First, some background: last year I wrote a review of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I had a lot of comments from people who didn’t understand the ending, and since then I’ve been inundated with people searching for things like “Sense of an Ending explained”. I felt bad, because my original review didn’t really answer that question. So this post directly addresses the ending of the book and attempts to clear up any confusion.

If you haven’t read the book and don’t want to know the end, look away now!

Cover of Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

So the big revelation is that Adrian had an affair with Veronica’s mother, and so the young Adrian is Veronica’s brother, not her son, as Tony had assumed. The reason Veronica kept saying throughout the book that Tony didn’t get it was because he never understood this link. The reason her mother had Adrian’s diary and said he had been happy in his last few months is because he had been with her.

Now, I think perhaps the reason why people are confused is because this doesn’t seem like much of a revelation. Perhaps you think you must have missed something, that a Booker-prize-winning novel must have something deeper to it than that. No, that’s it. At least, I’m pretty sure it is, unless I’m like Tony and just don’t get it at all 🙂

Tony feels guilty because his spiteful letter drove Adrian to Veronica’s mother, which led them to produce a son, which led to his suicide. The suggestion, then, is that Adrian’s suicide wasn’t an intellectual/philosophical decision after all, but a banal one on the same level as Robson’s suicide in their school days. As Tony says, “I looked at the chain of responsibility. I saw my initial in there.”

I have to say, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to see Tony as responsible for Adrian’s death. It’s true that if Tony hadn’t written the letter, perhaps Adrian would not have killed himself. But a man who accidentally runs over a child as he’s driving to work could just as easily say, “If only I’d left home a few minutes earlier, I never would have hit her.” Is he responsible, then, because he left home at that particular time?

He feels guilt, yes, because something terrible happened and he was involved, but is that the same as moral responsibility? Surely there has to be some cause and effect, some intent. Tony intended to hurt Adrian with his letter, but he couldn’t possibly have foreseen that when he said “Consult the mother”, Adrian would in fact sleep with the mother and then kill himself.

I also felt it was a revelation that Tony couldn’t possibly have guessed, any more than we could. So why was Veronica so angry at him all the time for not getting it? What was there for him to get? How could he possibly have got it?

To me, Veronica’s obstructive behaviour throughout the novel was not very credible. It seemed to function as a plot device: the author needed to ration information out, to dripfeed it to the reader to maintain suspense, so if Veronica had explained everything immediately, there would have been no book. But her reasons for withholding all this information are not clear.

I think this is also responsible for some of the confusion over the ending. People were looking for Veronica’s irrationality and hostility to be explained, and it wasn’t. Not really. She blamed Tony, apparently, but it seems too harsh. Doesn’t she bear responsibility too? Doesn’t her mother? Doesn’t Adrian himself? It seems to me that they bear more responsibility than Tony.

So there it is, anyway. The Sense of an Ending explained, at least as I understand it. Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said, or if there’s anything that’s still unclear – I’ll do my best to clear up any other loose ends.

I’d also like to make it clear that, while I’ve been quite critical of the book in this post, I actually really liked it. The ending was my least favourite part, and this post focused on the ending. For my response to The Sense of an Ending as a whole, please see the original review.

If you enjoyed this post, please have a look at my other book reviews, or check out the free stuff I’m offering to readers at the moment.


  1. Nivedita 3 May 2012 at 7:05 am

    Very good post Andrew. I couldn’t agree more. I guess it is natural for Tony to feel unhappy about the way the things have turned out for his friends, but it is indeed a stretch for him to feel responsible for the events.

    1. Andrew Blackman 4 May 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks Nivedita! I remember your original review of this book as well. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought it was a bit of a stretch! I think that’s why there’s some confusion about the ending…

      1. Leslie Finkel 24 May 2013 at 5:42 am


        I appreciated your review and the comments I have read here.

        I am interested in your view on the impact of the suicides (most importantly, Adrian’s) on Tony. His closest friend (and one from whom he had become estranged) takes his own life. Tony is not able reconnect with him and make amends – and we learn quickly that Tony has some challenges in forming deep attachments. I found it sad that in this man’s sixties, he has no male friends and I think that is telling.

        Tony has excellent insight into life, history and meaning – but it’s one step back from being truly “engaged” in life. I don’t think he manipulates the reader – I think he is blunted. Life doesn’t fully register with him because he is (and was) too protective of himself to let it. He is filling in and changing what happened – as someone partially deaf will “fill in” words they don’t hear when they are being spoken to. Notably, it changes the meaning of the intended communication.

        1. Dennis Banks 4 September 2014 at 10:23 pm

          I like your analogy to the deaf completing unheard sentences. Thank you

      2. Luke 14 April 2014 at 7:57 pm

        Hi Andrew,

        I interpreted the story that both Adrian (a1) and Anthony (a2) both slept with Veronica’s (v) mother, Mary (m). I’m surprised this interpretation didn’t make it into your article. Otherwise this Booker Prize winner is, as you say, a stretch.

        Whether Mary bore Adrian’s baby (the man was similar to Adrian in physical appearance, the first equation, and Anthony played an introductory role) or Anthony’s baby (“I thought of a woman frying eggs in a carefree, slapdash way, untroubled when one of them broke in the pan”) is difficult to say.

        a2 + v + a1 x s = b

        b = s –v +/x a1

        So for instance if…..

        1. Leeann 17 June 2014 at 7:04 pm

          Veronica’s mother’s name was Sarah. Not Mary.

        2. Anonymous 12 January 2016 at 3:50 pm

          I agree completely with this view of the book.

        3. Howard 25 March 2017 at 10:51 pm

          I agree with Luke. I thought it was clear in all if the real time and flash backs that Tony also had a relationship with the mother. The leaving scene and her casual goodbye wave and his comment that he liked her mother. I think there was a point that he believed he could have been the father..

        4. Kathy O'Malley 27 March 2017 at 1:34 pm

          Luke – I’m where you are … the furtive wave to Tony as he left seemed to me to imply a relationship (though brief) that might have happened over that weekend. And Tony’s stalkery interest in Adrian II seemed beyond curiosity but rather pretty personal.

      3. Cat 11 June 2014 at 10:38 pm

        But why did she leave him 500 pounds?

        1. Leeann 17 June 2014 at 7:05 pm

          I’d like to know that too. I found that confusing.

        2. Madeline 18 August 2014 at 1:35 am

          “Blood Money?” she felt responsible for his death and payed compensation to Tony because Adrian always talked fondly of him so she knew they were close and loosing him would be like loosing family and it was her fault

          1. larsen 1 September 2014 at 3:51 pm

            Yes, I found this site because I enjoyed the book so much at first thought, and then woke up with many questions and some skepticism. This post and the comments help a lot. But still… Why did the mother give Tony 500 pounds — all explanations seem like a stretch. And why did she give him Adrian’s diary? Why not his other friends? Because she had met him once? Did Adrian not have family? Did she not know of the terrible letter he had sent Adrian? Why give the diary to someone who was seen by then as an enemy? To thank him for sending Adrian her way? It’s all a bit of a stretch for the central action of a novel. And I believe in logic first, then comes all the rest.
            And yet, as said here, I really enjoyed it.

          2. Nicola 10 January 2015 at 6:45 pm

            Paid, losing, her fault.

            Thank you.

      4. Jenni Gordon 13 January 2015 at 11:45 pm

        Andrew – thanks for the insights, they really helped

        What bothered me most was why did Sara leave Tony $500 and Adrian’s diary? and
        Why did Adrian kill himself?

        After reading your conclusions and others commments, these are my thoughts:

        Tony did have an affair (if you can call a one night stand that) with Sara thus producing Adrian 2. Veronica sleeps with Tony only after this to get back at her Mother. There is some question about Veronica’s own parenthood “Could such a giant oaf produce an elf like Veronica” but will leave that in the disfunctionality of Veronica’s family. Brother Jack seemed like an odd lot from the get go.While this helps solve the issue of the $500, then why is the child named Adrian and why does Adrian1 kill himself, is it not emtional but philosophical as Tony first suspects ans as documented by letter to coroner? Veronica’s attesting that “Tony doesn’t get it” seems to refer to her mother’s sexual exploits and the child.

        Ok, so Adrian enters the scene, hooks up with Sara who is pregnaunt with Tony’s baby. Does he know? Does he kill himself because she is pregnaunt like Robson or because what he believes to be his child is malformed? Either seems out of character. Does Adrian figure out it is Tony’s baby thus leaving his diary to Sara, and Sara being guilt ridden names the baby after him? I believe Tony;’s statement “looks at the chain of responsibility and sees his initials there” is about realizing he is the father of Adrian2 and not about causing Adrian1’s suicide which seems far fetched.

        I think a look at the names and their literary place bears noting.
        Anthony: hermit who founds Christian monothicism (Tony is a hermit of sorts)
        Veronica: Sta who wipes Jesus face and finds his image upon it – is our Veronica permanently stained?
        Mary: Either Virgin Mary and immaculate conception (Adrian -2’s birth we never know for sure who the father is) or Mary Magdelene (loose woman, secret lover of Jesus, Mother of his child.. to put the reader off the scent?)
        Margaret: patron Saint of expectant Mothers (Mother of all Mothers in the story)
        Sara – wife of Abraham sho gives birth to Isaac at 90 (late childbirth of Adrian 2)
        Adrian comes from Hadrian who is best known for his Wall across Britian – does Adrian put up a Wall or take one down with his suicide?

        Think I have asked more then I have answered but I enjoyed the book.

        1. Ahab 14 June 2015 at 1:37 pm

          I also think that the names contain some important clues.

          One thing that nobody has mentioned in any of the blogs is Annie the girl that Tony hooks up with while traveling the States.

          According to Wikipedia, the name Anne derives from the Sanskrit word “the one without sin”. It also mentions that “it is said that Mary’s mother was Anne and the name Mary and Anne are commonly used together.”.

          I see that as corroborating the theory that Tony had an affair with Sarah (Mary’s mother) which he repressed in his memory. Instead, he seems to remember a lengthy affair with an American girl which is a much more innocuous memory to have. Hence, this particular memory is one where he didn’t committ a sin of sleeping with his girl friend’s mother and possibly getting her pregnant.

          Just a theory, though…

        2. AJEET YADAV 12 May 2016 at 11:37 pm

          Andrew and Jenny Gordan: I have finished this book just before half an hour (at 03:35 am) and after reading your interpretation.. I m able to get some sleep 😀 thanks a lot for the post.

      5. collette 18 February 2015 at 7:21 pm

        I think (as Tony did) that Veronica’s whole family was odd and that it was expected that Sara would make advances towards Tony – which they accommodated by conveniently going for a walk the morning he was there so he could “lie in”, which he didn’t do and therefore thwarted the expected action.. He was a pretty straightforward kind of guy, who would have bee appalled if he’d realized that this was Sara’s intention! That pleased Veronica, which is why she was nicer to him the second night of the visit. His only need for guilt at the end was that he wrote that letter – but the guilty party in this tale is Sara, who did manage to inveigle Adrian into bed – for which he and his son paid a terrible price!

      6. Collette 19 February 2015 at 3:31 pm

        Veronica’s family is ” different” and “weird”in the extreme.. When Tony spends a weekend with them, they all (except for her mother) go for a walk the first morning as Veronica tells them that Tony likes to “lie-in”. It seems to me that the mother is expected to make advances toward him, maybe after she’s taken the cooked breakfast up to his room.. But this doesn’t happen because he doesn’t lie-in and, being the straightforward guy that he is, he would have been horrified at such an event.. Nevertheless, the conniving mother (Sara) uses the intimate breakfast-cooking time to cosy up to him and leave doubts in his mind about her daughter. Veronica is pleased that nothing happened in their absence and is nicer to Tony the second night he’s there, and even gets a nod from her brother. Adrian, however, falls into Sara’s trap, with dire consequences for both himself and the son born of this union. Clearly, Sara is person to blame for the tragic outcomes for all, with Tony marginally to blame for the letter her wrote, which was pretty normal for the circumstances at the time . That’s my take on this book, and I would welcome responses!

        1. Jeanette 24 November 2015 at 2:29 pm

          Excellent insight! Your comment makes perfect sense of the weekend Tony spent with Veronica’s family. If Tony had slept with Sara, then the thought that young Adrian was her son might have occurred to him.

        2. Nikki 3 May 2016 at 12:54 am

          This is the most plausible explanation. The way that you explained that weekend makes a lot of sense – albeit sick sense – to me. I had taken everything at face value, but your perspective sounds spot on.

      7. Mario 2 March 2016 at 11:27 pm

        What does Tony really want in “The sense of an ending?”
        &What does his quest for understanding lead him?

      8. Mike Pod 20 March 2017 at 9:14 pm

        The problem lies with “brother.” “Half brother” and it all falls in place.

