The Sense of an Ending


I was reading two books over the past couple of weeks. The sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes) and Maurice (E.M. Forster). Both books are difficult to summarise, Maurice, am keeping aside for another time, here is attempting The Sense of an Ending.

Ever been left with that feeling of something unresolved? Wondered what really happened? Whether it was a friendship that took an unexpected turn? Or meeting someone, friend of relative after many many years and realising something has changed fundamentally in how you look at things, or live life? Having shared the same upbringing, wondered how did this switch happen?

Or some stories, family archives, that left you thinking, what if…?

Or when someone you knew passed away and you had a whole lot to still talk about. And to ask, what did you really mean when you had said…

That need for closure is so desperate to all of us. I don’t mean the happy ending from our movies, but an ending where one is certain. This is what it was and this is what happened, kind of an Ending.

What that need for closure does to a person?

The book takes us through a friendship of four students, usual description of student life, curiosities, adventures, love and career. The book almost surprises you when it turns into a gripping suspense story. As you begin to assume so Adrian killing himself was the core of the story, you are taken on another long winding path to realise, that really was not.

Some intriguing excerpts from the book (in italics):

..but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

He was too clever. If you’re that clever you can argue yourself into anything. You just leave common sense behind.

For most of us, the first experience of love, even if it does not work out – promises that here is the thing that validates, vindicates life.

And that’s a life, isn’t it? Some achievements and some disappointments.

History isn’t the lies of the victors…it’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.

Some paragraphs I needed to read several times to grasp what’s being said. Like these two:

Also when you are young, you think you can predict the likely pains and bleakness that age might bring. You imagine yourself being lonely, divorced, widowed; children growing away from you, friends dying.  You imagine the loss of status, the loss of desire – and desirability. You may go further and consider your own approaching death, which despite what company you may muster, can only be faced alone. But all this is looking ahead. What you fail to do is to look ahead, and then imagine yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been. Even if you have assiduously kept records – in words, sound, pictures – you may find that you have attended to the wrong kind of record-keeping.


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


Have you noticed how, when you talk to someone like a solicitor, after a while you stop sounding like yourself and end up sounding like them? 🙂 (smiley face added by me).

…she sees only what’s gone; I see only what’s stayed the same.

Though why should we expect age to mellow us? If it isn’t life’s business to reward merit, why should it be life’s business to give us warm, comfortable feelings towards its end? What possible evolutionary purpose could nostalgia serve?

The more you learn, the less you fear. ‘Learn’ not in the sense of academic study, but in the practical understanding of life.

Made me think, closures are complex. Sometimes you get it, but over an unpredictable length of time, sometimes from an entirely unrelated source. There really is not a simple binary of black and white. The challenge is the sense of time; that things ought to resolve within a clear time frame, within how far we are able to see. Then and there. To calm the fidgety mind.

We liked a game that ended in a win and loss, not a draw.

The Sense of an Ending actually leaves it to the interpretation of the survivor.

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