.

    Not related to your theory but many people talked about that: I dont think that Tony feels that he had a real responsability in all of this. On page 151, he does say that he does not believe in curses but that the way things happened alone 'still has a shiver'. Tony certainly has a self pity tone on more than one occasions but I dont think that it is because of a sense of direct cause-effect on his part in this drama.


  127. Bothersome to me: T.W. writes part One as if he did not know, as he wrote, what would happen in part Two, when he must have- why write One if not to progress the narrative to Two? Of course, to do otherwise would have spoiled the suspense, and J.B. had to employ that authorial conceit, and have T.W. employ it also. I only began to be bothered by it after obsessing over the book's Hilbert-space geometries. perhaps this is just one more thing the book is 'about'-another layer of untruth, or ambiguity, or art.

  128. Bothersome to me is that T. W. writes part One as if he did not know as he wrote what would transpire in part Two, though he certainly must have; why write One if not to progress us to Two? Of course J. B. had to use this authorial conceit, or spoil the suspense; and have T. W. use it also. This only occurred to me after a long while obsessing over the book's Hilbert-space metageometries. Perhaps this is just one more thing this book is 'about'- another layer of untruth, fictivity, artifice, art.

  129. Veronica's anger is born of the fact that Tony never did get it. He never got that she loved him, because he never spoke her emotional language. He never, as she wanted him to do, took charge of their relationship. He was, as her father indicated when he offered brandy to Tony to (symbolically or otherwise) stiffen him for the amatory task ahead, and Tony refused, a mouse, not a man. Veronica gives Tony the clearest possible indication with the "wicked" comment that she expects him to visit her that night, but Tony, being Tony, takes refuge in a wank. A wasteful gesture to which her mother makes a corresponding wasteful gesture: throwing away the egg.

    The brilliant thing about the book is that Barnes leaves Tony ignorant of the one thing that really could have brought his life alive. The thing that Margaret certainly knew. That Tony, if he'd been less of a mouse, could have been happy with Veronica. V's mother Sarah knew that, too. Is it too fanciful to say that it's because she knew, that she sabotaged V's affair with Adrian by seducing him? Maybe, but if you take Tony's failure to grasp the fact of Veronica's love for him as the central truth of the story, everything else makes sense. Vs fury at Tony is that, due to his pusillanimous nature, he has caused them both to waste their lives.

    The Adrian affair - remember, Veronica insists that Adrian tells Tony about this because it's her way of trying to get him back - and all that follows, including Adrian's affair with Sarah, is all a consequence of this failure of comprehansion on Tony's part. The letter Tony writes to the pair of them delineates just how absolute is his failure to read her signs.

  130. I have another theory. Veronica brings home boys for the mother. Teases them and gets them excited, but doesn't have sex with them. It is why she asks her brother " will this one do?" The father, brother and Veronica leave Tony and Sarah time in the morning to get together, going out for a walk and pretending they were leaving time for Tony's "sleeping-in" which he said he never did. Tony doesn't take the bait, doesn't remember that Sarah came on to him in some way. The mysterious had signal meant "not this one" or "nothing happened." Veronica actually fell for Tony, had sex with him only after he didn't have sex with the Mother. When he blew her off he broke her heart. She wanted to hurt him by taking up with Adrian and writing the letter. They had already broken up! That is why Veronica says, often "you didn't get it, you never got it". Sarah leaves him money because she felt guilty., bad about how the family had treated him. Maybe Adrian knew that and wrote it in the diary.
    Not a perfect explanation, but puts a few pieces together.

  131. That was one strange part in the book - Tony being left alone with Sarah while dad, brother and Veronica go for a walk - I thought it was strange the first time I read it. There must have been a reason for Barnes to put that in.

  132. Why does Jack call their mother "The Mother"? Tony wonders about this. I wonder if it's a clue and in some way adds credence to Scilly Girl's theory i.e. that Sarah is not his birth mother.

    Adrian was at uni by the time he met Veronica. I don't know about you, but I wasn't telling my parents very much about my friends at that stage. It is quite plausible, I think, that Adrian would have told his mother about Tony, when they were both at school, but not about Vanessa when they were at uni.

  133. I havent read all the previous posts, but I believe Veronica is so bitter because Tony suggested that Adrian go check out Veronica's "damage" with her mother. Either he heard something he didnt like and broke up with her, or became attracted to her mother, or both.

  134. where i had problems at first joining all the dots together entirely, i disagree with people saying this book leaves more questions than it answers. to me it is all perfectly clear what, in terms of actual events, happened. of course one can dissect the book's characters and ask about what and why veronica did or did not and whether she blames Tony or act the way she did, but ultimately what happened is that Adrian has gotten Sarah pregnant and killed himself out of shame - proving once again that what one thinks at one point in life does not have to be the same later and wil most likely change. this is being proven by the fact that he wrote down the equations which if one looks at them closely have the whole factual story in there already:

    b= baby (adrian jr)
    s= sarah (not "sister" as someone falsely stated further up - because "sister" is v...)
    v= veronica (or "mary")
    a1= adrian
    a2= anthony

    b = s-v +/x a1
    if i put this in words it makes: sarah minus veronica (meaning sarah "on her own") plus adrian, multiplies to make baby... where its notation is mathematically debatable, i think the message when looked at after finishing the book is clear, even for non maths heads like myself - call me foolish but just the X in connection to a and s seems a subtle nod to what has happened already...