    2. richard 21 September 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Occurred to me that perhaps Barnes had something else in mind with his bewildering ending. Clearly, Tony bears no responsibility for Adrian’s suicide other than the letter he wrote which cannot be seriously considered a credible provocation. It was just an angry, spiteful rant from a young lover scorned. Veronica is damaged, but we never really know enough details to understand her pathology. Tony is remorseful at the end when he realizes the truth, but Veronica continues to tell him he “doesn’t get it.” So maybe we and Tony don’t get it either. Maybe Tony’s surmising that Adrian slept with Veronica’s mother and gave birth to Adrian (Jr.?) is another example of Tony’s faulty memory. Maybe Barnes wants us to question the truth of the ending just as he has been questioning the truth of Tony’s memory throughout the book. Could it be that Tony is the father of young Adrian? And that Tony has suppressed that memory? Sounds crazy? Maybe, but for me it’s the only thing I can think of that would save the book from its own ultimate banality. If what Tony believes is the truth, then the reader is left feeling that the entire narrative has been a shallow and superficial self-indulgence on the part of the narrator and the narrator’s creator–Barnes himself. I like Barnes, and I have trouble imagining that his ending, if taken at face value, is what all that philosophical struggle to understand the meaning of memory adds up to in the end.

      1. Ed 26 September 2012 at 6:55 am

        completely agree that there is more going on here. Narratorial reliability is a key issue in the book, what with the persistent focus on memory, what constitutes history, veracity. Our experience of the ending is in fact exactly Adrian’s experience of Robson’s death earlier in the book.

        My own opinion is that Tony is always very deliberately manipulating how we see events. Clearly he is telling from his perspective, but I think it runs deeper. He very self consciously examines how some memories come back to him and yet his memory of the letter mysteriously augments every time he comes to it.

        He also clearly doesn’t understand Adrian’s equations (which is probably for me the weakest part of the text, simply because of a lack of mathematical syntax): I think Adrian’s suicide probably is for some moral purpose: he is trying to find the equation that leads to the best result for ‘b’ – surely the conclusion he reaches is that he cannot be part of the equation.

        I also think that the affair with Sarah that Andrew points to cannot be so simple – Veronica wears a red glass ring on her marriage finger. The interpretation of this is left completely open, but it is not too much to assume it is in memory of Adrian.

        Last point: Andrew – why is Veronica known as Mary to Adrian 2?

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 26 September 2012 at 7:54 pm

          Hi Ed,

          Thanks for the comment, and for some good points. I’d forgotten the red glass ring. And I do believe you’re right that Tony is a manipulative narrator, not just an unreliable one.

          We’ve had some discussion of the use of the name Mary further down in the comments. It’s Veronica’s middle name, and one commenter suggested that she uses it to distance herself from Adrian 2, who she feels obliged to help but feels no connection to. My feeling was that it’s also a subtle red herring, because Mary has Biblical connotations of motherhood, and it leads us to suspect that Veronica is Adrian 2’s mother, setting us up for the ultimate revelation that she’s his sister.

          1. Sandy 9 December 2012 at 9:39 am

            It seems to me that Tony’s perception of Veronica colored his entire life after they parted. He chose the safety of marriage to a woman who was Veronica’s opposite and seemed to remain distant and dispassionate in his own life ever after.
            Veronica’s life took a somewhat different turn with similar results. I believe her immersion in the “you just don’t get it” mantra became so central to her life that she chose it over living. It seems to me that her early fears of rejection were solidified when Adrian chose her mother over her. Rather than realize that Adrian and her mother were flawed, she chose to punish herself instead. Her unrelenting anger at Tony kept her bound in a relationship with him.
            The ending was a revelation of sorts – Tony and Veronica each based their existence on faulty beliefs. It makes one wonder about the influence of perception and the shifts that occur throughout one’s life as a result of these perceptions.

          2. Bonnie Blackman 20 September 2013 at 8:38 pm

            Veronica’s refrain “You don’t get it.” seems to come from a place of serious anger.
            Imagine having a mother, Sara, who purposefully seduced her love interests. In retrospect, it seems she was working on Tony during his only visit – the egg imagery, her flirtatious behavior – she simply didn’t have time or opportunity to bed him. I think the hints of her intentions were for the reader, not Tony. As Veronica said, he “didn’t get it.” I believe what resonated for him from that visit was her ironic comment not “to let Veronica get away with too much,” ironic since the mother was the one who got away with too much.
            Tony helped deliver Adrian to Sara by telling him to “consult the mother.” Again, Tony “didn’t get it.” He thought Sara’s role would be to help Adrian understand how to handle Veronica.
            I think Veronica knew what Sara was capable of. She understood how dangerous her mother was, and she was furious with Tony because he didn’t “get” that. He encouraged Adrian right into her web.

            1. Lyndal Moor 26 January 2015 at 1:27 am

              Yes I agree with Bonnie.
              It is Sarah who is the dangerous one, she was trying to seduce Tony but he did not pick up on that.
              She may have tried to seduce all Veronica’s boyfriends.
              She succeeded with Adrian.
              The damaged egg was symbolic of the damaged foetus.
              Adrian killed himself for the same reasons Robson did, which made him finally, as pathetic.
              Loved the book, not concerned all the ends were not tied up so neatly, after all it is fiction and meant to provoke thought.

        2. Jac 27 December 2012 at 3:03 am


          I also came to the conclusion that Adrian had had an affair with Sarah, until I read your comments which made me think again.

          Couple of things : the author uses the narrator to deliberately hint at what memories are relevant, and the very first paragraph of the novel contains the line about sperm sluicing down a tall house (the attic room on that weekend), which is then never referred to again in the novel. But since the other memories in that short list are elucidated in the novel, we are to assume that this is a significant memory which he has suppressed? We know what the shiny inner wrist refers to, as well as the frying pan steam, and the Severn bore. Not sure about the cold bath water. Why does he also look back at Sarah when he leaves, then notice the funny wave?

          So what IS the significance of this memory?

          After the young male carer tells him about Adrian, he says ‘I understood it. I got it’. Is the author being ironic – the narrator still doesn’t get it, that Adrian is his son? Tony doesn’t get a lot of stuff until much later, esp. the effect of his stinging letter to Adrian.

          And might this not fully explain the undoubted fury of Veronica, as revealed by the bizarre driving episode around the block without saying a word?

          But then, if Adrian did not father the boy, why did he committ suicide?

          1. Steph 4 July 2013 at 1:50 pm

            Just pointing out – the sperm line was referred to again much later in the book, when Tony remembers more about Veronica taking upstairs and saying goodnight…

          2. Dave 11 May 2014 at 2:36 am

            …and the cold bath water refers to Adrian’s suicide…

        3. Avik Kumar Si 4 October 2014 at 11:17 pm

          Speaking of narratorial reliability, is it also possible that Tony tries to mislead the audience about the symbols in Adrian’s equations?
          Perhaps, he swaps a1’s actual symbolic value with that of a2

      2. LCD 7 December 2012 at 11:47 am

        I totally agree with everything you said in your post.

        I’d enjoyed the first part of the book; it was told from the perspective of Anthony as a young boy (then, a young man) who thinks he knows everything, but is lacking in life experience. The pretentiousness between he and his three friends reminded me (admittedly) of myself, at that age.

        I also enjoyed the second part of the book. We now see Anthony as an older man and learn what happened to him throughout the years. Like you, I couldn’t “get” Veronica–what the bleep was wrong with that chick? I thought, “Let it GO, already!” What had Anthony done that had so offended her? I mean…they’d been kids!

        I didn’t like not understanding the ending of the book.A reader shouldn’t be left with the feeling of not being sure. It’s not satisfying; it’s a failure on the part of the writer, no matter how talented h/she is.

        I wondered if Adrian (Jr) was, truly, the child of Adrian and Veronica—yet, for some unexplained reason, Veronica had changed her name. On the one hand, had Adrian (school friend) been her…gulp…brother…and the two of them had produced a child? Yick.

        Or, as is most likely, Adrian had slept with V’s mom, who’d gotten pregnant, which is why the reader is told that Veronica is the sister of the “goofy guy” (I think that’s how Anthony describes him). Neither ending was worth it. A good book was turned into a lousy movie, if you know what I mean.

        1. Beverly 11 December 2012 at 2:00 am

          OR, did Tony, who remembers he really didn’t love Veronica really that much he was to young, have a one night stand with Mrs. Ford and got her pregnant by mistake way back then? That might explain why Veronica slept with him after they broke up, she was getting back at her mother? I guess this seems far fetched why would Adrian want to hook up with a pregnant woman? Or had she already given birth to the baby and he didn’t know that? Mrs. Ford seduced another friend of Veronica’s? Would explain why Veronica was so mad at Tony her whole life. Tony choose to see Adrian’s face in the Adrian Jr. but it was really his face he saw? We don’t really know what Tony choose to see his whole life, just his side of the story.
          The book left us discussing which is what a good book does.

        2. Ali 27 August 2013 at 7:08 am

          Adrian’s mother left him as a child and he was raised by his father. Tony says that Adrian never talked about his home life. I think that sets up that Veronica and Adrian became involved without knowing that they were siblings and produced a child, who possibly due to incest ended out with developmental disabilities. It doesn’t really explain why Veronica is so angry though. I agree that I would rather have been able to be sure of the ending, but it is kind of fun not knowing too!

          1. Marlee 5 November 2013 at 8:03 pm

            I believe the title of the book “The Sense of an Ending” explains the ending. Tony is suppressing what happened to him. He has a sense of what happened but not the whole story. So the ending of the book is only his sense of what happened — not what actually happened.

        3. Leeann 17 June 2014 at 7:16 pm

          Interesting possiblility, that Adrian (old school friend) and Veronica might have been brother and sister. After all, the book says that Adrian’s mother left him and his father, and Tony says he Adrian never spoke about family or home life.

      3. nidzara 25 December 2012 at 6:15 pm

        I just read the last page of The sense of an ending´ and the words that are lingering in my head are the last words of the novel ” And beyond these there is unrest. There is a great unrest”

        My conclusion is same as Richards, that Tony is the father of Adrian 2. The red line of the entire novel is that memory is not to be trusted, that it is selective, that we choose how to interpret the memories so that they support the image we have of ourselves. That all that had happened after he received 500 £ unlocked memory after memory so that in the end he remembers that he slept with Veronica’s mother. That would also explain her odd way she waved good-by to him (which was re-iterated in the last page of the novel)

        Independent of what the ending actually is, I enjoyed the book. If Andrian slept with Veronica’s mother, then the entire novel feels a little like Tony’s life – if not banal than in any case ordinary. If Tony in the end assembles that last memory and the insight that came with it, the novel is more like Adrian, sharp and purposeful…

        1. Dick 23 January 2013 at 6:40 pm

          The novel ends with: “I thought of a woman frying eggs in a carefree, slapdash way, untroubled when one of them broke in the pan; then the same woman, later, making a secret, horizonal gesture beneath a sunlit wisteria. And I thought of a cresting wave of water, lit by the moon, rushing past and vanishing upstream, pursued by a band of yelping students whose torch beams crisscrossed in the dark.” Its pretty easy to see this as sex that produces a deformed child. This does not explain Adrian’s suiside.

          1. Dick 25 January 2013 at 12:33 am

            Julian Barnes tells us repeatedly that memory and history is fragmented and flawed. Over time both are open to interpretation and modification. Not only does the author tell us explicitly about memory but he structures the book itself to represent those characteristics. So it should come as no surprise that the story is fragmented and open to interpretation. When we arrive at the last page of the book we do not get an Ending but a sense of an ending. We also do not get an Understanding but a sense of an understanding.

            Throughout the book, Julian Barnes gives lots of remarkable insights into the patterns of life, aging and memory. I was halfway through the book before I realized I needed to be underlining those passages so they could be found more easily. Any one of them could be just the right explanation for situations that have arisen in my past as well as those coming in the future. Those insights are like the fragments of memories that surface and are woven into the narrative. They exist almost independently of the storyline and then they disappear.

            Veronica warned us that Tony just doesn’t get it when he concludes that Adrian fathered the child. In a passage on the last page the author gives the reader a big break when he tells us Tony fathered the damaged child. This passage is brilliantly crafted. The earlier memories have been modified and ordered. Not a single word is out of place. The imagery of the sexual encounter, alone, is worth the price of the book.

            “I thought of a woman frying eggs in a carefree, slapdash way, untroubled when one of them broke in the pan; then the same woman, later, making a secret, horizontal gesture beneath a sunlit wisteria. And I thought of a cresting wave of water, lit by the moon, rushing past and vanishing upstream, pursued by a band of yelping students whose torch beams crisscrossed in the dark”.

            So at the end, we are given the key to understanding the storyline. My own flawed memory requires a reread in order to fit all the pieces together, particularly in understanding the timeline and the suicide of Adrian. But another part of me says: Trust the Author. He has made clear the parts he wanted to be clear and the rest is uncertain, just like memory and truth. I enjoyed the insights and the writing but the storyline was not compelling enough to justify a reread. I am content to settle for a sense of greatness.

            1. Anonymous 23 July 2014 at 8:38 pm

              Nicely put. That puts it all into perspective. When V told T he still didn’t get it, I began to see Tony as the father. My expectations of confirmation were dashed. But now I see how they were actually fulfilled. The book is not so much about Tony as it is about truth and memory. BTW, I thought the bit about remorse was also worth the price of the book.

        2. deanne belinoff 7 September 2013 at 1:47 am

          My first response to the ending was that Veronica and her brother Jack/John were lovers. Andrian 2 is the product of incestuous relationship between Jack and his sister Veronica. Veronica’s mother was aware of this situation and was Andrian 1’s lover. Andrian 1 was attracted to – loved, or had compassion for Veronica and or her mother or both – and helped her raise Adrian 2 and camoflage the incest. The letter Tony sent at the inception of the relationship between Adrian 1 and Veronica was not the only cause of Adrian 1’s suicide but both Veronica and A.1 knew that whatTony didnt get was that Veronica and her brother’s incest gave issue to Adrian 2 . The young handicapped Adrian was named after Adrian 1 because of the important part he played as lover to both Veronica and her mother.

