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       Volume 11 |Issue 27| July 07, 2012 |


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The Inheritance

Zarin Rafiuddin

The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes
Alfred A Knopf (in the US), and Vintage (in the UK)
163 pp; $23.95

We all have different lives but they are all interrelated. No one is an island. The sorts of interactions and events that take place can either make us or break us. What we know of our past seemingly also decides our future. Tony Webster, in his sixties, comes upon an inheritance. What usually happens at youth has happened to him now. What could have been treated as quixotic then is now challenging to him as a question: Why? And The Sense of an Ending tries to answer that “why”, which inevitably leads to many other questions that are not easy to pry an answer out of.

Part bildungsroman, part mystery novel and part literary, psychological introspection the novel builds its tempo by following Tony Webster and also partially his closest friend, the prodigious Adrian Finn. Adrian is the genius of the group of four — Tony, Alex and Colin included. Even in youth Tony finds it hard to identify with Adrian. The young man obviously knows his academics but what else is he comprised of? Another enigma to his life is his first girlfriend Veronica who the novel also is centred on. Tony finds the female sex hard to understand due to the mystery of Veronica Ford; beautiful but obviously way too serious, she does not change as they grow older and he is puzzled about what she will do next.

The novel explores how these tight knit group of friends grow up in the sixties and also follows the protagonist's adult life in the 00's. How technology allows reunion of old acquaintances and how life changes even before you realise that it has. The Sense of an Ending focuses mostly on Tony Webster and the sort of relationships he had in his youth and how they affect him now. Do we really forget our failures? Our triumphs? Tony is getting acquainted with this as he grows older and at the present he is sixty.

The story is narrated through Tony yet via him we do get a very good picture of the other characters as well — Tony's friends, his family and most crucially Tony's inner monologue. Tony is still amazed by how things change and how he had once seen them in his youth and this revolves primarily in his relationships. Of the other protagonists, Adrian is really a genius and an intellectual figure who we probably encountered once in our lives. The same can be said about Veronica, who is also an intellectual and from refined tastes, but she is also a Pandora's box of information. You always feel she is hiding herself and you wonder if it is fear or it is merely a habit. But then she also displays other reservations that really make her a puzzle in the book.

The mystery of the inheritance puts Tony's life on hold. Why has he inherited something? Isn't he just an ordinary person? Yes, he is. But he might be special to others without knowing it. And this is most pivotal in the plot after a while. The “why's?” and “how's” mature in this book with Tony and the affects of actions are narrated gradually in the book.

Set in the UK, the novel also features the change of landscape, change of technology (the epistolary goes digital) and the change in the way that we live. Tony's youth and adulthood are similar in his personality but not so in his actions. What seemed grand then may or may not persist and the feelings of certainty may or may not change. The novel's pace is gradual but the work itself is incredibly absorbing as in what or how things happen.

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