    a2+v + a1 x s = b
    again the a1 X s is the main part here - it is mathematically probably bullshit but again in words - for me - it reads: the combination/addition of tony & veronica has led to adrian and sarah multiplying into baby (adrian jr)

    i guess most people - like myself - that have read this book will miss - upon first read - the fact that when the group of challenged people are referring to veronica as mary, they are actually just saying her middle name... clearly given to the reader upon first introduction of her character. this was my main hurdle at first and it took a while for the penny to drop. it just sounded strange. but then you pick up the book once more and even without reading the whole thing again you can puzzle it all together by the clues given in the story. much like investigating history from a history book or document. i then stumbled across the formula again, or just the first paragraph even...things that slip attention at first or your memory, ultimately drawing a different picture of the whole

    i think people that are criticising the book mainly are disappointed by the quick ending/read and have not taken up on the task of picking out the bits and clear clues the story provides to make the full picture. for me, not being mathematically minded, it is the formulas that ultimately weld the whole construct together. They also introduce/cement the responsibility affair of the book into the story: how big of a factor is each piece in that equation? has tony even anything to do with it - his variable is entirely missing in the first formula! then again the second one does clearly show him and adrian's fragment ends with "if Tony..." indicating that if it hadn't been for him (meeting veronica in the first place), or hadn't been for his letter - would anything of this have happened? so adrian must have blamed or at least have thought about blaming tony (at least giving him some sort of possible responsibility).

    i won't go into why some characters are upset or how much upset they are - or anything like this, but i think the synopsis of the book is clear cut with no "mysteries" or open endings. the whole point being the subject matter of action-reaction, prejudice, perception etc but mainly memory and how history or past events are being perceived compared to what they were perceived as at the time of when one was there or directly involved.

  135. In line with Scilly Girl:

    1) Sarah is not Veronica's mother (this is all but explicitly stated as Jane Fairfax pointed out).

    2) Sarah is also not Jack's mother. She is only "The Mother".

    3) Veronica has a second brother: Adrian. They never visited Adrian's house, so Tony wouldn't know.

    4) Veronica is "Robson's Girl". The pregnancy was not caused by Robson (the cuckold), but by her brother Adrian.

    5) Adrian Junior is the son of brother and sister: Veronica and Adrian.

    This explains:

    - Why Adrian put into question Robson paternity. He knew very well that he himself was the father.
    - Why Veronica was "damaged": she had an abortion of the child she carried from her own brother. Tony said they had no idea about the identity of Robson's girl, she would have to be his age now, he wanted to apologize to her.
    - Sarah had no kids herself (as the Biblical analysis above pointed out), and Veronica's friends were taken home to conceive one ("sleeping in" while the rest of the family went for a walk) because daddy was too drunk. "This one will do" (for Mom that is).
    - Veronica knew perfectly well what Adrian was "reading" in Cambridge ("thank you very much") because he was her brother.
    - Both brothers were at Cambridge, and apparently one (Adrian) did not approve of the other (Jack). "That lack of seriousness".
    - "Damaged" Veronica really loved Tony but felt inhibited (= not going "all the way") after what happened to her. After being rejected she "fell back" to Adrian, the person she adored but could not have a real relationship with.
    - Adrian made the same mistake twice, made Veronica pregnant again, and realized that he now really owed Robson and follow his example.
    - Being the child of brother and sister, Adrian Jr. was less than perfect.

    Tony was supposed to have impregnated both Veronica and The Mother, but failed at both.

  136. We can relax that a bit:

    The only thing I'm claiming is that Adrian not just questioned the paternity of Robson, but actually knew for a fact Robson was not the father. He could only know this if he knew who "Robson's Girl" was and who the father was.

    My guess is that "Robson's Girl" was his own sister Veronica. But it is still possible that the father was somebody else (say Veronica's father).

  137. It also explains:

    - Why Adrian was a bit evasive when talking about Jack. After all, he is talking about his own brother.
    - Why Sarah had Adrian's diary. It is the diary of her own (if adopted) son.
    - Why Veronica thinks reading somebody else's diary is not done, while she did read the diary herself. It is her brother's diary.
    - Why Veronica only divulged a few pages from the diary. The diary is mainly about the relation between herself and her brother (including the Robson affair).

    Anyway. It is clear I'm not done with this book and have to read it a third time.

  138. What I set myself out to do is come up with a clear chronological table of events. Not easy, because Tony seems to remember things "in no particular order" but anyway.

    JB does his utmost to make us believe Adrian Jr is Adrian's son. But history would repeat itself, if not only Robson killed himself thinking he was the father while he was not, but also Adrian. In others words, Adrian Jr. is not the child of Adrian. But this is only possible if his own father (the civil servant) is the father and that is the reason they look alike. Sounds a bit farfetched though.

    It is clear that I don't get it (yet).

  139. Why was Veronica (or Sarah) never seen by anyone during the period of pregnancy? That would certainly give us one answer to this enigma.