      4. David 1 January 2013 at 8:06 pm

        That night Tony masterbates into the basin and in the morning the mother discards an egg into the bin. I can’t help but think that there is something hidden within this, but I find it a stretch to believe Tony didn’t remember getting in on with his girlfriend’s mother!

      5. Anne 8 August 2013 at 2:03 am

        Yes.The weekend visit is full of clues that Tony was also a partner for Veronica Mother.

      6. Robin 9 February 2014 at 1:26 am

        I do agree that Tony is most likely the father of Adrian jnr. But it is intentionally vague. In support of this I think there are several clues. There are several references to what occurred between Tony and Sarah, the steam rising from the pan, which sits among several highly significant lines summarising the book right at the start. There is the horizontal wave in the book and most significantlyq mentioned again right at the end, the discussion of the broken egg too I.e. The old faulty egg leading to the production of a faulty child. However most telling to me is the analysis of Robson’s suicide by Adrian. He is clearly discussing his own suicide still come to pass. He says in the analysis we know he’s dead, that he had a girlfriend, she was pregnant, the piece of documentation (ref his diary), what other motives? Can we be sure the child was his? I think Barnes wants us to question what really happened and to leave the events open to interpretation, the reader then becomes like the narrator in that they are imposing their own reality on what occurred. We all have a sense of the ending. What really happened? I don’t think we are meant to know, and like in life do we ever really know as there are so many differing viewpoints and realities.

      7. Anonymous 23 January 2015 at 2:18 am

        Best comment yet!

    3. Patricia C.Gilbert 26 December 2012 at 1:48 pm

      Nivedita – I agree with you….Andrews’ explanation/analysis agreed with the way I thought about the book after the ending. Certainly Tony, like all of us, has some regrets for his action (letter to Adrien) but clearly Veronica, her mother and Adrien carried the real responsibility for their lives (and death regarding Adrien).

    4. Paul C 18 April 2013 at 11:34 am

      Spot on Andrew but it must follow that in fact this is an ordinary though very readable book and certainly not worthy of its prize. By the way, what is your explanation for the mother leaving Tony GBP500 as ‘blood money’, (according to Veronica). Is that just to compensate him for having been mistreated by her daughter or something else? The obvious explanation lacks credibility when the money would more likely have gone to her handicapped son. This seems to be an unsatisfactory loose end and any thoughts to resolve it would be appreciated.

    5. Bob 27 June 2013 at 12:55 pm

      I think it’s a study of a man entirely devoid of emotional intelligence and fiercely committed to avoiding “damage”.
      The History lessons at the beginning of the novel establish the way in which Tony and his friends approach all problems including those of the heart, detached, analytical, emotionless, self-consciously clever. Typical 6th Form clever-dicks. The trouble is that Tony uses this method when he encounters emotional issues. It also helps to keep intimacy at a distance and so head off “damage”. Veronica: So, do you ever think about where our relationship is heading? Tony: Do you? Mrs Ford: Don’t let Veronica get away with too much. Tony: What do you mean Mrs Ford? Mrs Ford looked at me, smiled in an unpatronising way and shook her head slightly. (Tony has just failed the test). At the end of the novel the final words are, “There is great unrest.” On page 5 we read of Marshall’s attempt to hide his ignorance about the reign of Henry VIII with the same words. Tony’s scornful dismissal of Marshall as a “cautious know-nothing” is an excellent description of his own emotional ignorance.
      Tony never understands that he is the problem.

      1. Barney 7 November 2014 at 9:19 pm

        I think he does get it at the end. “There is unrest” is ironic understatement, referring to how badly that term failed to capture the full extent of the matter was when it was used in the past to describe a time of much turmoil (by someone as ignorant about what was going on as he feels now). He sees it all flash before him and mentions accumulation, responsibility, what else have I done wrong, etc…he isn’t trying to hide that he feels great regret, and when he moans “I knew I couldn’t change, or mend, anything now”, it shows he knows the way he is was responsible.

    6. Dale Cosper 9 December 2013 at 9:12 pm

      I don’t think you can understand the novel and its ending without having some hunch or hypothesis about what the “damage” in the Roberts household has been. What is the relationship of Mrs. Roberts (Sarah=S) to the other members of her family? Do they pimp for her? Is Mr. Roberts the father of Veronica (how could such a giant oaf produce an “elf” like Veronica, Tony wonders.) What does “will he do?” said by Veronica to Jack mean? I don’t think it is textually possible to determine all of this, so “you’re on your own.” Dale

      1. Anonymous 12 September 2015 at 9:58 am

        I do think that Veronica pimps for Sara and the rest of the ‘family’ does too or they just know about it to the extent of complicity. It’s the only way I can tie together Jack winking at tony after V asks if he’ll do and the otherwise inexplicable morning walk that the rest of the family went on (which Sara says V suggested so that tony could get a lie in. However come to think of it I think Sara was lying and she was the one who suggested the walk herself to get tony alone

        1. thekeel 17 September 2015 at 11:20 pm

          Yes, I agree and I think that part of what made the novel so devastating was the ways that Barnes implied (yet never explicitly stated) that Veronica was very much in love with Tony but he was never able to acknowledge it, or treat her as if it were so.

    7. Luke 14 April 2014 at 7:58 pm

      Hi Andrew,

      I interpreted the story that both Adrian (a1) and Anthony (a2) both slept with Veronica’s (v) mother, Mary (m). I’m surprised this interpretation didn’t make it into your article. Otherwise this Booker Prize winner is, as you say, a stretch.

      Whether Mary bore Adrian’s baby (the man was similar to Adrian in physical appearance, the first equation, and Anthony played an introductory role) or Anthony’s baby (“I thought of a woman frying eggs in a carefree, slapdash way, untroubled when one of them broke in the pan”) is difficult to say.

      a2 + v + a1 x s = b

      b = s –v +/x a1

      So for instance if…..

      1. Richard 8 May 2014 at 2:54 am

        Veronica’s mother is not Mary – it is Sarah. Veronica is Mary.

        I do not see any indication anywhere in the book that Anthony slept with Veronica’s mother. Even the equations do not indicate any connection between Anthony and Sarah. It’s a1 x s, not a2 x s. And it’s baby = sarah minus veronica times or plus Adrian.

        So you’re all grabbing at straws.

        1. James Nagel 2 September 2014 at 2:02 am

          a1 may be Tony. He was first on the seen after all.

    8. Esther Terrestrial 5 December 2014 at 7:33 pm

      i like that you explain the actual literal happenings at the end. i must be dumb like tony. tony is a very unreliable narrator. the reader must do some work and i don’t mean understanding the plot. who is this person telling the story. well, he is very good at excusing his flaws. we empathize with his awkwardness and he thus pulls us in. as a woman reading this story, bells went off immediately that the mother could be competing with the daughter, but tony does not analyze this, he is a man, not a daughter. he is only vaguely interest in Sara.

      i hate to say this in this day and age, but this is a psychological novel. the biggest shock i got in the book was the revealed viciousness of tony’s letter. it was not only cruel about Veronica, but toward Adrian also. remember, adrian had picked tony out of the little group to most communicate with him. tony is pleased by this and puzzled. adrian is attracted to someone as a friend who is very different from himself. it must have been quite a shock to get such a letter. one’s sense of oneself is undermined when someone we really care about turns out to be extremely mean.

      i think guilt is a secondary emotion. it disguises deeper emotions when rejected. tony can look away from just how emotional he felt. early in the book he lists different kinds of people and he says the worst are those who have been hurt and decide not to ever be hurt again. he says beware. again i took note. everyone has been hurt, but everyone does not decide to never feel again. was tony describing himself? i think Barnes gives us lots of clues to who he is. has tony admitted he loved anyone in this book. i don’t think so. he is distant from everything and especially people. he turns away from the disgusting ugliness of his letter to dramatic guilt. it seem appropriate of me for this narrator. thanks for writing and then reading this.

    9. Colin Bower 15 November 2016 at 8:45 am

      I cannot find a post in which the key critical comment about the book has been noted (but I haven’t read all the posts). It is profoundly flawed in this respect: the central trope is a first person narrative. This means the narrator sets down his tale specifically after the revelation that Veronica is Adrian2’s sister but more generally with a complete knowledge of all the events, hidden or otherwise, that constitute the narrative. This makes the whole enterprise bogus. The narrative given by the young Tony is in compete bad faith, because there is no young Tony any more. He is the old Tony, the one who wrote the narrative in mid to old age.. The trope doesn’t work. Unless of course this is some advanced pomo exercise in terms of which the identity of the narrator is conflated with the identity of the creator of the narrator, eg. Barnes. But what purpose pomo tricks of this sort serve eludes me. Apart from this fundamental objection, I just don’t have the time in my life for characters who are endless victims of their own indifferent personalities. Tony’s endless musings about life, memory, etc. are (to me) banal, I think that Veronica is bloodless and slight, her university relationship with Tony doesn’t add up to a can of beans, and the rest of the cast – not excluding Adrian – is entirely forgettable. None of the interpretations offered by these many blogs – ingenious as they are – redeem the novel. It can be whatever it wants to be, but it doesn’t intrigue, edify or entertain me. Sorry.

    10. Debra Dannheisser 16 February 2017 at 10:57 pm

      This book is for my bookclub tonight. I read your review, thank you so much. Please read the review or summary on Goodreads, it brings other issues not mentioned about the child Adrian and Tony’s memory. Very intriguing.

    11. Anonymous 26 March 2017 at 4:41 pm

      You said that Mary is Adrian’s sister. Ok. But, I still don’t understand who her parents are. You imply that Sarah is his mother; but who is her father? And why does (young) Adrian call Veronica Mary when he sees her (page 139) ? Can you explain?

  2. litlove 3 May 2012 at 8:12 am

    Agh – I do want to read this, but I want to read Barnes’ novel first. I’ll be back!

    1. Andrew Blackman 4 May 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Yes, don’t spoil it by reading about the ending first! Will be interested to hear your thoughts when you get to it though 🙂

  3. Pingback: “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes | Andrew Blackman

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 7 May 2012 at 12:59 pm

      Hi Emma, Thanks for linking to Max’s review – I hadn’t seen that one yet. I liked his point that ultimately it doesn’t really matter what happened, because the memories are all unreliable anyway!

      1. Lesley Huffaker 3 August 2012 at 8:36 pm

        I think your point that the story “believes in”…that memories are all unreliable anyway…is the point! the fact (or fiction) of the veronica/adrian relationship and the one with her mother…is but part of the walkway to get us to that main theme. and the discussions, i would think, could take a really deeper look at memories (if honesty was on the agenda) and how we perceive ourselves and others…and history!!
        and like a lot of deaths that are hard to understand, it can be said that because adrian had such good insights about history, there really is a lot to learn from those who chose to die an untmely death. in other words, our memories can include gems of wisdom that can come from really hard-to-understand sources.
        anyway, i found your review refreshingly straight forward…unlike parts of the novel where the author tries to keep us guessing.

      2. emily 31 May 2014 at 2:52 am

        But then why read it? If all we are getting is an unreliable narrator and an unresolved story…has the writer not done his job?
        A bit frustrating.

  4. Pingback: Congratulations, Julian Barnes! | Andrew Blackman

  5. Bruno D'Itri 15 May 2012 at 3:24 pm

    You raise very valid criticisms of the storyline, Andrew. However, we must consider that the story is narrated to us by Tony. He – or, rather, Julian Barnes – warns us to evaluate any historical narrative by giving full consideration to the psychological character of the narrator. In my view, Tony is a man who, in the autumn of his life, comes to realise that he has lived a very mundane, safe and unemotional existence. With the receipt of the lawyer’s letter, he is given an opportunity to evaluate his own life story, as well as to interact again with Veronica. His acceptance of some responsibility for Adrian’s relationship with Veronica’s mother and for his suicide is, from any objective viewpoint, plainly unnecessary. Similarly, his treatment by Veronica – as he describes it – appears to be quite unjustified. However, viewing and recounting his life in this particular way (to himself and thus to us) enables Tony finally to experience an overwhelmingly powerful emotion: that of remorse. Far better to feel a powerful negative emotion than to feel nothing at all, Tony’s subconscious tells him. This sacrificial perspective of his own life history rocks the very foundations of his hitherto dull life, and brings him some much-needed life-affirming vitality. He is a man who so desperately yearned to experience a powerful emotion at that point in his life. He achieved it by piercing his own heart with a dagger of concocted remorse.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 15 May 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Hi Bruno,
      Wow, that’s a wonderful insight! Thanks for sharing it. I’d never thought of it in that way before, but it makes perfect sense. Tony’s life is indeed mundane, and I can see why he would want to feel something, anything, even if it’s concocted. Better to feel remorse than to die without feeling anything. I like that interpretation!

      1. Whispering Gums 5 June 2012 at 8:08 pm

        I like your interpretation Andrew, and Bruno’s extension of it. I agree with Bruno re Tony’s life and the “value” of remorse to him – and in fact in my review said that Tony reminded me a little of TS Eliot’s Prufrock.

