Friday, May 4, 2012

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes — Audiobook Review

Recorded by AudioGO
Narrated by Richard Morant
Length: 4 hours 38 minutes


Tony Webster and his group of friends were inseparable during their heyday. Young, intelligent and driven, the group expands to include Adrian, a very serious and scholarly boy, who becomes the de facto leader of the group—a boy whom all the rest admire and glean understanding from. When Tony becomes involved with a young woman named Veronica, he naturally spends less time with the group. But things with Veronica are strained from the beginning and Tony can’t understand why she rebuffs his physical advances time and time again. Now many years later, Tony is a middle aged man reflecting back on his days with the group and the unexpected turns that befell his relationship with Veronica. When an unexpected incident puts Veronica in his path once again, Tony finds himself unnaturally curious about her and her life, and also his friend Adrian whom he once felt such a fondness for. But at the heart of his curiosity is a secret that he discovers through clues that Veronica grudgingly gives to him, and what he uncovers may threaten not only his sense of self but the memories of bygone days that he once held so dear.

This book was the winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2011, and it was a relatively short listen. Other reviewers have stated that this book would be best read in one sitting and I have to agree with them. I listened to this book over the course of a week and I have to admit that I think breaking apart the narrative in this way caused my opinion of this book to suffer. The audio version was narrated by Richard Morant, whose dulcet British inflections were perfect for this book. Morant had a very soft and gentle voice that he imbued with a great melancholy and a nostalgic edge that suited the story’s flavor wonderfully. I enjoyed listening to him voice the thoughts of the reminiscing Tony.

I can’t quite put my finger on why this book was not as great as I was hoping it would be. Barnes certainly has a graceful and intense way of writing but, for me, there was an utterly cryptic conclusion, and that bothered me. I felt that there was a gradually pressing urgency to the story that was never fully delivered upon, and part of that may have had to do with the fact that I broke this story into pieces instead of digesting it whole. It was a very introspective narrative, focused mainly on three people, and because of that, the whole story felt concentrated and magnified on small events that would later become momentous. It’s not the story that I had issue with, it was the reveal at the end. I just didn’t think it was as impactful or clear as it could have been. Had I not been listening very carefully, I would have missed it altogether.

The writing, however, was outstanding, and often I wished that I was reading the book in print so that I could pore over some of the more beautiful sentences over and over again. Barnes has a way of making his story read like poetry, and because of that fact, I’m loathe to say that this book wasn’t a success on that front. I greatly enjoyed listening to Tony’s mental cogitation and ruminations, and found that Barnes created a very elegant narrative in which to place his characters. Judging this book on the writing alone, I would eagerly say that it was a success. There was great care given to the general construction of the story’s language, and that might have been why I felt let down at the end: the writing left me anticipatory and the ending let me down.

Veronica and Tony, the two major players, were very different types of people, yet they had some very striking things in common. The fact that this was almost indistinguishable until the very end of the story was something that I think was deftly maneuvered. Themes of loss, mortality, and ambiguity of memory are rife within this tale but carefully interwoven through an exquisite and microscopic lens of character development.  “A sense of an ending” becomes loaded into many variations throughout the tale, gently rippling through each word in the text and creating untold possibility for the reader. The conclusion is more than a little open-ended and I think that’s what disappointed me. Thinking deeply about it only provokes more questions that I wish had been answered.

While I really enjoyed this audio book, I didn’t love it, and that’s frustrating to me. It had all the components of a superb book but Barnes just didn’t assemble them in the correct proportions to take it to the next level. I haven’t read many reviews on it so I am not sure what the general consensus is, but this reader was left wanting. If you’re a lover of character studies with very open endings I would recommend this book to you. I would recommend it to every lover of literary fiction on the strength of the writing alone. An intelligent and astute book, but one that might frustrate some readers.


This audiobook was provided as a complimentary review copy.

27 comments:

Athira said...

I'm so sorry you didn't like this one too much. It's been mostly a hit or miss with many readers I follow, but glad to hear that you think it was great otherwise. I don't think I'll be able to read it in one sitting, but I'll try to do that when I (eventually) read it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have read books that left me feeling the same - not impactful but beautiful writing, but I have never been able to express it as well as you did in this review!

nomadreader said...

I really loved this one, but I am a fan of character studies. I don't listen to audiobooks very often, but I also cannot imagine listening to this one. I marked so many passages as I read and marveled at so many of Barnes' musings on time, memory, and life. I'm sorry it didn't work better for you!

Harvee said...

As the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2011, the book is certainly worth reading. Thanks for a great review and your candid comments.