  140. Apart from the detective work of deciphering the various levels of meaning attributed to protagonists' actions and words, I think the book works as a metaphor that goes beyond the story: we live a life, more or less selfishly, in some degree of safety or adventure, brilliance or mediocrity without ever fully grasping the meaning of our actions, their more or less predictable repercussions. Tony's feelings of social inferiority vis-à-vis his hosts may or may not have been justified by their behavior, it is hard to tell from the sparse description of the family. While the two men in the family come across as somewhat irritating and overly familiar in their first time encounter with Tony, they didn't seem to behave outrageously or in an openly unfriendly way. Father Ford's remark to Sarah, "have you counted the silver" is certainly pushing it, but could be shrugged off as a tired joke, part of the standard repertory of an unfunny, aging and alcoholic bore. However, Tony fails to think of the week-end from anything but his own personal perspective, can't begin to imagine a different family with its own workings, resentments, damage, competition and so on. He feels hard done by, snubbed by middle class suburbanites with airs and graces - while this may have been a total misinterpretation from all the reader knows. In any case, his subsequent behavior seems determined by this week-end. It is interesting to note that in Tony's mind the apparent slight from the family he thinks he's suffered, as well as Veronica's initial indifference towards him in their presence, takes on greater importance than Veronica's subsequent display of affection and passionate kiss on his way to bed. What I mean by all this is that interpretations of others' actions cause reactions in an endless chain and one or more misinterpretations are the multipliers that end in disaster. Even though Tony comes across as intelligent and aware of his shortcomings, he is still unable to "get it", doesn't even ask the right questions. His inferiority complex (not a first, not Cambridge, not posh), as well as his vanity dictate his actions. Even his envy of Adrian's greater lucidity and courage is based on false assumptions. I think it is no coincidence that Barnes chose to include the theme of Sarah's adulterous relationship and pregnancy, and the second Adrian's birth in the story. It chimes with a recurrent theme in literature (and life): stupidity, mediocrity, baseness, vanity, envy, the whole "fuck up" as Larkin puts it in "This be the verse", are passed down the generations.

    1. I enjoyed reading this comment enormously as it articulates exactly what I think about the novel! I love makes the whole "fuck up" as you put it - or as Larkin did - worth it! Heroic.....well, at least interesting :)

  141. My Take (I apologize for the length -- I had to get this out.)

    This book is brilliant. In less than 200 pages of spare and sure-footed prose Julian Barnes delivers a literary mille feuille on no less a theme than: What is the meaning of life?

    Tell me, what’s the last novel you read that compelled you to re-read it immediately upon completion, hurtled you into online forums in search of answers among the community of the book’s readers and in doing so, completely proved the author’s point? If you’ve got a list longer than one, please share with the group.

    Julian Barnes foreshadows everything to come in the first 20 pages, disguised as the meeting of Tony Webster, the protagonist, with Adrian Finn, his school chum and central character in the plot. Then, Barnes neatly brackets the opening scene with the book’s denouement. But in between, he inserts enough ambiguity to create an endlessly intriguing story of the dysfunctional Ford family in the 1960s and how its particular form of damage affects those who brush against its members.

    The novel opens with Tony’s memories of his first acquaintanceship with Adrian in class discussions with their history master about the reliability of history itself. Tony and his friends are of the age when they are beginning to consider the meaning of life – in the abstract. And, like young adults everywhere, are steadfast in their convictions. (“It’s philosophically self-evident!” they are given to declare.) But their conceptions are challenged by the news of a schoolmate, Robson – an unremarkable boy of whom they heretofore took no notice -- who commits suicide after impregnating his girlfriend. Adrian stands alone in asking: How much truth we can muster about what really happens in life, whether viewed at the 1,000-foot level of history or under the microscope of an individual life, such as Robson’s? Even the testimony of the central character is suspect, Adrian posits, because we can’t understand the story teller’s story unless we understand the story-teller.

    Their history master, as impressed with Adrian’s intellect as his peers, argues that historians don’t absolutely need the direct testimony of history’s actors, because they have documentation from secondary sources and can draw solid inferences from individuals’ own actions. He suggests that the desire for certainty is childish and is put away in adulthood. But Adrian already knows that we never lose our craving for it, even as life continually reminds us that there is none to be had. He answers his teacher’s lecture with the polite, but doubting, “If you say so, sir.”

  142. My Take Continued..

    The Story in a Nutshell, as Best I Can Figure

    Tony meets two important figures in his early years, Adrian Finn, a brilliant schoolmate, and Veronica Ford, his first girlfriend in college.

    The Ford family is shuddering through the adulterous affairs that the mother, Sarah, conducts with young men. The father copes by retreating into drink. The brother Jack severs himself from the family. He cannot even call his mother, Mum. He refers to her generically and no doubt sarcastically, as “The Mother.” Veronica is both betrayed by, and, in competition with, her mother.

    Tony, of course, knows none of this. He’s an unsophisticated and typically thick young man, who encounters the family on a weekend visit to Veronica’s home. Nervous at meeting the Fords and intimidated by their higher social standing, Tony spends the weekend constipated and bewildered by family members’ actions. The mother appears isolated from everyone else in the family, but she treats Tony with an unexpected friendliness. Veronica and her brother appear to be in league together; the father falsely jolly.