        I’m not sure that Veronica’s “you don’t get it” is simply about the affair … I wondered if it was wider than that – because how could he get that – that he didn’t get capital L Life, or relationships. Like you I had no trouble understanding what had happened but the meaning of it all is open to some interpretation I think.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 June 2012 at 2:23 pm

          That’s a nice allusion! I hadn’t thought of Prufrock, but it’s very apt. There is a lot of anguish and remorse, and it does serve a purpose as Bruno points out.

          It does seem a very broad accusation, doesn’t it? And the use of the word “still” suggests a connection with their past together. There are definitely plenty of interpretations, as these comments have shown, and I like that – it does feel true to life, and also true to the character of Tony, who, despite everything he learns, still finds it hard to piece everything together. If he doesn’t get it, it’s consistent that we’ll struggle to get it based on his narrative! Thanks for the comment!

        2. cammac 26 October 2012 at 6:42 am

          Yes, it’s true that he also doesn’t ‘get’ other things, like relationships. What is clouded by the unreliable narrator is that he is quite self-involved in his relationship with Veronica. In their later meetings, he’s surprised that she responds to his questions about her life, and in their next meeting she finally reacts kindly to him. But he goes on to talk about himself for an hour before she leaves.

          1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 29 October 2012 at 7:42 pm

            Interesting point, cammac! I had forgotten about that. Well spotted! Tony does indeed contradict himself quite often.

      2. Roger Greene 12 October 2012 at 10:00 am

        Hi Andrew,
        I’ve come to this debate very late, having only read ‘The Sense of an Ending’ earlier this week. Barnes has a simple narratve style which masks the underlying sinister events he creates.
        Could it be that in his old age Tony’s clarity of memory is failing him and therefore is betraying the actualities of the past?

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 15 October 2012 at 5:09 pm

          Hi Roger

          No problem about being late – glad to hear from you. I agree, it’s a simple narrative style but there’s a lot going on under the surface.

          I think that Tony’s narrative is inherently unreliable, and part of that could indeed be due to failing memory. As I’m sure you remember, Barnes has some great lines in the book about the unstable nature of memory and the way we construct it. Old age is a factor, but so are self-deception and emotional fragility. Our memories are not really actualities, but stories we tell ourselves about the past.

          1. Ann 19 October 2012 at 12:14 pm

            First, Why do we assume that Adrian never met his son? I don’t recall anything in the book to suggest that. Do you remember the line that Adrian says about V’s brother Jack? “I hate the way the English have of not being serious about being serious. I really hate it.” I think Adrian took his gift of intelligence very seriously and when his son was born with intellectual limitations he commited suicide over the confined life he had imposed on his son and the pain and responsibilities he had imposed on Sarah. Possible?

            1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 19 October 2012 at 3:13 pm

              Hi Ann
              Definitely possible. I don’t remember the book being clear one way or the other on whether he met his son. I like your suggestion – seems very plausible to me. Thanks for stopping by!

          2. Natalie 16 July 2013 at 9:11 pm

            I have been enjoying the e-conversation and find much delicious provocation here. As a woman of the same age as our unreliable narrator, I am aghast that “old age” is offered as a possible excuse for Tony’s fallible memory.

    2. James Nagel 2 September 2014 at 2:16 am

      I agree to a point Bruno. In the end Tony runs from responsibility and chooses banality again. He rejects his ex-wife’s suggestion they travel together. He insults her and alienates her by showing interest in another woman when his ex-wife so clearly still holds feelings for him. He abandons any attempt at pursuing any relationship with Adrian 2 or Veronica despite the fact Adrian 2 may well be his son. In the end he stays true to his own character and chooses to continue his emotionless existence rather than give of himself.

  6. HPM 16 May 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Why does Veronica behave so obstructively? Yes, it is a plot device for the surprise ending. She was odd and unpleasant from the beginning, but isn’t her later behavior somewhat understandable in that she knows that Tony has referred Adrian to her mother. Thus, she resents Tony for interfering in her affair with Adrian and sending him to her mother instead. Of course, she’d be furious that Tony was so dense he understood nothing of his role in all of tnis..

    Not that Adrian and Sara weren’t more to blame than Tony, but they’re not around to blame.

    1. Bruno D'Itri 17 May 2012 at 3:45 am

      How Veronica really behaved towards Tony is up for debate. Remember, we only have Tony’s account of her behaviour! In this novel – as in life – the portrait of a character which is given to us by a protagonist is often mis-represented for ulterior motives (just speak to my ex-wife! LOL).
      I rather believe that the real Veronica is far more benevolent than Tony would have us believe. It may benefit Tony to describe her in the way he does, because it allows him to elicit our sympathy and admiration for him.
      Bruno D’Itri

      1. Whispering Gums 5 June 2012 at 8:11 pm

        Exactly Bruno … a significant point to note IS that this is Tony’s perspective.

        I also saw this as a strange sort of “coming of age” novel. Sure, Tony is middle-aged but there was a sense he had a lot of growing up to do nonetheless and the first part of the novel IS coming of age pretty much anyhow.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 June 2012 at 2:20 pm

          I think that’s a good way to look at it. We can all come of age at different ages! In the early parts of the book, the schoolfriends are precocious in terms of talking about ideas, but immature emotionally. So the middle-aged sections are perhaps more of the coming of age than the adolescent ones.

          1. Barbara p. 28 December 2015 at 2:38 pm

            I agree, Tony was desperately seeking answers as the Adrian 2/Mary story unfolded. Impossible to believe he wouldn’t have recalled sleeping with Veronica’s mother…either back when he and Veronica were breaking up, or 40 years later after getting the money? I believe the baby was Sarah’s and Adrian’s.

    2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 18 May 2012 at 11:13 am

      Hi HPM, thanks for visiting! I do agree to a certain extent, but again I’d say that it’s only clear in retrospect that Tony “referred’ Adrian to her mother, with all the consequences. At the time it was just an angry letter from a bitter ex-boyfriend. Also I think that it’s likely Adrian would have met Veronica’s mother without Tony’s letter, and things may well have been the same in the end.

      Bruno, you’re absolutely right that it’s dangerous to rely on the viewpoint of a single protagonist. Tony’s description of her does benefit him, and it would be different if Veronica were telling the story herself. But unless we are to believe that he entirely made up whole incidents, it does still seem that she is being deliberately obtuse. Tony’s viewpoint is all we have, but you’re right that it’s good to keep in mind how biased it is.

    3. Walter Swan 5 December 2012 at 8:20 am

      Though it’s true (if anything in this novel can be described as true) that Tony suggested Adrian should consult Veronica’s mother, as Veronica’s boyfriend it was highly likely Adrian would get to know Veronica’s mother anyway. There’s no evidence that Adrian acted on Tony’s advice in the poisonous letter and that it was entirely due to the letter that Adrian became involved with her.

      EM Forster tackles “muddle” and false memory extremely well in “A Passage to India” – to try to make sense of memories and the past can be profitable or delusional. As Forster famously said in “Howard’s End”, “Only connect.” The end of Barnes’ book shows us Tony trying to make sense of Adrian’s end, but also his own life as it nears its unsatisfactory ending. As a title, it seems to have so many appropriate connotations – possibly, contentiously, that Adrian’s decision to end his life makes sense.

      A fascinating, though, I agree, a rather cold-hearted novel, where “remorse” is one of the most significant words Barnes employs.

  7. HeeKyung 18 May 2012 at 1:52 am

    I couldn’t quite understand the ending until I read this post. thanks for the great review! I too think Veronica is being way too harsh on Tony. And how Tony would understand what’s really going on when Veronica just keeps saying “You just don’t get it”. I cannot understand her character at all. I know we only know Tony’s side of the story but still.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 18 May 2012 at 11:15 am

      Hello HeeKyung! I’m glad to hear that – it was why I wrote the post. Yes, she does seem a very difficult character to understand, doesn’t she? Bruno is right that some of it is Tony’s telling of the story, but still I think the author could have done a better job of justifying Veronica’s behaviour in the readers’ minds.

      1. robin reese 14 September 2014 at 5:18 am

        From some experience, I think I can understand Veronica a little bit. She has a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Her family revolves around the narcissistic parent, children learn this from birth. The son is her prize and is often spoiled while the daughter is a competitor so must be kept down. Very common. This happens from birth so the children inherit degrees of the disorder, and are often quite unbalanced themselves. In this case, the family knows about the mother’s tendencies in sex (quite common.) She competes for the daughter’s boyfriends (and the daughter is trained to allow this.) The family knows the drill so they all leave the mother alone that morning to do her thing with Tony (but I personally don’t think anything happened then. I truly think it was Aiden.) In any case, it is not uncommon for a daughter with a sexually active mother to messed up around sex herself. This is a constant theme with Veronica and is worth pointing out to understand her. She is damaged in many other ways as anyone would be with a mother who has absolutely no ability to love, to empathize, a mother who essentially hates her daughter (especially if she’s pretty and smart!) The mother leaves the money and the diary to Tony because she knows it will upset her daughter. Pretty basic sicko stuff. That line about the last months of Aiden’s life being very happy is particularly sick as there is probably no way this can be true if the guy commits suicide.. She’s the one stretching the truth there. She’s already shown she has no integrity or morals; why should she suddenly be truthful now? Life is a sadistic game to her.

        1. Bryan Young 17 April 2015 at 7:17 am

          Yours is the most compelling explanation I’ve read. It rings very true to me. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  8. Walter 19 May 2012 at 4:50 am

    Here’s a possible explanation – perhaps, like Tony, you still don’t get it. Veronica was always in love with Tony. His fragmented and distorted memory portrays her as having been rather contemptuous of him, but that’s not the reality. He is looking back on his life through a lens of paranoia and lack of self belief. The awkward weekend with Veronica’s family was not the humiliation he remembers – if you take what happened and what was said at face value, her family comes across as being quite insecure and under confident themselves. Her poor father was trying to impress Tony with his weak jokes and his brother’s wink was a friendly act. Because Tony is so insecure, he interprets everything in a negative way.

    The fact that Veronica won’t make love to him might just be about her not being ready – he assumes that she is sexually experienced but there is no evidence of this apart from the fact that she shows some aptitude with the condom. My reading of Veronica’s anger and awkward behaviour is that she is furious that he doesn’t see that she loves him because he’s too caught up in his own low self-esteem. It doesn’t make sense that she would simply be angry with him and keep repeating “You still don’t get it and you never will” just because he failed to solve the mystery from the limited clues she gave him. Julian Barnes is too good a writer for that.

    Does anyone else agree?

    1. Roy 26 July 2012 at 5:24 pm

      I think I was hoping that Veronica had carried a torch for Tony the whole time and that would be the thing he just didn’t get but don’t believe that’s indicated by the story.

      It felt like Veronica broke it off with Tony unilaterally. I need to go back and review the details of that. She was somehow dissatisfied with him back before the breakup just as she would later be even more so after his letter, Adrian jr. etc..

      Also felt there was the implication of Veronica being sexually experienced based on the description of the post-breakup sex and wonder what that was about. Who was the sex with? Is there a hint of a suggestion of incest?

      1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 26 July 2012 at 8:41 pm

        Hi Roy

        Thanks for commenting. That was my reading too, in terms of Veronica’s feelings for Tony. Of course because Tony’s an unreliable narrator it’s possible that there are things he never gets and so we are not told about them. But I don’t like to do too much guesswork.

        It’s really interesting that you mention incest – I had a definite feeling in the description of that weekend visit that there was a possibility of that, either with the father or the brother, but I can’t really pinpoint what it was that gave me that feeling. Glad I wasn’t the only one. Anyone else care to weigh in on that?

        1. Martine 29 October 2012 at 3:07 am

          There’s definitely deliberate intent to make the reader wonder if Veronica has been sexually abused. Tony repeatedly suggests that Veronica is “damaged”; there’s also a line from Tony’s mother-in-law that “I reckon we are all abused.”…followed by Tony questioning himself “Am I suggesting that Veronica was the victim of what they nowadays call “innapropriate behavior”: beery leering from her father at bathtime or bedtime, something more than a sibbling cuddle with her brother?” But keep in mind – all these speculations are from Tony – Tony who is unreliable, who doesn’t get it. So, I think the reason the incest vibe gets picked up is those comments, which are happening early in the book so could easily be read as foreshadowing early on; and also between Tony’s wishing Veronica would sneak to his room for a hot cuddle and his erection, and the kitchen scene with the eggs, sizzle and steam and the very friendly, spunky mom – there is a sexual charge in the air . Sex charge + something not right with the family + the main character is openly speculating on it = automatic incest vibe. What’s interesting to me is Tony senses “a complicity between Veronica” and her father and also with Jack, but not between Veronica and her mom. I think this is actually a clue that the dysfunction stems from mom’s behavior, not the others. That’s what you often see in dysfunctional homes – that the “victims” all sort of cover and work together to try to make the abnormal seem normal. What if Sara has done this sort of thing before? Hit on her son’s friends perhaps? Would the others be “complicit” and be on edge? Could this be why Jack (who pretends serious things aren’t serious) asks “And what does The Mother think of that?” when Veronica grabs Tony’s hand and announces she is taking Tony to his room? The Mother just smiles. Whether or not there is other incest/dysfunction, I DO think something sexual happens between Sara and Tony. Clues? The egg, the sperm down the length of the old house, “I like your mum”, the rival comment, the odd wave/gesture followed immediately by “I rather wished I’d talked to her more, at one point Sara “just smiled at me, as if we had a secret”, that Sara sends Tony a letter, that Tony refers to Sara as “carefree” and “dashing”. Also later in the story – Tony admits to completely omitting Veronica from “his history” when talking with Margaret. Perhaps he would omit others from his history if inconvenient?

