Settling Dust

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Giving myself a bit of space after the event of reading The Sense of an Ending, I thought I’d post about the book itself. It deserves another look.

The book begins with a series of moments. They are by no means beautiful or extraordinary, just common homely experiences that feature ever so subtly during the story. Most of the book considers the effects of passing time; how it affects our memory, how we see past events as we grow old.

The main character, Tony, is describing his significant relationships since childhood and makes no secret of the fact that his memories are completely subjective. I think one of my favourite parts of Barnes’ writing is how he gradually reveals his characters’ depths. The people he is writing about are so fully formed, that even though my opinion of them changed as the book progressed, they are undoubtedly the same people at the beginning as they are at the end.

A part of the novel I particularly enjoyed is the treatment of time itself. As readers we are let in on some intimate details: For example, Tony and his school friends wear their watches with the face turned into the wrist. This tiny gesture of solidarity is carried with Tony into adulthood, which makes him see time as a uniquely personal artefact. The sense of the ending, events in his life are closing full circle, gives him an awareness of time he didn’t have in youth. I think Barnes was trying to convey the difference as we grow up: when you are young, time is something stretching ahead. Time brings opportunity and is heavily tied up with fantasy (when I grow up I want to – ). Now that Tony is older, his time is used to look back. Essentially, he is evaluating his decisions, reminiscing about them, but the events are over.

The Sense of an Ending is just that: I’ve read it, the last page has been turned, but I’m still thinking.