    Tony and Veronica go out for about a year, during which he shows her off to his former schoolmates, including Adrian. But, Veronica is prickly and closed-off, and they eventually break up. Veronica and Adrian next enter his life together, in a letter, in which they inform him that they have begun a romance. Tony reacts by writing a vitriolic response in which he curses them to an unhappy fate, complete with a child. He is unsparing in his judgment of Veronica as a cold cock-tease and suggests that Adrian talk to Sarah about the source of Veronica’s deep character flaws.

    Adrian apparently takes Tony up on his suggestion. Adrian and Sarah have an affair and a child results. The son of Adrian and Sarah is born disabled, probably because Sarah was over 40 when she gave birth to him. Adrian, unable to face up to what he has done, kills himself.
    It is unclear if his suicide takes place before or after the child is born. We aren’t sure if Adrian ever knows that his son is developmentally disabled.

    Veronica’s father dies of alcoholism and cancer five years later. Jack moves to the other side of the world. Her mother moves to London, and according to Veronica, “takes in lodgers,” even though she has been well provided for. (Code for continuing her misadventures?) We aren’t sure what Veronica has done with her life, but she does look after her half-brother with obvious affection.

    Tony, of course, knows nothing of this either. He is away on an after-graduation trip to America when Adrian dies, and gets the news secondhand. He moves on with his life, marrying, fathering a daughter, divorcing. He is now in his sixties, comfortable in his single life, on good terms with his former wife and daughter, and busy in retirement from a modestly successful career. This peaceable-ness is ruptured, when Sarah Ford, forty years removed from their one meeting, dies leaving Tony a behest of $500 and Adrian’s diary.

    Tony tries to get the diary from Veronica. Although successful, he solves the riddle of Adrian’s suicide and Veronica’s anger. In this unraveling, he is forced to recast the past, confront the story of his own life and his role in the lives of others.

  143. The Unreliable Narrators

    Tony Webster is the narrator of this story, and as he continually reminds us: he is not reliable. The passage of time and the tricks of memory have muddled his own story, as he comes to realize to his great horror and shame. Some readers have persuaded themselves that Tony is so unreliable that he has suppressed a sexual encounter with Sarah during that fateful weekend, but I think that goes too far. Tony is unreliable, but not a liar or so affected by his relationship with Veronica and the Fords that he has to suppress such a dramatic event.

    In fact, everyone in the story is an unreliable narrator. (Even Veronica’s Dad, in giving Tony a tour of Chislehurst as he drives him to their home from the train station, makes up all of the “facts.”)

    Adrian Finn’s version of events is certainly not to be trusted. At the novel’s beginning, he is described as the product of a broken home. His mother left him, his Dad, and sister when the children were young and lives in London. Why? His friend ask. Did she maybe have a young lover? Adrian claims to have no clue. Is this plausible? Children keen observers and exquisite interpreters of their parents’ actions and emotional states.

    In one of his life’s last acts, he writes a suicide note, describing his reasons as a grand philosophical gesture of renouncing the unrequested gift of life, after considering its “nature” and the “conditions it comes with.” He even instructs the coroner to make this note public so that his testimony will be known to everyone. But this explanation is, at best, misleading and at worst, completely false. The truth is much uglier.

    Veronica is unreliable – she is, as Tony intuits, so damaged from the betrayals of the people closest to her, she can’t even tell her own story. It comes out in strangled bits and pieces.

    Her mother, Sarah, the perpetrator of so much pain in the book, is likewise unreliable. She tells Tony, who meets the family – don’t let Veronica get away with too much. Yet, it’s Sarah who is getting away with things. She tells Tony that the last few months of Adrian’s life were his happiest, yet he commits suicide.

    In fact, Tony is probably the least unreliable narrator – even though he has the fewest facts at his disposal. The intersection of his life with Adrian’s and Veronica’s leads to the future tragedies that compose the plot, but he is really only ever a side character in that drama, and he therefore, has less incentive to bend the narrative to his own purposes.

  144. The Whys and Wherefores

    Why is Veronica seemingly so mad at Tony?

    Tony repeatedly describes Sarah as dashing, and careless. And she is, in every sense. “Dashing,” as in exciting and attractive to young, inexperienced men, and “dashing” as in “to strike or smash violently, especially so as to break to pieces.” She is carelessness incarnate --as flip over a fried egg as a human heart. She breaks up her family without a second thought; preys on daughters boyfriends without a care for the consequences to others.

    Veronica Ford enters the novel wounded by her mother’s transgressions. If she was, as Tony later theorizes, sexually experienced, even though she wouldn’t sleep with him, could it have been to level the playing field with her mother? She is extremely wary. In fact, Tony notes, it takes him two months just to extract her middle names Nonetheless, she is looking for someone to trust. She thinks Tony might be that person. She allows herself an unguarded moment, dancing with him. Sitting together on the banks of the Severn River as it rushes back in upon itself, they speak somberly of “impossible things sometimes happened, things you wouldn’t believe unless you’d witnessed them yourself.”

    She puts Tony to the ultimate test by bringing him home and dangling him before her mother. “He’ll do, won’t he?” she says with a wink to her brother. Is she talking about herself or making a joke about her mother?

