The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Short story, novella or novel?

My distant memories of reading E.M. Forster’s Aspects of a Novel remind me that word length can separate short stories from novellas, and novellas from novels. The average reader will consider this to be a bit of an academic distinction, but if you are paying high street prices for your literature, there really should be minimum content, just like a packet of cornflakes or the length of a song.  Indeed, editors will draw the fine distinctions when authors submit their manuscripts.

Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember that Forster reckoned that anything shorter than 20,000 words was a short story, up to 40,000 words a novella, and over that a novel.Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending comes in at about 45,000 words, so is technically a novel (but only just). But what about its impact? I am seldom taken in by a cover plaudit that tells me a novel was a Man Booker prize winner, because the judges can sometimes apply criteria that bear little relation to what the actual reading public enjoy. But I was definitely intrigued that such a short piece of fiction should achieve such a high accolade.

In reviewing books, I seldom give a resume of the plot, because that can be found elsewhere or (better still) by reading the book itself. There are many eloquent bloggers and reviewers out there who have analyzed this piece of writing till there is almost nothing original left to say about it (see the two links below):

But what of its impact on the reader at a very personal level? If you happen to be of the same generation as the narrator, Tony (as I am), there is a lot to identify with. I know what he means when he suggests that the 60s happened somewhere else, but not where he happened to be. I know what it means when Adrian states “History (ie. the past) is that certainty produced at the point where imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation”.  But in E.M.Forster’s words, are these ’round’ or ‘flat’ characters, and could they populate a real world?

Strangely, having a single character as the chief narrator is both limiting (you get to see only one person’s view of the world) but highly authentic (in real life, we only ever to get to see our own view of the world). In reading this 150 page novel in one sitting, I found myself caught up in the fictional biography of one man, almost from birth to the grave, and I had the signal mystery of the story solved before I closed the book at the end. Like Tony, I was puzzled by Adrian’s death, but then I didn’t know enough about Sara (the mother of Adrian’s lover, Veronica) to be able to implicate her in the plot.

If you don’t understand what I am saying………you need to read the novel. And if you are a fast reader, a couple of hours will do it.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 3, 2013, in Book reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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