Julian Barnes

“You are allowed a long moment of pause, time enough to ask the question : what else have I done wrong?” That is the disturbing thought I was left with on the penultimate page of the book. But it wasn’t always that way, you know.
Tony Webster is the narrator of his own life’s story. In the first part, which is about one third of the book, he sets up the context and the characters. There is a deceiving flippancy and brevity about this section of the book, and Tony does seem very capable of being true and objective about his own life. It’s only towards the end of it that one got even a whiff of a suspicion that something different lay ahead.

In the second section, the ‘peacable’ life that Tony desired (or did he?) is his. Even as he celebrates the ordinariness, we do get the other side by his own admission – “I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and succeeded – and how pitiful that was” and “We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe.” But it is when he gets the bequest from someone he met 40 yeas ago, and exactly once, that the story really unravels into a “what is really happening here?” mode.

History, as we are told by a teacher in the beginning of the book is also the “self delusions of the defeated”. Thus, even our own life, as we move forward, is really just a story we tell ourselves, one that sits comfortably for us, so long as it is not disturbed by a penetrating dose of introspection and brutal honesty, or as in Tony’s case, a document that turns it upside down. After all, “what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” Something about this change of perspective (about Tony) reminded me of The Remains of the Day, though Tony in the first section seems far more understanding of reality. The second half of the book is about Tony’s stumbling through the “chain of individual responsibilities” that leads him to the “what else have I done wrong?”

This is a wonderful, fascinating book about the working of the human mind. Of memories, remorse, and the pathos of things that are irreversible.

The Sense of an Ending