    During the weekend visit, Veronica sends Tony off to bed with a passionate kiss and a command to “sleep the sleep of the wicked.” In this kiss, I think she is simultaneously making the case for her place in his affections, and priming him for a sick test of his loyalty in the face of her mother’s predations. In the morning she contrives to leave Tony and her mother alone.

    Tony does not take the bait. He doesn’t understand he’s being seduced by Sarah Ford’s interest, or her suggestion that her daughter is not to be trusted or her horizontal hand gesture, in lieu of a goodbye wave.
    He ends the visit with: “I like your mum.” To which her father replies: “Sounds like you’ve got a rival Vron. Come to think of it, sounds like I have, too. Pistols at dawn, young feller-me-lad?”

    Veronica must wait to see what comes of that exchange. After sufficient time has passed and Tony does not appear to have succumbed to her mother, Veronica bestows her deepest trust by sleeping with Tony. But he still doesn’t really perceive this gift for what it is. Tony lets her down again, and Veronica spurns him more furiously. Decades later, she still wants to trust him – even as she assigns him some of the blame for the mess her life became. The e-mail entitled “Blood Money,” I think, refers to Tony serving Adrian up to his destroyer, Sarah Ford, just as Judas turn over Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver. But Tony fails her again by missing to see what is plainly written in Adrian Jr.’s face – the resemblance to Adrian Finn. She is disappointed that Tony is too stupid to “get it,” and angry at herself for ever hoping in the past or the present, that he could.

    Veronica is justifiably angry with everyone.

  145. More Whys and Wherefores and a Conclusion (Whew!)

    Why Does Adrian Commit Suicide?

    Tony’s mum thinks it is because Adrian is too clever— he thought too much about life. Certainly, impregnating your girlfriend’s mum would not be considered clever by any yardstick, but more so in light of the mores of the time. Adrian lives his life on an intellectual plane. Yet it becomes defined by the singular rash act of falling in love with the mother of his girlfriend and fathering her child. The product of a broken home, believes he is about to break up another. He cannot face the repetition of history, the failure of his seriousness, and the scandal that will surely ensue.

    Why does Sarah leave Tony the money and the diary?

    Sarah’s motives are unknowable. Perhaps she thought that Tony deserved the diary as the friend of Adrian who she knew. Perhaps she didn’t want Veronica to get the diary or she wanted someone to know the secret and the truth of Adrian’s suicide. What we can infer is that she doesn’t spend a lot of time contemplating the consequences of her actions, so this seemingly arbitrary behest may be of a piece with that.

    Art Imitates Life Imitates Art

    There’s so much more to discuss – the cultural backdrop of the 1960s, the problems of using memory as a witness, the chain of accountability in the course of human events – but I’ll stop with this: in the novel’s beginning, there’s talk between the boys about Life as Literature.

    "Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature. Look at our parents – were they the stuff of Literature? At best, they might aspire to the condition of onlookers and bystanders, part of a social backdrop against which real, true, important things could happen. Like what? The things Literature was all about: love, sex, morality, friendship, happiness, suffering, betrayal, adultery, good and evil, heroes and villains, guilt and innocence, ambition, power, justice, revolution, war, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the individual against society, success and failure, murder, suicide, death, God. And barn owls. Of course there were other sorts of literature – theoretical, self-referential, lachrymosely autobiographical – but they were just dry wanks. Real literature was about psychological, emotion and social truth as demonstrated by the actions and reflections of its protagonists; the novel was about characters developed over time.”

    Adrian has a life worthy of Literature – and as it turns out, so does Tony. And when we finish reading the intertwined stories of two characters in a novel – the real stuff and the self-referential – we set upon our own Quest for Truth. We act like Tony, using whatever crude elements Julian Barnes has given us to pin the story down. We demand To Know.

    And do we all agree? We do not – on whether the book was good or bad, or even what occurred within its pages – hence the unrest; the Great Unrest. I can’t think of a finer achievement for a practitioner of literature.

    Fucking brilliant.

    1. I couldn't agree more. One cannot read a novel of this calibre and ignore the chronological and societal setting. The human condition has to be read in this context. Those were the difficult years just prior to the sexual revolution. We peek through the veneer of respectibility at the foibles of a dysfunctional family (Veronica's)and witness the devastation that that the 'damage'caused. I feel that Margaret's reference to Veronica as 'the Fruitcake' is apt.