          1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 29 October 2012 at 8:05 pm

            Hi Martine
            Thanks – I had forgotten all those references, so it’s great to have you put it all together. Certainly makes sense. I think you’re right that Tony would omit anything inconvenient from his history, so we can’t take his account of the weekend at face value. Thanks for commenting!

            1. Evan 14 May 2013 at 9:15 pm

              What I’m starting to think here is that the references you’re pointing out here are all PROJECTIONS. The biggest gap in this story is his real childhood — his family (despite his erroneous assertion that “school is where it all began” 5)).

              My take? The “damage” is his own — something that occurred well before page 1 of the novel. Something in his own home that he never talks about in the text. The “beery leering” and “cuddling” aren’t off-the-cuff examples he’s seen in the news. Rather, they are the repressed memories of where it REALLY “all began” resurfacing, somewhere in the family he never discusses.

              (This narrative gap really does seem quite odd if you re-read the first few pages.)

              Let’s take that further with the Oedipal overtones. Tony tries to outdo Adrian, a superior man who gets “Firsts” and steals his girlfriend. A number of other comments have noted Tony’s clear sexual desire for the older woman, Mrs. Ford. “Coupled” with references to Hamlet (“shreds and patches,” 115), I wonder to what extent we can come to these — I acknowledge extreme — conclusions:

              1. The child is either Tony’s or he resents Tony even further for beating him to it (is he Hamlet, Oedipally desiring Gertrude, or is he Claudius?).

              2. Tony killed Adrian.

              I know, I know… but take a look. There is clear opportunity:

              Alex’s note: “Adrian died. He killed himself. I rang your mother, who says she doesn’t now where you are” (51).

              Likewise, Adrian’s postgraduate roommates “had gone away for the weekend” (53).

              There is clear motive (the rage of Tony’s letter).

              I’m not 100% sure of this, but his trip to The States is another one of those brilliant narrative gaps that Barnes builds into the text.

              As Tony reveals, “we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us.”

              Tony — sex-abuse victim as a child, begetter of a child who represents his guilt (deformed, with the name and face of Adrian), murderer of his brother and friend.

              Barnes alludes to Madame Bovary in the course of the text as well. And if you remember the final paragraph of that novel, Homais is the sole survivor and has convinced everybody he is a good man.

              Don’t let Tony fool you — he has gotten away with murder.

              1. Bob 29 May 2013 at 5:39 am

                Love this.

                The reference in the final paragraph to the “secret, horizontal gesture beneath a sunlit wisteria,” (Sara’s way of saying goodbye to Tony as he leaves Kent, p32), lends support to conclusion (1), maybe…

                In support of conclusion (2), this quote from the first page:

                ” — bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
                This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

                Suspicious wording, no?

              2. Richard 8 May 2014 at 2:59 am


              3. Anonymous 10 January 2015 at 11:30 pm

                This would explain the blood money comment

    2. lindabelinda 7 October 2012 at 7:41 am

      this was my reading as well.

    3. cammac 26 October 2012 at 6:47 am

      I also thought that the behaviour of the family that weekend seemed less than humiliating, and was rather revealing of his insecurity. But then, in the letter from the mother, she apologises for the way her family had treated him.

    4. M3 22 April 2013 at 12:48 am

      Yes, almost a year later, I agree with you Walter. I think both Veronica and Tony were in love with the idea of being in love, and not much has changed, all these years later except Veronica accepts the disappointment love can sometimes bring while Tony is still looking for some kind of worthy sense of himself in mid-life.

      Despite their self-realized ego and intellect, all three: Tony, Veronica and Adrian were naive victims. Sarah, for whatever bizarre reason (it was the 60s … can you say Mrs. Robinson?) took advantage, and this blew all their minds … then and now, many years later.

      They were not the superior elite they thought they were, but rather just square, dumb kids who didn’t “get it,” at all: bubble burst, delusions discerned, average-ness confirmed. Adrian couldn’t live with that reality.

      In his golden years, Tony is trying to rewrite his story, give himself a bit of glamour (wisteria?) by thinking he had anything remotely to do with Adrian’s death. It’s all a masquerade; none of them were special.

    5. Ptm 8 May 2013 at 7:50 am

      I agree that veronica was actually in love with tony. It’s the only explanation for why she remains so angry with him. You don’t date someone for over a year and take them home to meet the family if you don’t really like them. I think tony’s description of their relationship is faulty because he “didn’t get it.”. Veronica slept with tony to try and keep him and, when that didn’t work, used adrian to try and make tony jealous. Remember that veronica was behind adrian writing to tony about seeing veronica. If she didn’t care about tony, why make adrian write?
      Ithink adrian’s diary probably would have revealed this truth, and veronica withheld it for that reason.

  9. Walter 19 May 2012 at 5:14 am

    Oh, and one other thing, just to be clear: I’m not ignoring the fact that Veronica was also very raw and angry about the vile letter and the chain of events that followed it. It seems likely to me that she didn’t find out about the letter or her mother’s affair with Adrian until after her mother’s death, when the letter and diary came into her possession. So to recap this and the previous post, it’s my belief that Veronica’s angry, frustrating and mysterious behaviour were not a clumsy plot device but (a) the result of her finding out very recently about Tony’s letter and its consequences, combined with (b) the fact that she was still very much in love with him and he just couldn’t see it because he had such a low opinion of himself.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 19 May 2012 at 10:16 am

      Hi Walter,

      Thanks for commenting! One of the great things about writing these two posts on The Sense of an Ending has been the number and diversity of different theories about the ending. Yours is certainly very plausible. I have to admit that I find it difficult to see the basis for a love enduring over a lifetime, but as we all know, love is not subject to rational explanations.

      I remember that when I was reading the book, I did wonder about that possibility myself, but something made me decide against it. Unfortunately I don’t have the text to hand right now so I can’t say what that was. You’re certainly right that it explains a lot of things that otherwise seem unsatisfying – saying “You still don’t get it” because you don’t see that I love you is much better than saying it because you haven’t figured out my strange and opaque clues.

      When I get my hands on the book again, I’d like to reread it with your explanation in mind. In the meantime, what do other people think of Walter’s suggestion?

      1. Bruno D'Itri 19 May 2012 at 11:32 am

        Perhaps the genius of Barnes’ novel is that the realities of the story aren’t clear cut: that they can be interpreted by us in differing ways, depending upon our own characters and life experiences.
        Perhaps the way in which we interpret the story tells us something about ourselves. Like a Rorschach ink blot test.
        Bruno D’Itri

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 21 May 2012 at 5:14 pm

          True, it’s fascinating that there are so many interpretations! I also wonder about the relationship to Frank Kermode’s original critical text with the same title, The Sense of an Ending. Has anybody read that? Maybe that holds a clue as to how Barnes wants us to read his book and his ending.

      2. Susan 13 December 2013 at 7:10 am

        What about the fact that SARA LEFT TONY 500 POUNDS?? I have not heard this mentioned in any of these comments. Veronica referred to this as “blood money”. What does this mean?

        Another “clue” we are given: the photocopy Veronica sent to

    2. Whispering Gums 5 June 2012 at 8:14 pm

      This crossed my mind too Walter … and I am inclined to give it some air … I thought there might be some rapprochement at the end but Tony seemed to just keep putting his foot in it. As Bruno says below, one of the good things about the book is that it is so open to interpretation, just like our lives are to each other (if not to ourselves!)

    3. Liltingly 28 June 2012 at 12:59 am

      I think it is telling that the memories that resurface for Tony later (dancing in his room, the ‘walk him to his room’ episode) paint Veronica in a much less caustic light than others that he’d kept for a while. Lends some weight to Walter’s interesting observations

    4. lindabelinda 7 October 2012 at 7:49 am

      i don’t know if she still is in love with him, but my impression was also that she had loved him at the time and found out the whole story only recently.

  10. Vishy 20 May 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Nice explanation, Andrew! I need to read the book and come back and read your post again.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 21 May 2012 at 5:15 pm

      I’ll look forward to reading your review when you do get to it, Vishy – and please do come back and comment on this post if you end up disagreeing with my interpretation!

  11. Dave 2 June 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I believe Veronica did love Tony, and after his post coital rejection she sought out Adrian only as a means to possibly make Tony re-evaluate her worth as a partner. I doubt she ever made love to Adrian, and was devastated by his subsequent affair with her mother because it ended in such tragedy, not because of his ‘unfaithfulness’. Her love for Tony and her plans to get him back blew up in her face. He still doesn’t get it, and she’s too damaged to spell it out.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 4 June 2012 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks Dave! I appreciate your comment. It’s great to get so many different ideas on the ending. There is a real consistency to your argument, and I can’t refute it. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, there was something in the text that made me think Veronica wasn’t still in love with Tony, but I don’t have the book with me right now as I’m away from home for an extended period. I’m looking forward to getting back to it and rereading with your comment and others in mind.

      Does anyone else share Dave’s interpretation? Or do you have one of your own?

      1. Anjali Raj Yadav 5 March 2014 at 2:39 pm

        Elucidating explanation indeed ! Veronica’s behaviour is still a mystery , what I conjectured first was that maybe she loved Tony, when they talked about their stagnant relationship she was trying to hint Tony that she wanted some flow forward maybe ! She wanted him to think about the relationship and maybe her eccentric ways were not that confusing . As Tony was in the self preservation mode he might have instead of attending or rather taking some bold moves into his love life , had retreated back, went into his shell in order to protect himself as he was not very confident about himself and always underestimated himself, wanted other’s approval and hence all the misunderstanding and self blame !

  12. Phil D 7 June 2012 at 6:28 am

    I think this work is worthy of a prize.

    It seems vividly important to me that the idealised, adorable, adolescent Adrian character is a creature of the narrator’s imagination, though the man who calls Veronica “Mary” clearly has his features.
    It is psychedelically chaste. Difficult to penetrate.
    Some kind of happening in the 60s with a highly sexed mother.

    How clearly the narrator is not the hum-drum, non-odd character he, rather oddly, insists. Badgering Veronica, his solicitor, the council & tree surgeons, the barman about chips, all slip through his account to show an obsessive, cruel man.

    Tony remembers the fall of communism, Thatcher, 9/11, but buries his own sins in this short fiction, a densely dodgy dossier.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 7 June 2012 at 11:19 am

      Hi Phil,

      You mean the book, or my post? (It’s OK, you don’t have to answer that – like Tony, I enjoy a few delusions!)

      That’s an interesting point about the adolescent Adrian. I certainly agree that he’s an idealised version of Adrian – we tend to idealise those who’ve died, and especially those who’ve died young, and Tony would do it even more if he felt guilty about his role in Adrian’s death. But I never thought of him as a creature of the narrator’s imagination. He seems real to me, even if Tony probably accentuates his intellectualism and downplays the more negative characteristics. Would love it if you could explain more about to what extent you think Adrian is invented, and why – it’s a fascinating idea!

      You’re right about Tony’s obsessive, cruel streak. We’re seeing Tony’s self-portrayal, and I love how little facts slip out to undermine it, like those examples you give.

      Dodgy dossier – couldn’t have put it any better 🙂 At least this Tony’s dossier didn’t start a war!

      1. Phil D 8 June 2012 at 9:27 am

        “There were three of us, and he now made the fourth.”


        Adrian is a part of Anthony’s own delusional strategy to cope with his factual history. Adrian achieved much greater things than Anthony. Death (associated with sex since the adolescent peer suicide history), being extremely clever and quick witted at school, someone a teacher regarded as an equal, going to Cambridge (!), a potentially better relationship with Veronica than he had had!

        I blame The Mother.

        An incredible prismatic book. If I could write well enough to explain it, I would write it.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 9 June 2012 at 2:31 pm

          Hey, you did a pretty good job, Phil! Thanks for stopping by and elaborating! Prismatic is a great word for it.

          1. Susan 13 December 2013 at 7:15 am

            It is prismatic. And the diversity of opinions on what really happened may be why the author titled it, The Sense of an Ending” . . . because that is all he gives us. He leaves it to us to form our own sense of the ending.

        2. Elena 22 April 2013 at 9:09 pm

          Totally agreed with Phil D. and surprised more people didn’t have this opinion/interpretation.

          The thing that ultimately convinced me is when Veronica asks Tony (as adults) about his two school friends. She doesn’t ask about three friends, including Adrian, because Tony and Adrian are the same person.

          1. TS 8 May 2013 at 8:50 am

            Tony and Adrian being the same person is problematic to me. Who wrote the diary and the letters? It does not seem like it could be the son. Could Tony have written it and then been bequeathed his own diary? Seems strange. Adrian not existing means the narrator is far more unreliable in a psychotic way than we thought about most of the story. Also the reason Veronica would ask about 2 not 3 friends is that Adrian died, and also she was his gf, so she wouldn’t ask about him like he was a friend she met once. That makes sense in the other interpretation.

          2. Susan 13 December 2013 at 7:16 am

            She asks about his two school friends because at the time she asks, Adrian has been dead for 40 years.

