I think my years as a philosophy student were actually detrimental to my enjoyment of this short novel about life and memory. The stuff that has left other people reeling in amazement reminded me of little more than just another essay on the mind and the way we think, the way we interpret events and the way our memories can let us down. Mr Barnes is clearly a clever man and his writing is a touch complex but always charming. However, is this really that original anymore?
I don't think so. I can point you towards many - even young adult - books with equally unreliable narrators that are much more engaging, gripping and altogether more rewarding - even if they do lack the complexity of the mind-delving going on in The Sense of an Ending. And, though Barnes thoroughly explores the mind of Tony Webster, I found him to be a painfully bland and unexciting protagonist that no amount of philosophical thought could save.
This is a book that will suit people who like to think about everything. It is more or less the story of a very average man who pulls apart and analyses his memory of school, first love, first sexual encounters, his marriage... everything about his life. I thought I was the kind of person who likes to question things in an unbelievably anal way. For example, the other night I had the most pointless and stupid discussion with my dad about knowledge, where he said that he knew there were blind people in Spain (don't ask, just don't ask), and I said he couldn't possibly know that for certain unless he'd gone to Spain and met a blind person. He said he could. Then I said he couldn't. As you can tell, it was a very productive evening. But my point is that I enjoy philosophy.
Tony Webster, however, philosophises about his whole life, a life that just isn't interesting enough for me to care about the "reasons" behind its events. I like, in theory, the idea that everything isn't always as simple as it seems, that things run deeper, that people have hidden and questionable motivations for the things they do and say, and that memory is not the truth but the story we tell ourselves. The idea of this book, I like. And some people love the simplistic side of it, the analysis of real and everyday life, rather than using philosophy to look at murder or something equally dramatic. But I don't believe that Tony's story was exciting enough to want to question. I actually don't care why Adrian did what he did, or why Veronica's mother behaved in a certain way. Perhaps my biggest problem with this book is that I don't care about Tony.
Why would I want to hurt my brain straining to think about something that doesn't interest me? Some people obviously saw something much deeper in this, perhaps a message about society as a whole that says something important about our current world... perhaps not. I personally saw it as a failed attempt to turn the mediocre into something poetic. But it was too nicely written to be one star.