Ti said...

Oh no!! I am reading this for my book club but I hate books that leave me wanting!

Except, the Booker winners usually DO leave me wanting. Don't know why.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Well as you know since you lent it to me, I have this on audio, and frankly I am never going to have time to read it in print so it is audio or nothing. I will just have to stay focused on it towards the end. No multi-tasking on this one! Open endings on audio are tough. You have to really be on your toes.

Aarti said...

Oh, what a bummer! I DO love that you have begun to explore audiobooks much more recently, as I am getting a great list ready of books to read/listen to on my commute to and from work coming up soon! Thanks for that :-)

And I will try very hard to reply to your email today, but if not today, then probably not for over a week as I go on my vacation to Oregon tomorrow morning! *Hugs*, though, from afar.

Aarti said...

PS, did you know that you now have word verification on your blog commenting? I think blogspot defaults to that on its new upgrade system, and I don't think you had it before, so just wanted to let you know, in case you didn't like it.

Jenners said...

I've heard mostly raves about this book so I'm surprised to your feelings. But you were the first to listen to it an audio I think and perhaps that makes a difference. If I read it, I shall read it in print and in one day. : )

Jenny said...

I get frustrated when the ending is supposed to be this BIG thing and it turns out to be disappointing. It would be better if you knew to just appreciate the writing and the characters without expecting something else.

Suko said...

Another fine review! I must admit that this is the first review I've read of this (audio)book. I agree that it would be difficult to listen to this a bit at a time. (Sometimes, that's a problem with my reading as well, and I have to backtrack.) I'm glad you enjoyed several aspects of this book, at least, though not as much as a whole work.

Brooke said...

Such a lovely review, Heather. I do (at some point) intend to read this little novel and I'm excited to know that you think the writing is beautiful. Really superb writing can make me overlook things like unsatisfying endings, so perhaps I'll still enjoy the novel as a whole. Then again, I've been known to throw a few books here and there against the wall in frustration!

Steph said...

I have wanted to read this book for a long time now and Julian Barnes is an author whose writing impresses me so much, so I was sad to read that you felt this book fell short for you. It does sound like it is one that might be best read on the page rather than as an audiobook, but I will also be sure to make sure I can read it uninterrupted when I do pick it up!

Mystica said...

This is on my TBR. You make me want to get to it sooner rather than later when you speak of the beauty of the language used.

Darlene said...

Sorry this wasn't great fir you. I think I have this one on my list at the library for the audio. I guess I wint be in any hurry to give it a listen.

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

you have such a way yourself with words! i too get frustrated with an ambiguous ending and try to avoid books that don't wrap it all up for me! I don't think I will be reading this one; but your review is so lovely and kind.

Marie said...

i read this one in print and loved it, but no book is for everybody. maybe the experience would have been different for me in audio! :-)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I bet you would have enjoyed this one a lot more in print. The print version was awesome.

Audra said...

Hmm, I hate open endings sometimes so I will prepare myself when I get around to reading this one. I rarely do audio books b/c I can't stand not being able to stop and reread etc as needed.

geosi said...

Many bloggers have given mixed reviews about this book. I have to read it to find out. Thanks!

Amy said...

This book is on my tbr list and the writing style sounds beautiful. I also liked your comment about the themes being and character development. I'm also curious about whatever it is Tony discovers from Victoria's clues. I'm sorry something about this story didn't work for you especially since your review has piqued my curiosity! An ending that leaves you with more questions than answers is disconcerting.
When I eventually get to read this book, I'll let you know what I think!

Lisa said...

I know so many people love audio books but I've also heard people (including myself!) say that they think they would have enjoyed the book more if they had read it. Audio certainly does allow us to "read" more books and some of them are so marvelously done (Toni Morrison readin "a mercy" for one), so I'm never sure which route to go!

Sim said...

I must read this book NOW...fantastic review. Thanks~

Andi said...

I read this one pretty quickly, and I think I'd agree that breaking it up too much would cause some of the effect to be lost. It was very low key but some memorable moments and most certainly memorable writing.

Jules said...

I also thought the writing in the book was extreamly well done. I enjoyed the first half, but the second half of the book fell apart for me. It was the "drama" between Tony and his ex that bothered me. But, it was a good read and it does a great job on issues of memory. Great Review!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great review.

Question: Is there a link to your audiobook posts? I would love to see more of them.

Zibilee said...

Juju,
Most of my audiobook reviews are tagged, so if you click on the audiobook tag, a lot should come up, but a few aren't there yet. I hope to have that,fixed very soon! Thanks for asking!

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