          3. anonymous 19 April 2015 at 8:35 pm

            Plus, there is the photograph.

  13. Jef Guhin 13 June 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I know I’m in a minority position here, but I couldn’t help but notice how often Tony wanted to be like characters in literature and have a truly dramatic experience. I think he made the whole ending up. I think that the formulae in the diary might or might not have existed, but they also could mean many things, and Tony concocted a story at the end–which is tonally wholly inconsistent with the rest of the novel and feels like a deus ex machina–because he wanted something incredible, something “literary” to make his life–and not just his life now but the entire narrative of his life–seem worthwhile. That’s the only way for me to understand what otherwise feel like a cheap and sloppy conclusion.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 July 2012 at 6:20 pm

      Hi Jef
      That’s an interesting idea. There is so much uncertainty in the book, with Tony’s need to create drama and emotion in his life, as noted earlier by Bruno, combined with the unreliability of memory. It’s entirely possible that he made the whole thing up, but to me that would be an even more unsatisfying ending. I agree with the need to make his life more worthwhile, but I’d stop short of saying he made the whole ending up. Still, who knows?!

  14. Jules 14 June 2012 at 1:42 am

    I couldn’t understand Veronica’s anger at all and was wondering, if perhaps she thought Tony had had an affair with her mother as well, as when they left her house he said he really liked her mother, then later recommended Adrian see her..?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 July 2012 at 8:04 pm

      That’s a good idea, Jules – I don’t think Tony did have an affair with the mother, but maybe Veronica believed they did. It’s certainly a possibility…

      1. Susan 13 December 2013 at 7:38 am

        I am coming VERY late to this discussion– I just read the book (12/12/2013) and found your blog when I searched for info on it. But I haven’t seen this point addressed:
        Why did Sarah leave Tony 500 pounds? When Tony asks Veronica this question, she calls it “blood money.” What did she mean?

        The other “clue” I haven’t heard discussed was the photocopy Veronica sent Tony which ended with the incomplete sentence, “So, for instance, if Tony . . .” When T. asked V. about this directly, she just repeated, “People shouldn’t read other people’s diaries.”

        Earlier, when Margaret asks Tony why he wants the diary so much, he says because it was left to him, and then says, “the diary was evidence; it was — it might be– corroboration. It might disrupt the banal reiterations of memory. It might jump-start something — though I had no idea what.”

        Maybe Tony did have sex with Sarah. After all, his later meetings with Veronica did “jump-start” new remembrances of his relationship with her.

        That could explain why Sarah left him the “blood money.” She may have told Adrian that the baby (Tony’s baby) was his, which lead to Adrian’s suicide. Then she left the money and Adrian’s diary to Tony so that after her death he would know the truth.

  15. Lorne 18 June 2012 at 8:29 pm

    I agree with Jules’ comment, positing that Tony had an relations with Mrs Ford (Veronica’s mother). Tony could have repressed his memory of this, just as he repressed the memory of Veronica’s kiss in his bedroom, and her telling him to “sleep the sleep of the wicked” on the second night he stayed at her house. It would also explain why Veronica purportedly told the family that Tony would want to sleep in, even though he never slept in. It may have been Mrs Ford’s ruse to be alone with Tony: Mrs Ford told the rest of the family that she wanted to talk to Tony about his relationship with Veronica, while Mrs Ford told Tony that Veronica said that Tony wanted to sleep in. That would give Mrs Ford the opportunity to be alone with Tony, at which time they were intimate. And because of his guilt for what happened, Tony would not likely question Veronica about the excuse her mother had given him for letting him sleep in. Tony does remember how friendly Mrs Ford was with him at breakfast. And then upon Tony’s departure, Mrs Ford gives him a strange gesture: “she responded with a sort of horizontal gesture at waist level”, which might be symbolic of the sexual act they have engaged in. Might there also be a similar symbolism in Mrs Ford breaking a yolk at breakfast? My final piece of evidence comes from the five memories Tony recalls on the first page, which refer to incidents later in the book. Tony remembers: “gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house.” Now, the first part of that relates to his memory of himself relieving himself in his bedroom immediately after Veronica’s kiss. But what’s that bit about the full length of a tall house? Might that not hint that he has had the run of the house, both daughter and mother?

    Maybe someone could help clear up another obscure phrase in the book, for which I have found no explanation: The last of those five memories on the first page, “bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door”, does not seem to relate to any incident described later in the book, as do the previous four memories. Although the narrator says, “this last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” Still, I feel this phrase was meant to be instructive. What is the narrator referring to here? What are the author’s intentions in including this “memory”?

    1. Paul 20 June 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Adrian killed himself in the bath tub and was not found until a day and a half later, so the water was cold. Policemen saw it, as Adrian had locked the door and left a note instructing that they be called.

    2. jimmy 5 July 2012 at 10:57 pm

      I agree with this interpretation that Tony slept with Veronica’s mother Sara. The child Adrian is actually his son. The narrator gets our sympathy because we identify with his ruminations on time, memory, and history and how they change. He admits he is an unreliable narrator but what is the degree of deception? Maybe we are blocked from this truth because he doesn’t know the child is his. I feel he may suspect it but does not want to believe it. This is why we have an incomplete picture of the mother’s strange actions at breakfast and when saying goodbye after Tony’s visit. Can we trust his description of the young Adrian looking like his father? Does anyone but him say that Adrian is the father?

    3. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 July 2012 at 8:11 pm

      I think Jules’s point was that Veronica thought Tony had had an affair with her mother, not that he actually had. To me, the belief is more plausible than the reality. I don’t have the book to hand now so can’t point to exact phrases, but the description of that weekend sounded to me like flirtation when I read it – some sexual tension, yes, but no actual sex. It’s true that Tony is an unreliable narrator, though, so your theory could be true. It’s just not how I interpreted it, but as we’ve seen, this is a book that can support multiple interpretations!

      I agree with Paul on the explanation for the bathwater – it’s a reference to Adrian’s suicide.

    4. Susan 13 December 2013 at 7:40 am

      I thought the cold bathwater behind the locked door referred to Adrian’s method of suicide. He slit his wrists and bled to death in the bathtub, and his body was not found for a day and a half.

  16. Lorne 18 June 2012 at 11:46 pm

    A couple more thoughts on Jules’ theory that Tony slept with Mrs Ford. If that is true, and Veronica truly loved Tony (as Walter asserts above — Veronica is always telling Tony that he doesn’t get it), and if Veronica found out (at some point) about Tony’s intimate encounter with Mrs Ford, then Veronica’s hostility toward Tony is more understandable. And because of Tony’s past relationship with Mrs Ford, there can be no rapprochement between Veronica and Tony (which Whipsering Gums had been looking for in her post).

    Tony sleeping with Mrs Ford also solves the problem of Tony’s culpability. Not only did Tony intimate in his letter that Adrian should get to know Mrs Ford (intimately, from Tony’s personal experience, Mrs Ford’s proclivities being the source of the “damage” that Tony perceives), but Tony in fact leads the way for Adrian, by sleeping with Mrs Ford first. This certainly could explain Veronica’s antagonism toward Tony, as well as Tony taking his share of the blame in the final words of the novel, “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And there is unrest. There is great unrest.” As an unreliable narrator, Tony cannot bring himself to admit his own affair with Mrs Ford — or maybe it’s another of his repressed memories.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 July 2012 at 8:15 pm

      Hi Lorne, you’re right that it does explain Veronica’s anger and Tony’s guilt. It seems to me though that if it’s true, it was buried very deep. I don’t think the conclusion of a novel should necessarily be easy to understand, but it shouldn’t involve big leaps of faith either. You’re right that there are possible hints, but it’s all too obscure for me to really think that’s what Julian Barnes intended. As I’ve said, it’s a possibility, and I’m not saying you’re wrong – it’s just not the way I read the novel. Thanks very much for raising it, though. I’d be interested to hear if other people read it your way as well…

      1. Tammy 17 March 2013 at 1:54 am

        I ended up at your site Andrew, after reading this book. I tossed and turned after finishing it and couldn’t seem to get comfortable with it. So I decided to google and find out what people were saying about it. I’ve read a lot of reviews, ruminated. I’m comfortable with the themes of history, memories, re-writing our lives. I lean toward the idea that Tony had an affair with Mrs. Ford. That lines up for me. To me, Tony lived a life he never engaged in. He seems a bystander/spectator in his own life unaccountable for anything that ‘happens’ to him. Why does one weekend meeting parents where the activities seem so benign be recalled with so much more passion than it seemingly deserves? That and his lukewarm relationship with Veronica falling apart, who would care so much? I couldn’t reconcile that. Is easy to be jealous of Adrian and his life he lived. He was passionate. That is obvious when Veronica desires Adrian and is attracted to the mystery of him. At least Julian Barnes forewarned us that we would only be provided with a sense of an ending. After reading all the insights on these posts and links to other reviews, I’m at peace with this book and treasure that it gave me pensive days.

    2. Valérie 8 March 2013 at 4:25 pm

      Reading all the comments, I start thinking that I didn’t get the meaning of the novel but after giving it some thought, I side with Lorne’s comment because it explains many things in the story, and most of all Tony’s guilt which, otherwise, I can’t account for since I could not understand why this letter was so important. And of cause it must have been since it is the key to the story, or so it seems.
      Thanks for this post, which really broadens my reading of the novel (if I may say so as I didn’t read but listened to the novel).

  17. jen 26 June 2012 at 1:55 pm

    I’m way late to the game here, but just finished this book last night and immediately Googled these words exactly (you keenly put that post title together, btw, Andrew). But I guess my suspicion was, as the narrator kept urging me all along not to trust his understanding of things, that he still didn’t get it because Adrian II was actually HIS son. Why else would Adrian II be so upset to see him?

    So that was my thinking … and also that I couldn’t believe I had read that whole book waiting for some very dramatic ending, and did not get it, which is probably what poor Tony felt like when he didn’t get properly laid by Veronica.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 July 2012 at 8:25 pm

      Hi Jen,

      No problem about being late – I’m still reading these comments and still amazed at how many different ways there are to read this book! Thanks for the idea – again, it’s possible, but it’s not how I read the book. For me, there was no relationship between Tony and the mother. And also, as far as I remember, quite a bit of time had elapsed between the weekend he spent there and the getting together of Adrian and the mother (we don’t know exactly how much, but after he wrote the letter at least). So it’s possible but to me unlikely. I’m also interested to hear: how would you explain Adrian’s suicide, if he was not the father?

      As for Adrian II being upset to see him, to me I just took that as being to do with his mental illness which made him anxious about interacting with strangers. I do like your analogy of your own frustration with Tony’s sexual frustration 🙂

      1. Nell 2 November 2016 at 6:24 pm

        But Adrian II wasn’t upset at all strangers, right? And the caretaker specifically tells Tony that HE is upsetting T, and T accepts that as sensible. I too was puzzled as to why A2 was upset by T, finally deciding T might have been especially tense or in some other nonverbal, presumably unconscious, way emotionally invasive.

  18. Rachel 29 June 2012 at 8:28 am

    Andrew, thank you so much for this post! It really comforted me to feel that I wasn’t alone in feeling somewhat perplexed after finishing this book today. I totally agree that the level of Veronica’s hostility seemed too exaggerated and therefore weakened the novel overall. Perhaps if she’d had some kind of emotional meltdown that exposed her pent-up feelings — no matter how irrational — it may have added weight to her behaviour. I suppose I also felt the whole theme of memories being revisited and overturned wasn’t really borne out either, as I didn’t feel the narrator experienced any major new revelations apart from the obvious one (which was based on information he couldn’t have known anyway) — though I suppose that did make him rethink Adrian, a friend he had held on a pedastool. Anyway, like you, despite all this I got a lot from reading The Sense of an Ending.

    1. Susan 13 December 2013 at 7:46 am

      Perhaps Veronica’s rage comes from the fact that she is the one who DID read Adrian’s diary, — what Tony told Margaret would be the “corroboration” –and therefore knows the truth. That would also explain why she called the 500 pounds “blood money.”

  19. Rachel 29 June 2012 at 8:38 am

    Ha! I’ve only just and all the other comments and now feel I can also express my suspicion also that Tony may have slept with Sara ( though I based this entirely on the line about the ‘horizontal gesture’ on the second last page of the book. Also agree the whole Mary vs Veronica thing was a bit odd. Aaaargh — now I feel like I’ve got to revisit all my assumptions! Well I guess Barnes certainly managed to create a work that inspires speculation, and a writer can’t hope for more than that. Straight to the top of the book club lists! 😉 Thanks again for providing the forum, Andrew.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 July 2012 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Rachel,
      You’re welcome! Glad you got something from reading the post and the comments. It’s great to see all the different ideas. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t personally subscribe to the Tony sleeping with the mother idea, but I wouldn’t discount it entirely. As you say, it’s a book that inspires speculation! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your reactions.

      1. alvaro 17 June 2013 at 12:41 pm

        Hi Andrew and the rest. This forum is the best piece of evidence of a ‘scriptible’ novel in Barthe’s terminology. With its title, its beginning and its ending, Barnes is playing with his characters, his hypocritical readers and himself. He leaves the closure open (destroying the realist convention of a fixed ‘lisible’ ending) and aims at us reading and rereading to construct a final. Each and every hypothesis are ergo plausible. Nobody is in truth’s possession. At first I was dissapointed with the closure. I expected some sort of ‘Deus ex machina’ which would give sense to all. But I read, reread and ruminated…we’re always trying to make sense of everything (age, history, novels, reason, knowledge, power, truth, reality…)…and finally I dreamt that I woke up. Thanks for reading and writing.

