The compliance with how they remember and what

The Man Booker Prize
winning novel of Julian Barnes and having been adopted into a movie sharing the
same title, The Sense of an Ending questions
what is remembered, forgotten and how memories shape the lives of people in
compliance with how they remember and what are the things forgotten. Tony
Webster, the only character whose voice can be heard in the novel, narrates his
own life, indeed his own history, while challenging his own memory and his
acquaintances from the past with the help of going back and forth in time. His
voice is the only voice can be heard throughout the narrative since the other
characters such as Veronica, Margaret can only be seen from his point of view
except the documents which are assumed as fact-based. Since the dialogues
between the others and Tony are represented through his memory, this creates a
doubt in the reader’s mind. How can his account be trusted? There are “numerous
discussions of what is knowable and what the narrator Tony Webster himself is
able to know” (Adams 212) throughout the novel such as his interrogating
himself whether he wrote that hateful letter or not, and then, he interprets
this as “self-deception” (Barnes 295). In this paper; the concepts of memory, time
and history will be analyzed by mentioning the (un)reliability of the 1st
person narrator as regards the narrative of Tony Webster, how he perceives
these concepts and how he interprets them.

            In the first part of the
novel, Tony tries to remember his past and associate the parts to each other as
playing jigsaw. The narrative begins with mentioning his friends Alex and Colin
in the high school, and then; Adrian Finn, a newcomer and who takes attention
thanks to his being witty is introduced. He is different from everyone since he
has the critical background so that he can debate with the history teacher on
the topic of “What is history really?” There is a need to underline ‘history’
here because the (un)reliability of history writing is questioned both by
Adrian and Tony. Soon, he joins the group of Tony and his friends. In the
meantime, Tony goes on a date with a girl called Veronica Ford who will be
forgotten in the future by Tony deliberately. After a while, Veronica’s family
and Tony meet; however then, the couple break up. Until the second part, Tony
is married to Margaret, divorced from her and they had a daughter. In the
second part of the novel, this acquaintanceship forms the first basis of Tony’s
struggle for reaching Adrian’s diary which is left as a legacy for Tony by the
Veronica’s mother, for the sake of his self-knowledge. He wants to read that
diary because according to him, “the diary was evidence; it was—it might be—corroboration. It might
disrupt the banal reiterations of memory” (Barnes 232). Then,
Veronica and Adrian become lovers, which can be considered as a betrayal to
Tony. This incident constitutes the second basis of the struggle since Adrian sends
a letter to Tony asking for permission to go on a date with Veronica. In
return, Tony sends a hateful letter saying “Part of me hopes you’ll have a child, because I’m a great believer
in time’s revenge …” (Barnes 288) which will result in his guilt later
because Sarah will give birth to Adrian’s mentally challenged baby who is named
after Adrian. After Tony reconstitutes everything, he will be more regretful because
he will see himself as the reason behind Adrian’s suicide due to hateful
letter.  

            To begin with the memory and
(un)reliability of Tony as the 1st person narrator, the introduction
of his account can be given. He says that he remembers “a shiny inner wrist,
steam rising from a wet sink as
a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it … bathwater long gone cold behind
a locked door” without particular order (Barnes 11-12). The
bathwater which is probably where Adrian commits suicide; but he cannot
remember that scene because he does not witness it, he is informed by Alex, he
adds “this last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering
isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed” (Barnes 12). Presumably with
shock, he has imagined that moment and he remembers as if he was there. With
his self-delusions, he tries to make himself reliable; however, it will not work
for the rest of his account since he always repeats the words ‘remember’ and
‘remind’. As Tan?yan stated “Tony acts as an unreliable narrator who is highly
self-conscious of his own unreliability. He is well aware that being witness to
certain events does not qualify one as reliable” (98). Hence, there are some
gaps in the narrative of Tony. Considering Veronica’s repeated expression which
is “you don’t get it, do you?” (304) and Tony’s inconsistent memories, he might
be the father of junior Adrian who is believed to be Adrian and Sarah’s son by
him. The real father is not articulated. Additionally, the inside story of
Sarah’s “horizontal gesture
beneath a sunlit wisteria” is not clarified by Tony. Besides
these, there are two equations in the extract of Adrian’s diary. According to
the first one, the father might be inferred as Adrian symbolized by a1 and
in the other equation, Tony whose real name is Anthony emblematized by a2
might be the father. Plus, this can be the reason behind Adrian’s suicide.
Since the diary’s other parts are not given to Tony and the reader cannot trust
the account of him, the real father will always be unknown. As Tan?yan
formulates “what remains is “great unrest” as suggested by the last sentence of
the novel” (102).

            Time is the other significant
element for Tony’s (un)reliability and the flow of events in the novel. He
divides time into two to justify the falsity of his narratives and says that “there is objective time, but also subjective time,
the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies.
And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your
relationship to memory” (Barnes 372). Indeed, he prompts the reader not to rely
on him, because again he says “… when we are young, we invent different
futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others”
(Barnes 242). He invents a past for himself in compliance with his “subjective
time”, as well. He is aware of the fact that he does not get on with his memory
and at some point his effort to re-shape his past in reference to the documents
is useless because the diary and the letter are evidences. As Veronica says, he
does not really get it; and hence, the reader do not understand along with him
because they know everything through the mind of him. As Tan?yan articulates, “time
modifies, alters, deconstructs thoughts, ideas and continuously brings up fresh
insights, which in turn undermines the possibility of having a reliable
narrator” (102). Tony’s
mind going back and forth in time tries to find clues for the reliability of
his narrative; however, it is not exactly a success.

Known for his playfulness with history,
Julian Barnes did not forget to mention history in this novel, as well. Tony’s
narrative begins with his remembrance at the history class at which the
teacher, Joe Hunt and Adrian discusses on Henry VIII. After a few pages, Adrian
says “… the question of subjective versus objective interpretation the fact that
we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version
that is being put in front of us” (Barnes 39). He questions the objectivity of historical
truth and asserts that it is not a scientific fact as water boils at 100°C;
it depends on historian’s perspective and what he or she wants to highlight.
This can be likened to Tony’s life because as his life history is put into
words by him, it is understood how memory is ambiguous and unreliable rather
than being absolute and reliable. Hence, to what extent the historian’s memory
is reliable? At some point, Adrian quotes a fictional historian whose name is Patrick
Lagrange by saying “History is that certainty
produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies
of documentation” (Barnes 180). This quotation can be adapted into Tony’s life,
as his history is that certainty produced by him at the point where the imperfections
of his memory meet the inadequacies of Adrian’s diary and the letter written by
himself.