  146. Would it be to ridiculous a suggestion to say that Sarah is also Adrian’s mother?
    Veronica to ashamed to look after the baby gives it into a care home and presents herself as his sister under a different name.
    This would explain why Adrian killed himself; it would also go some way to explaining Adrian’s equaisons which could be read as some sort of calculation of the baby’s lineage.
    We know that Adrian’s mother left him and his father “His mother had walked out years before” and Adrian has never been to his Mothers new home and knows nothing of her new life “maybe your mum has a young lover?”, “how would I know we never meet there she always comes up to London”. And after his death none of the friends went to the funeral, again missing the chance to see the mother.
    Having never met her, Tony would not have recognised Sarah as being Adrian’s mother. This would also explain why Sarah would have his dairy and would also seemingly have been present in the last few months of his life. It would explain why Adrian and Veronica’s son was put into care and might also explain why he had learning disabilities. It does not seem to fit that Adrian at 22 would kill himself just for getting either Veronica or Sarah pregnant - it seems too much of an overreaction, especially from someone so philosophical.
    However he might well kill himself at the realisation that he would in fact be fathering a child with his own sister. The book hints at this potential Oedipus style twist when is friend describes his death as “sort of Greek…” we also know that the last time his friends saw him alive he was “…going down to Chislehurst” seeming both happy and in love – why the sudden change? This could have been the first time that he was to realise who Sarah actually was.
    We can also note the similarities between Brother Jack and Adrian, they were both clever and studying the same subjects at university. Could this be a hint to their brotherly similarities?
    It could be surmised by Veronica that Tony knew somehow that Sarah was Adrian’s mother, which would explain why the letter was so important. “it would be unjust to inflict on some innocent foetus the prospect of discovering it was the fruit of your loins..” seems all the more poisonous if you think what it might mean. I can’t see why else the letter would be of such significance. Or why Veronica would have kept hold of it. If Adrian had simply slept with Veronica’s mother who had then had a baby, I doubt that Veronica could have held that much venom towards Tony for the angrey letter of a X lover. If however she had believed some knowledge on his part, then it seems far more significant. “ I’d check things out with mum – ask her about damage a long way back” this sentence is ambiguous it does not specifically mention Veronica’s damage and could well be read to read “ask the mum about her own damage.”
    Finally the “blood money” that Veronica talks about could be seen as a way to keep Tony quite. He was meant to receive the money with the diary, which presumably would have revealed all of this.

    1. I definitely agree that JB has laid in some Oedipal allusions, but I don't think it's meant to be taken quite so literally. As a practical matter, if Sarah were Adrian's Mum, that would mean that she gave birth to children in the story in this order: Jack -- the oldest of the four children you are theorizing she had, Adrian/Veronica who are, I believe the same age, because they are all in the same year at school, and then Adrian's younger sister. That timing doesn't work. Veronica didn't keep the letter, Adrian did -- and he died young, so it isn't like he hung onto it for years. Sarah had until she died. Look, everyone in Veronica's life let her down -- but at the present point of the novel, everyone associated with this sordid mess is dead or far away (Jack). She's just mad. She takes it out on Tony because he's the only one around.

  147. Pity about Jack being older than Adrian and Tony because I really liked SJC's idea - it explained Adrian's suicide. I feel that there is a connection between the two suicides but I have not worked it out yet. I have this crazy idea that 'the damage' refers to incest in the family. That would explain the fathers's alcoholism and Jack's absenteeism.

  148. I've read through this book for a second time this evening. And I think the woman that Adrian is in love with is Veronica because when he meets Alex for a drink he's on his way down to Chislehurst and is upbeat & in love. Perhaps this is the visit to Chislehurst where Sarah seduces him. Three months later (time in the 60s for Sarah to realise she's pregnant and tell Adrian) he commits suicide because he has betrayed the woman he loves (Veronica). That's my interpretation anyway. I got much more from the second reading, especially after looking through some of the insighful comments on this page. Thanks to all.

    1. Also another thought...I wonder if Adrian Jnr calls Veronica 'Mary' simply because with him apparently having learning difficulties 'Mary' is much easier for him to remember and say than 'Veronica'.

  149. I consider that Adrian's suicide might have been exacerbated by the events of his own childhood. Tony tells us that he & his pals tried to "dramatize" the divorce between Adrian's parents when they were all in school, questioning whether Adrian's mother "had a younger lover", had cuckolded his father, or had performed some other acts of "mystery" to cause the divorce, to which Adrian replies that his parents told him he'd understand what had happened between them "when he was older". His situation with Sara certainly put him in the way of understanding exactly what may have happened, probably to his own dismay. Perhaps Adrian was happy towards the end, maybe fancying himself in love with Sara, although he has been represented to us as a young man of great seriousness, not much humor, tremendously logical, not necessarily "romantic"--maybe his happiness came from experiencing the drama or excitement of his feelings toward Sara (clearly, Tony lacks this kind of thrill in his life by choice or by fear, but it seems at an early stage, the 4 schoolboys hoped for these kinds of "fictional endings" for themselves)...but then the reality of what his passion had produced (an end to a marriage not at all unlike his own parents' end, a child which would be himself in miniature in both fact & situation, the extreme pain he'd inflicted on Veronica, the hurt he believes he caused Tony, even his own pain at breaking moral code and falling into bed with Sara) overwhelmed him, & lacking a sense of humor or imagination, or failing to find any other way to distance himself from this burden of guilt, he sought the only resolution over which he felt he had complete control. I can't help but believe it had to be a combination of circumstances which led him to select suicide, not simply his betrayal of Veronica...he's briefly happy, then decidedly despondent. He overthinks. It's how he differs from the other suicide, the boys' schoolmate. No simple "sorry, mum" for Adrian, he leaves instructions and a diary, & pages of mathmatical formulations reducing a very emotionally-fraught situation to an algebra equation (or ten). I think it would be mistake not to include his folk's divorce (& maybe mother's betrayal) as an integral part of what colored Adrian's worldview, particularly as his mother's (possible) choices so closely mirrored his own choice with Sara. Just my nickel's worth.