  20. Diana 10 July 2012 at 11:56 am

    Well here’s my slant on things. I don’t think tony slept with the mother. I think the mother wanted to (broken eggs, sly signal….not sure about the money in the will though) – she has preyed on young men/boyfriends before? Veronica’s behaviour toward sex (and possibly men) has been tainted by mother’s behaviour. Did Jack call his mother “the mother” as a show of contempt? It would explain the bond between father and children, father’s drinking? I think Veronica is angry at the world for what it has dealt her. If she had only discovered the diary after her mother’s death and then was reminded of the letter Tony had sent, it would bring back any anger she might have had at the young Tony (whom she may well have loved). If Tony’s feelings of desire for Veronica seem to get a rekindle, why not Veronica’s feelings of anger and bitterness as the past resurfaces with the diary and Tony himself. Ultimately it is about knowing the history of the person who is writing the history before you can interpret the history (as Adrian says). I loved the book.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 July 2012 at 8:30 pm

      Hi Diana
      I agree with your slant on things! I also saw the mother as wanting to sleep with Tony, but Tony was either too innocent to pick up on the signals or too scared or maybe just not interested. Good points about the impact on Veronica and the rest of the family. I can also see how Veronica’s anger would have been rekindled, although as I said before, I found it overblown. But I loved the book too! It’s certainly provided plenty of fodder for a good discussion. I’m still interested in hearing more interpretations – there must be more possibilities out there…

  21. Harshad 21 July 2012 at 11:20 am

    Hello Andrew…. I finished reading ‘The Sense of Ending’ today morning. I loved it, till the plot is uncovered. After reading that final crucial paragraph, I was completely disappointed, as I could not understand the plot inspite of reading it again and again and again. However, I feel so relieved after reading about the plot on your website…PHEW!! Thanks

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 23 July 2012 at 2:44 pm

      Hi Harshad, thanks for stopping by, and for letting me know you found it useful. To be honest I think all these comments have shed far more light than my original post 🙂

  22. Raf 22 July 2012 at 6:47 am

    Just finished this a second ago. Wanted to confirm my understanding of the end. It really took me a few moments more than I would have liked to get it at the end. “Not his mother, his sister”…..? What?, how?, what?…OHHHHhh!

    This book is to me all about how we manufacture our own history, as evidence dissapears, memories fade and our situations mould our view of ourselves. We put our current selves in the place of our old selves and re-tell the old story in the way that makes sense today.

    The first 56 pages are memories, the second part “TWO” is the present telling.

    “I need to return breifly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty.”

    When I read that on page 4 after picking the book up and flicking through the first pages in an airport bookstore, I went to the counter and bought it immediately.

    It is that sentence which qualifid hmi for the man-booker in my mind. And it is what the book is about.

    “Something Happened”

    “Sex and Death”………..”The erotic principle, in any case, coming into conflict with the death principle. And what ensues from that conflict”

    These lines are what the 70 year old Tony remebers Adrian saying some 55 years prior. WAYYYYY too accurate to be Adrians actual words. They are Tony’s foudational statements to his life.

    ” ‘Fucking Bastard’s parents’, Colin complained one monday lunchtime.”. Again, too acurate, but another pre emminant idea fundamental to the final revelation. Contrast the parents of the main character. Note Tony doesnt really reveal how he was as a parent.

    To the question of ‘is Tony resposnible?’… go page to page 12…. J. Barnes has told you…..

    “Indeed, isnt the whole business of ascribing resposibility a kind of cop-out? We want to blame an individual so that everyone else is exculpated”……” ‘It seems to me that there is – was – a chain of individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary, but not so long a chain that everyone can simply blame everyone else”

    and to qualify….

    “Thats one of the central problems of history, isnt it Sir? The question of subjective vs the objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to undersatand the version that is put in front of us”

    Again, page 12, on its own, both set up the whole book and cements the man-booker. Such a great part of the book.

    And, before we move to the ending, Tony’s own words (or memory of them), so poignant…..

    ” ‘History is the lies of the victors.’ I replied, a little too quickly. ‘Yes, I was afraid you’d say that. Well, as long as you remember that it is also the self delusions of the defeated.’ “.

    Self delusions of the defeated. Wonderful prose. I will make that my own for some time to come.

    So that whole book ‘ONE’ is indeed the delusions of the defeated. He just never got it. He was never the victor.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 23 July 2012 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Raf
      I loved those early parts of the book too. So many acute observations packed in there. Some readers have said they didn’t find it realistic to have all that theory about history and memory coming out of the mouths of teenagers, but I thought it worked well. Plus, as you rightly observe, they are Tony’s memory of what was said, filtered through his present-day need to ascribe meaning to his life. I like the way you tie in the “self delusions of the defeated” with Tony’s own life – I think it’s an appropriate summing up!

  23. Peter Sigrist 23 July 2012 at 3:28 am

    Great post Andrew and the comments provide some great ideas. I thought I’d throw one other thought in at this point. On your point of whether Tony can be held responsible for Adrian and The Mother’s relationship, I can’t help thinking the key to this is the £500. When Adrian died, his diary fell into the hands of The Mother. Perhaps Adrian wrote something in his diary that she interpreted as meaning it was Tony’s letter that prompted Adrian to seek her out. That’s why she paid Tony the money – it was a thank you. Veronica would have received the diary and letter when her mother died, then realising that Tony’s letter led to Adrian and her mother’s relationship. It would explain Veronica burning the diary, her anger towards Tony and the term “blood money”. Therefore, it’s Adian’s admission that Tony is the cause of his relationship with The Mother that implicates Tony, even though we’re never shown this evidence (because it was burned).

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 23 July 2012 at 3:00 pm

      Hi Peter

      I’m glad you decided to throw in that thought – the £500 always struck me as odd, which usually signifies that it’s more meaningful than I realised. It seems a strange kind of thank you, but she was a strange kind of character, so I suppose it’s possible. It certainly explains a lot, as you point out. And I think Adrian certainly did write something in his diary indicating Tony’s responsibility – isn’t that what those formulas were about? So thanks for the comment – another good addition to the puzzle.

      I still have trouble accepting Tony’s responsibility, though, even if the other characters believe him to be responsible. Adrian had an affair with his girlfriend’s mother, and deeply regretted it. But he was the one who chose to do that, not Tony. It’s likely he would have met the mother sooner or later even without the letter. It seems to me that a lot is made of Tony’s delusions, but maybe he’s not the only one!

      1. Stephanie 11 July 2013 at 12:31 am

        I just finished the novel, and reading your comment, it just struck me – perhaps Tony had an affair with Sarah and gave her money for an abortion, which she secretly didn’t have, and is now returning the money to him.

      2. Susan 13 December 2013 at 8:00 am

        Just got to the post where Peter mentioned the 500 pounds–obviously, I’m not the only one who noticed it. (That’s what I get for not reading all the posts before responding.)

        Whether Tony actually slept with Sarah or whether his letter just sort of threw him into Sarah’s arms, as others have suggested, it fits with the last paragraph of the book: “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. . .” This refers back to Adrian’s analogy of life being like making bets, and his musings about whether each decision, each “bet” is just addition or subtraction, or whether, as in horse-racing, it is an accumulative bet, in which you take your “winnings” and place them as part of your next bet.

  24. Marco Gonçalves 26 July 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Hi Andrew.
    I wish to thank you for this webpage, it really helped me understand this book better. This novel was really compelling and I’ve read all in the same afternoon I’ve picked it up. But in the end I felt I was lost in translation (literally, because I’m from Portugal, and I’ve read this book in my native language) ! But after reading all these post I’ve realized the author wanted to leave some room for different interpretations. I agree with the thesis that Veronica was at one point, still in love with Tony, but couldn’t get over his wall and used Adrian as an turnaround. I also thing that the 500£ was some kind of prize for introducing Adrian to Veronica’s mother.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the rest of the world.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 26 July 2012 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Marco,

      You’re welcome! I appreciate you taking the time to let me know that it was useful. It’s interesting – when I’m reading a book in translation, I sometimes wonder if something has been lost when compared to the original. But in this case, yes, it is just one of those endings that leaves a lot of room for different interpretations!

  25. Jonathan 31 July 2012 at 12:36 am

    I don’t find Veronica’s actions that difficult, once you factor in Tony’s unreliability. She wanted Tony but was playing the standard chaste game. This behavior was reinforced by her mother’s hypersexual behavior (which admittedly I’m inferring from the fact that Sarah would sleep with her daughter’s putative boyfriend. On the assumption that, as Barnes points out, character is formed by the 30’s, there would be plenty of chances for Veronica to observe this.)

    Unfortunately for Veronica, Tony is a bit thick. He didn’t get it back then, ie Veronica’s attraction. She ups the stakes by breaking up. When that doesn’t work, she ups the stakes again by sleeping with him. When even this doesn’t work, she decides to make him jealous by starting to date his friend.

    But of course Tony still doesn’t get it (and never will). He sends the letter. Since Adrian was just a tool for Veronica to get to Tony, he never would have met her family but-for the letter. The letter also shattered (with good reason) the last of Veronica’s hopes that Tony would come around. But of course Adrian then meets the mother, and life ensues.

    Veronica should of course blame herself, and probably does. Which is why Tony’s apology is so stupid to her. He doesn’t get it and never does. Veronica feels it’s all her fault from her stupid plans to get Tony back. (v is in Adrian’s equation as well, of course.) And if this book were Veronica’s story, we’d know that.. And Veronica’s reticence to explain is because she doesn’t blame Tony (any more)…. she blames herself.

    My two cents.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 1 August 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Thanks for your two cents, Jonathan! Your explanation certainly makes sense. Since the author left many questions unanswered, a lot of it comes down to feeling. My feeling on reading the book was that Adrian was more to Veronica than just a tool for getting to Tony. And Veronica’s ways of getting Tony to “get it” seem so convoluted – couldn’t she just have communicated with him more directly? Your interpretation is plausible and internally consistent – not one that I shared, but it’s good to read it!

    2. C G Balan 1 June 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Hi Jonathan,

      Very nice interpretation, except “blood money” as used by Veronica does not fit very well.
      And why the 500 gift?
      The point of the book is that the storyteller is distorting the truth… memories are deceiving… words are deceiving. I am pretty sure that the key to the “mystery” are the two equations. I first wondered if we should make a system of two equations and substitute “b” from 1st into the 2nd… Obviously not, because you end up with two Veronicas 🙂 What signifies “Veronica to the power of x”? I decided that x signifies the mystery surrounding Veronica in the beginning (for Tony).
      Adrian1 says relationships that don’t work should have minus or division sign.
      So first equation translates to “Sarah plus Adrian1 (veronica does not count since she has minus sign) has a baby”.
      In the second equation veronica lost the mystery (the “x”). Adrian2 is the baby which is also “b”. So b with Adrian 2 disappears frm the second equation and what is left translates to “Veronica plus Adrian1 combined with Sarah equals 0”. A relationship that was doomed, did not work and lead to death.
      According to the equations (if my logic is good) the baby is Adrian’s and Sara’s (from the 1st equation.

      An important line in the book is when Tony calls his daughter and she says “You told me that yesterday..” And he goes “Did i?”. Also the passage where he mentions that for Alzheimer suffering old people what happened in childhood/teenage years is more clear than the recent past – which is completely blurred.
      That’s why Veronica keeps saying “You don’t get it, do you?” … in a way Tony is on his way to became a retard.. he forgets more and more with each passing day (I inferred this, but maybe I am not right).

      Excuse my not perfect English.. I mentioned earlier that I am a writer, but I write in Romanian 🙂 …however I read novels in English, French and Romanian 🙂
      Andrew the post was fun! I’ll come back to your blog in the future.
      Thanks and good luck with your books (by the way, the tag-line for the second one sounds so intriguing and makes me curios to read it !)


  26. Amy 31 July 2012 at 6:14 am

    I think it is a very astute description of only having one side of the story, so to speak. It is very relevant in many peoples lives as we often make assumptions of a situation, of people and can completely convince ourselves of an argument that doesn’t consider all angles. He thought of Adrian as a hero when he really was a coward and of Veronica as unreasonable and selfish when really she had every right to be angry. I can very much identify with Tony as I can easily convince myself of something that is just not right or true. Will definitely read it again as the book itself displays hindsight is a great thing. (But sometimes not much use!!)

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 1 August 2012 at 9:37 pm

      I can identify with Tony as well, Amy. You’re right that we make judgements based on our own view of events, not taking into account other people’s very different interpretations. It’s a well-known saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes before criticising them, but it’s very difficult to do in practice. We can’t get inside other people’s heads, and if we can’t communicate clearly or honestly then we are forced to make assumptions, which are usually completely wrong!

  27. James 1 August 2012 at 3:13 am

    My reading of these posts has cleared up some of my confusion in terms of the the mother’s culpability, which I now think is considerable. I agree, Tony did not sleep with the mother but that she perhaps had a history of it – the key point was the implication, as Veronica would have taken it.

