Thoughts on rereading The Sense of an Ending


Before reading

This year I am going back to The Sense of an Ending. I have never read it after I read it the first time because I didn’t own the book then. Years later, when I do own it, I still haven’t read it yet. A lovely paperback, I kept putting it off  and saying to myself that the timing wasn’t right. What was stopping me? Is it fear of failing the book or thinking it might not stand up to the first delirious experience or spoiling something untouched by revisiting it?

Anyway I’m rushing to finish it before I see the movie, that is, if it does release in the small town where I live.  The release date being pushed off multiple times isn’t a good sign. On the plus side (if it can be called that) there will be a gap between my rereading the book and watching the adaptation. (Update – After postponing the release date week after week, it finally didn’t release here.)

A little bit of history.

Circa 2012. We were at Oxford bookstore together one evening doing the usual – hunting books, catching up, not exactly carefree students because adulthood was rearing its ugly head, but we were less attuned to the ways of the world, and more dreamy, assured that like in books, things will work out for us. When we spotted the hauntingly beautiful book cover and read the title, we were sold. Also, The Sense of an Ending was thinner than most prize winners hence, much less likely to bore us to death. The hardback was a thing of beauty and my friend bought it. She immediately read it and passed it on to me. I read it even though final exams were knocking at my door. Needless to say, it was a great read.

Now you know why I have been putting it off. What if my expectations won’t do it any justice the second time around? It’s crunch time. Time to dive in. Five years later we will see where we stand and how good is my understanding of the book. And what new I can take from it.

Spoilers ahead.

After reading

Five years later it is both new and familiar at the same time, though at different places. There is more philosophy than I remember but the prose is sparkling. I might be biased here because I am a fan of his work and will probably read everything he writes. Each word packs a punch. The Sense of an Ending has to be read very slowly, and has to be read many times to understand everything. Even then something would remain beyond reach because Veronica’s character remains an enigma from start to finish. She keeps  mum instead of expressing what bothers her at any given point in time.

The Sense of an Ending teaches you to live with grey. It is something I have trouble coming to terms with, even today. All the characters are unlikable. This time around I observed that the tone of the book is unforgiving, to the point of being acerbic.

There are so many quotable quotes because the author is talking about life. We learn about ourselves through Tony’s reflections, his follies and foibles, and how our own personal history shapes us.

The main reason I felt foolish and humiliated was because of – what I had called it to myself, only a few days previously? – ‘the eternal hopefulness of the human heart’. And before that, ‘the attraction of overcoming someone’s contempt’. I don’t think I normally suffer from vanity, but I’d clearly been more afflicted than I realized. What had begun as a determination to obtain property bequeathed to me has morphed into something larger, something which bore on the whole of my life, on time and memory. And desire. I thought – at some level of my being I actually thought – that I could back to the beginning and change things. That I could make the blood flow backwards.

The things people do to overcome someone’s contempt. Is it because they feel remorse about which nothing much can be done? So they try to turn it into guilt to make it more manageable, and then it becomes about redemption. I know what I am talking about, I have been on both sides. It is what Tony tries to do. I am not sure it is a good idea melding the past with the present. One has to deal with the past in some way and find a way let it go, one way or the other. Clinging on to it is an impediment to the present. Of course it is easier said than done, especially if you a good memory and boy are you in trouble if you have an eidetic memory (Thank you Sheldon!). Some things cannot be salvaged and made into what they used to be. Maybe it can be something new, if both parties try, that is. Like walking on a new road, building it as you move forward, acknowledging the past but not letting it affect the present.

I am really looking forward to watch the movie. I have always seen Jim Broadbent as Professor Slughorn so it will be interesting to see how he plays such a flawed character as Tony. I wonder how the character of Veronica will be portrayed by the lovely Charlotte Rampling. I am a fan of Michelle Dockery and can’t wait to see how she is as the daughter of Tony (she is just barely present in the book). I am sure the movie would be something good in Ritesh Batra’s hands. I had seen The Lunchbox and had been very moved by it.

The Sense of an Ending releases today in India. Have you read the book? Planning to catch the movie this weekend?

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