  150. Just finished the book. Read through about half these comments so forgive me if this has been mentioned but one insight I got from the start was the significance of the names-
    Veronica- meaning "true icon" , the name derives from the alleged image of Christ's face on the shroud of Turin. (This is coming from memory so I might be slightly off here.) So she signifies a "copy" or distortion of memory or an event?
    Mary- It's never explained why Adrian Jr calls her this, but of course, the best known Mary is the Virgin Mary. Mary is known for being a virgin, impenetrable maybe in this case, but also for being a mother. AJ's calling her Mary made me instantly think that she was his mother. I know that theory has been discussed here already.
    Sarah- Abraham's wiife, she became a mother at an improbable age through an act of God. (If I'm off here correct me.) Not sure what the significance is there besides the obvious.
    I don't see any parallel imagery with the men's names...anyone?
    Any other significant biblical imagery in the book?

  151. I loved this novel..the mere fact we are all discussing it at length is a tribute to Julian Barnes.
    I definitely got the sense there was incest involved in the family...or some very real disfunctions..
    no one has commented about Veronica's father making those strange comments about Tony liking the Mum? sayng he had competition...and Jack winking all the time? It seems this has all happened before..why did they let Tony sleep in? or did they?
    It felt like Veronica was bringing the boys home for Mum..a stretch maybe. The "wicked sleep" comments means something I think...
    great book for book clubs!

  152. A brilliant read. Im so happy to read all the entire words you have said.

  153. Important to note that Robeson (high school kid) got a girl pregnant and killed himself.The gang of friends wondered whether the girl was prone to sleep around or not. The same thing we all are wondering about Sara. Did she sleep with Tony? Did she go after V's boyfriends? Also the suicide note from robeson said "sorry mum". Its a metaphor for adrian's suicide. Adrian felt guilt to sara - not veronica. He felt guilty he knocked her up.

    Also, the damaged reference, I think refers to Veronica being "damaged" by drunk dad who was shown to have lied to Tony about the church and the town during their ride. V was in sexual competition with mom/sara (not by her choosing) for dad. Sara is distant from V and tells Tony to not let her get away with too much. Sara then steals Adrian from V, more of that competition.

    Lastly, the eggs for breakfast were symbolic of children. Mom breaks and egg and throws it away. The broken egg is either Veronica and the relationship she so carelessly broke by banging adrian or it is representative of the damaged child she later had with adrian. Likely the 2nd, b/c sara made tony 2 perfectly good eggs - V and the brother. However, Tony tells us that he neither wanted nor asked for the second egg. Much like adrian neither asked for or wanted his life or likely the life of his son.

  154. maybe Veronica could not have children so when she tells Tony to sleep the sleep of the wicked, she indirectly commands him to let himself be seduced by her mom, maybe Veronica drugs him somehow so that he cannot remember what happened that night, like who he did it with. She had tried to convince her mom to have a child for her. Even when she asks her brother if Tony's will do it sounds suspicious to me, leaving Tony clueless about their hole plan. Then Veronica and Tony finally have sex and she fights with him intentionally with the idea of dissapearing and allowing the time for her to show up with the baby in hands as if she had been through a pregnancy period. Later on she changes idea and chooses Adrian as a continuation of her plan. But since Adrian is very smart he probably realizes he had been tricked by Veronica, or at least he believes he has been tricked by her, meaning that he may have believed he did something with her mom against his will without being able to truly remember, so when he realizes Mrs Ford is pregnant, he thinks is his (when it was really Tony's), then he realizes the type of wife he has for what she had made him to do, so he decides to suicide because of his high ethical values. Or maybe Mr. Ford kills him? I even came to think: what if Veronica's Mom was Adrian's mom? I am just trying to understand why Adrian dies and if he was so happy why his diary dissappears?

  155. For me some of the explanations are making it more complex than I think it was, my take was...

    Sarah is not happily married, she makes a play for her daughters boyfriend , Tony - he is too naive to see this and so doesn't do anything about it.

    After Veronica and Adrian get Tony's letter Adrian goes to see Sarah about what Tony says about her talking about Veronica and is seduced by her - they have a relationship resulting in the younger Adrian who is handicapped.

    Adrian commits suicide because he has got his girlfriends mum pregnant and it is too much for him to deal with.

    The whole situation causes Veronica s dad to drink more resulting in his early death.

    Sarah leaves Tony the money recognising he was a good guy who did not betray her daughter by seccumbing to her and has lost his friend through her actions.

    Veronica holds Tony responsible for the betrayal of Adrian and her mother by suggesting Adrian see Sarah behind her back, and the early deaths of Adrian and her father both resulting from the situation.

  156. I'm obviously late to the game but I would like to make a few comments.

    Mainly, I am driven to think that Tony actually does have sex with Veronica's mother. However, a major point of the novel is the ambiguity of memory and history. So I think that Barnes might say that we don't know if Tony had sex with her because Tony doesn't even know. The narrator is unreliable resulting in unrest/chaos (see the final line). In this sense we don't know what to believe.

    But I think there are some hints that Tony did indeed have sex with Veronica's Mom. The sleep the sleep of the wicked quote. The "broken egg" that the mother slops into the trash (representing sex between the two that did not result in pregnancy or was even possibly aborted). The unusual hand motion by the mother that is never really explained. There are a few more things I picked up on but unfortunately I don't have the book on me for direct quotes etc.

    Obviously if Tony did have sex with the mother then he either has blocked it out of his mind (possible considering the other things he forgets or doesn't remember correctly) or he intentional doesn't admit to it in hopes of convincing himself that it didn't happen even though on some level he obviously remembers it.

    But I think the fundamental point is that we can make our own determinations about what happened. The narrator is unreliable and human memory is unreliable. This leaves the reader with only a sense of truth (or ending) rather than truth or ending itself. So we are not supposed to know the "real" truth because there is no real truth. Frustrating, but I think this is Barnes' point.

  157. I have looked up and "remembered" a few more of the hints that made me think Tony did have sex with Veronica's mother.

    Tony references two rivers on the first page. One is nonsensical and lit by a half dozen torches. I feel this is a metaphor for Veronica (and his love, or partial love for her) driven by his societal pressure to date and have sex (the 6 torches).

    The other is "broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface."

    Broad and grey could obviously refer to Sarah. The "disguise" could be Tony's lack of understanding of her intentions and of the consequences of having sex with her which occurred because of his "stiff" and "excited" wind (being a virgin and being led by his libido and not any real conscious thought of consequence).

    The "blood money" could also be a gesture by Sarah to cleanse herself of guilt from her encounter with Tony. I never really bought that she would pay him "blood money" for her transgressions with Adrian.

  158. I think Tony had sex with Sarah, and is the father of Adrian. He can't bring himself to admit this to us. He misleads us, by telling us that he can see Adrian Sr. in Adrian Jr.; which, imo, is not really the case. Even Adrian Jr. sees the resemblance of Tony in himself, hence, he cannot stand the sight of Tony. I also believe that Tony and Veronica had a daughter, Mary, as a result of the moonlit night. The first time Tony meets with Veronica, he mentions how she's aged. At a following meeting, Tony mentions how Veronica (I believe this time, it's actually Mary - their daughter-he's meeting) looks youthful again. Tony just sees what he wants to see. Solipsism at it's finest. Poor Adrian learns through an admission by V, that she's carrying Tony's baby (Mary). Adrian turns to Sarah, and discovers comfort and true love. Then Adrian finds out Sarah is carrying Tony's baby (Adrian) as well. Both women of his interest carrying a baby by his friend. Too much to handle, hence the suicide. Sarah, being his last confidant, having possession of the diary. Sarah leaving it to Tony, who is the only other person who "knows". Hence, the blood money to keep it from V, who finds the diary anyway, due to her death.

  159. Love the blog. Glad to know I wasn't the only lost at the end of this novel. How about this theory? Sarah is Adrian's mother. "The Mother" that left him all those years ago. The baby is actually Adrian's and Veronica's and is disabled as a child of incest. Adrian committed suicide when he found out Veronica was his sister. Sarah raised the child as her own. Veronica didn't find out the truth until she read the diary. Sarah and Tony had an affair and inadvertently introduced Veronica to Adrian. Sarah felt she could confide in Tony and left the diary to him so someone would know the truth of the matter.

  160. After revisiting this novel I can honestly say there is no sure way of knowing the true intentions of Barnes ambiguos ending because of the unreliable testimony of our narrator, Tony. However, the best clue we have to finding the truth is Adrians diary. Especially the page in which Veronica sends to Tony. Tony can not grasp why this page was sent to him but it is evident that this page has the truth - this page has the equation Adrian created:

    b=s-v+A1 (baby = sarah minus veronica plus Adrian)

    However this formula may be incorrect...Tony is the one that deciphers that A1 must be Adrian and that A2 must be Tony (Anthony) but because of no way of confirming this with Adrian, what if A1 = Anthony? Also we can not overlook "so for instance if Tony..". Tony dwells on this particular line but why did Adrian write it...was Adrian trying to configure the timeline Tony slept with Sarah to the time he did?

    The symbolism Barnes flaunts during Tonys stay at Veronicas house as a young man, gives us a clue that, yes, Tony and Sarah did indeed have sex. One could only wonder, why the whole family takes a morning walk and does not include the mother? Is it because she said she will stay back - with intentions of seducing Tony? The symbolism of the egg in art is birth/life (which is why it is used during Easter), which makes me again question the father.

    One other question that comes to mind is why the sudden breakup with Veronica shortly after his visit to her house (this coming after a year of dating)? One quote stands out during Veronica and Tonys sexual encounter, "did she think I was a virgin,perhaps?"

    Adrians suicide mirrors the suicide of Robson, who kills himself after he can not take the pressure after knocking up his girlfriend. If the death was mirrored then was the life? Robson is becoming a father and kills himself/ Adrian is becoming a father and kills himself. I guess one can only say this is "philosophically self evident."

  161. England,England deserved the Booker and did not get it.So justice has been served.Have you read England,England.Please do.And do not judge Barnes by the Sense of An Ending alone.

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  164. The book is a worthy winner. It deconstructs the romanticism built around the concepts of 'memory' and 'nostalgia'. It is a book divided into two parts. The first part is a memory told by the protagonist. The second part is the anti-thesis. The memory receives a setback. And it is interestingly narrated. The end is poignant.


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