    She says ‘don’t let Veronica push you around’ or something to that effect, could be seen as a means of simply getting Tony on side or using her wares, and his line in the letter encouraging Adrian to ‘get to know her mother intimatly’ could have only been construed by Veronica as Tony having slept with her, especially seen as he already told her how ‘nice’ he thought she was.

    That Adrian subsequently sleeps with the mother as well (in Veronica’s mind) would have reaffirmed her fears that ‘it’s hapened again’. This would no doubt be a great source of insecurity. I also like the line about the mother saying Veronica had said Tony would sleep in. This is what we are led to believe but it now seems the mother has the incentive to create that story.

    Tony sees the mother as vulnerable, submissive and ‘just a dutiful mother’ when really she is manipulative as Veronica would see her.

    Veronica, on the other hand, if this theory rings true, is not manipulative or that experienced. Why else would she wait so long, she is like any other young girl, shy to make a move and waiting for a rather cowardly Tony to take the reigns. Her hesitancy in front of the family is understandable, and her gesture on the second night for her, I believe, was a massive step. I’ve known a few girls that find it very uncomfortable being intimate in front of their faimilies.

    This also lends support to her sleeping with him after they broke up. I think a timid girl, as she had been up until that point, would only do this if she felt she needed to win him back – one last attempt – but then again perhaps she just didn’t care. She either cared for him enough to wait and then

    When Tony asks Veronica later in the book if she feels he loved her back then, she says “If you feel you need to ask the question then the answer is no’ but says nothing of her feelings. Not sure if Veronica loved him or does now but her belief that he didn’t could be her evidence as to why it didn’t work out. Maybe she did and had always carried around the belief that didn’t with her.

    Lastly, the ‘blood money’ email. Tony initially reads this as if the death is his reposnibility (due to his self esteem), all he can think of is Veronica trying to pay him back, but the term clearly refers to her mother, whom Veronica lays the blame on. Blood money refers to money paid out to vitims, Tony is on of them, the mother is the dsitributor (guiltiest party). She implicated him.

    1. James 1 August 2012 at 3:27 am

      Just to add, Veronica’s willingness to meet up with Tony after all those years, on multiple ocassions, and her timeliness, could suggest she still harbours feelings for him or used to.

      Perhaps she is trying to mend the bridge and waiting for him to ‘finally get it’ i.e. her attraction to him still or back in the day. Considering the terseness of his letter and emails it’s a wonder she met with him at all, indeed he admitted he was surprised. Yet, she quite freely meets him every time he requests it.

      Agree with Jonathan’s post as well, her behaviour to win him back all those years is typical of a girl craving attention, perhaps Adrian was just her tool afterall. I believe Adrian had feelings for her, but why would she agree to the letter, or have a hand in it. Wouldn’t it be best for her to just leave it, unless she really had feelings for Tony and it was her last ploy to see if he got off his arse and made his feelings for her clear.

      I think the term Tony ‘doesn’t get it’ is a blanket term for everything, and symbolises his character, the mother’s hand in affairs and Veronica’s feelings for him. None of which he ever got.

      1. JEAN 1 August 2012 at 2:57 pm

        I agree with all interpretations! They add to our undersatnding of us don’t you think. The book made me question my assumptions about experience and also recall my school days in the 60s (at an all girls convent) where none of us ‘got it’! The terrible dilemas, dichotomies, decisions we alll have to make about life and how we conduct ourselves through it can only be considered, by me anyway, in looking back as Tony did and the ultimate realisation that memory is such a fickle tool but in some ways it helps us put a frame around our expereince and makes it ‘real’ somehow. Tony showed that our interpretation of events colours how we function and his decision to always take the ‘safe’ option is what many of us would do. There is a Socartic element going on I think in the ‘unexamind life being not worth living’ etc. Anyway, the main reason I joined this blog is in the hope that somone can tell me why Veronica became Mary. Did I miss something?

      2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 1 August 2012 at 9:46 pm

        Hi James, I agree with your descriptions of Veronica and her mother’s characters. I’m still not convinced, though, that she still has feelings for Tony after all this time, or that Adrian was merely a tool for getting to Tony. Also from memory, doesn’t Tony have to wear her down at one point with repeated calls/letters before she’ll see him? And when she does turn up, she’s not very forthcoming. So I’d hesitate to call her willing. That she turns up does indicate that she has some kind of feeling for Tony, but that could be positive or negative! Maybe she hates him and wants him to suffer for his role in Adrian’s death…

  28. Sofie 1 August 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Does it occur strange to anybody else than me that Veronica’s disabled brother is named Adrian? Who would give their son the same name as their daughter’s newly dead boyfriend? Does this indicate that Veronica actually IS his mother, not his sister, as stated by Terry? This would make more sense as everybody would easily understand her motivations for choosing this name, whereas if Sara were the mother, it would be incredibly strange to choose this name, also even if Veronicas’ father might think that he was the father of the child.
    Please share your thoughts on this with me.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 1 August 2012 at 9:49 pm

      Hey Sofie, thanks for visiting. To be honest it didn’t strike me as strange. I can see your point, but to me it seems natural to name a child after his father, especially when the father died in tragic circumstances at a young age – it would be a way to remember him and pay tribute. But I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s take on it…

      1. Linda Rosenthal 13 February 2013 at 1:43 am

        I thought naming the baby Adrian, if he was born by Sara, would be an awfully blatant confession. What woman would invite that kind of scorn of bearing the child of her daughter’s boyfriend? However, if the baby was Veronica’s, and was actually by incest with someone of advanced age (father), naming him Adrian was a good cover, as was pretending to be his sister.

      2. Ptm 8 May 2013 at 8:26 am

        I think veronica used adrian to try and make tony jealous, so there really was no lasting relationship between veronica and adrian. It could be that the relationship between adrian and sarah was not hidden but known and happy, until the birth of their baby. We just don’t know, do we?

  29. Sally D 5 August 2012 at 1:02 pm

    August 5, 2012

    I just finished this book this morning, and must admit that I was completely confused. So glad I found this site. The comments have been so helpful and illuminating.

    I read the first page of every post, and even the second pages of many, and to my knowledge, no one asks the question why Veronica is called Mary by the younger Adrian and his Group Home mates.

    Any thoughts on that?

    Many thanks,


    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 August 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Hi Sally,

      That’s a very good question! For me it was a subtle red herring – Mary has Biblical connotations of motherhood, so it suggests to us that Veronica is Adrian’s mother, which makes the revelation that in fact she’s his sister more of a surprise.

      I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s interpretation, though…

      1. Melissa 11 August 2012 at 1:18 am

        The names:

        Adrian II: If Veronica is the mother, Adrian II is a fine name. If Sarah is the mother, then calling her son Adrian II would be publicly scandalous (affair with young man who then kills himself), damaging to her family beyond belief, “Hey husband, meet your illegitimate child Adrian whom I named after the young lad I slept with”, and would cast her as not just a woman having an affair, but one that is mentally ill (I guess her husband wasn’t around when she signed the paper’s at the birth to stop her). And she could be mentally ill. Adrian II’s impairment is described vaguely. Is he also mentally affected? The arguments for Sarah being the mother are all that everyone has already said plus the quote by dad on the way to drop off Tony said in reply to Tony saying, “I like your mum.” He says, “Sounds like you’ve got a rival, Vron. Come to think of it, sounds like I have too.”

        Mary: I thought I had a problem with the Veronica/Mary names, but her full name is Veronica Mary Elizabeth Ford Tony finds out early in the book. So having her brother call her Mary is still odd to the reader, but plausible. Veronica is otherwise never known as Mary.

        An alternate Biblical interpretation of Mary from is as the virgin mother, i.e. Tony thinks sees her as the mother of Adrian II, but she only appears this was and is chaste. On the other hand, Sarah in the Bible is Abraham’s wife (an interesting side note that speaks to the Veronica/Sarah/Mom problem and the Jack as father problem (this comes up when Veronica gets introduced to Tony’s friends) is that Sarah is so beautiful he calls her his sister instead of his wife to avoid her being taken away from her by and later she calls him her brother). After being barren until old age, Sarah then gives birth and comes to represents God’s covenant with her as the mother of Jerusalem (Galatians 4). Or in this case, is the mother of Adrian II and the source of the “mystery” in the book.

        I had no idea what to think at the end of the book. Having read the thread, I am voting for Sarah as the mother with Adrian having gone to her to find more out about Veronica or to follow Tony and “know her intimately.” Sarah gets knocked up. I am also very intrigued by the more complex argument that Tony is the father and Adrian his imagined doppleganger to relieve his guilt, but I would have to read the book again with this idea in mind to see if it holds for me.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 11 August 2012 at 10:04 am

          Hi Melissa

          Thanks for providing the extra Biblical dimension on Sarah’s name – I hadn’t thought of that. Don’t know my Bible very well!

          On the naming of Adrian II, I can’t remember now whether the book said much about his early life, where he was brought up and by whom. You’re right that it’s pretty scandalous if he was acknowledged as Sarah’s illegitimate son by her daughter’s dead boyfriend, but I wonder if it was hushed up and the kid was brought up somewhere else, maybe even in a home if his mental illness was serious from early on. Then the name wouldn’t be so much of a problem.

          I’d forgotten about Mary being Veronica’s middle name – thanks for the reminder. Makes more sense now.

          I agree with your overall thoughts on the ending – the argument about Tony being the father strikes me as possible, but it wasn’t what I got from the book itself. I’ll reread one day with all these possibilities in mind.

          1. Martine 29 October 2012 at 3:25 am

            Another very significant Mary in the bible is Mary Magdalene (the sinner, the patron saint of wayward girls and unwed mothers) so that could also be significant. Changing her name from Veronica to Mary only in conjunction with Adrian 2 seems significant.

            1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 29 October 2012 at 8:02 pm

              Good point, Martine! Could well be significant. Thanks for pointing that out!

        2. tanya 14 April 2013 at 4:35 pm

          Hey all,

          Just browsing this thread, as I’ve only just read the book (and loved it, in all it’s mysteriousness!)

          The fact that Veronica is known as Mary makes perfect sense to me. A learning difficulty/mental health problem can make long words difficult to pronounce, so it makes perfect sense that Veronica would use an easier name for her brother.

          I didn’t find the concept of Veronica being angry with Tony that difficult to understand. I don’t think Tony slept with Sara (the mother) and think the gestures and slightly flirtatious conversation (that HE remembers) are more to do with his own mental health issues and obsessive personality. I think V’s anger (and tired frustration- remember the hour he spent talking about himself when they meet up in John Lewis!) is because she can’t deal with personality disorder. Not to mention her own, probably out- of – proportion feelings after her mother and boyfriend’s betrayal and suicide….



  30. Erlend 7 August 2012 at 4:37 am

    Thank you so much for this website, the obscurity of the book now seems more reflective of the author’s brilliance rather than my own dimwittedness. So fascinating to read these informed opinions, but am I the only one to think of Freud?

    I agree with the interpretation here that Anthony slept with Veronica’s mother. Or The Mother, a Freudian allusion that fits well with the reference to Eros and Thanatos. She, the archetypical mother, serves him eggs, he sends his sperm down the sluices of the old house. The Father (as you point out Andrew, Anthony is not likely to actually be the father, though this is ambiguous), Adrian I, dies – with the suggestion that Anthony is to blame. So he has killed the father and slept with the mother, and afterwards “doesn’t get it”, is blind – can’t even find the house on google map. The stuff of Great (Greek) Literature indeed! Of course, there are alternative interpretations to this twisted Oedipus complex, and that’s what makes the book so intriguing. It is about memory, after all, as twisted as any Freudian theory. A masterpiece, this book.

    Would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this.


    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 8 August 2012 at 6:43 pm

      Hi Erlend

      I love the Freudian interpretation! Makes a lot of sense – killing the father, sleeping with the mother, being blind. Very good! Would love to get a chance one day to ask Julian Barnes if he wrote it with Oedipus in mind. Thanks for another great interpretation!

    2. Martine 29 October 2012 at 1:27 am

      Erlend – wow – noticed the egg, the house, but not the rest. Thank you!

  31. hollysfollies 8 August 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Is it possible that the baby, Adrian2, is Veronica and Tony’s child from the post-breakup hook up? That the $500 is actually money that Sarah hopes Tony will use to help support Adrian2? That Adrian1’s suicide is completely unrelated to the other events of the novel and that Tony is trying to tie it to the story to avoid seeing the real consequences of his and Veronica’s act?

    1. Andrew Blackman 9 August 2012 at 2:34 pm

      Hi hollysfollies, thanks for commenting! Yes, I think someone mentioned that earlier on, and I do agree that it’s possible, although it seems a bit of a stretch to me. £500 is an odd amount of money that’s difficult to explain. It’s too small to be put to any good use, like supporting Adrian2. It seems purely symbolic to me, although what the message is I’m not sure.

  32. Johannes 14 August 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Somebody posited a theory on another site, which is worth sharing here. It is remotely possible that “Mary” and “Veronica” are two different women. Mary, in fact, could be Veronica and Anthony’s daughter, conceived during the sex they had when Veronica told Anthony he had to hold onto the condom while pulling out.

    It is very interesting to read pages 126-127 with this in mind. It’s the second time he meets up with Veronica (this time in the restaurant). I must quote here: “…Veronica was already there, HEAD DOWN, reading…” the CAPS are mine obviously. Later on p 126 “She was more smartly dressed this time; her hair was under control and seemed less grey. She somehow managed to look–to my eye–both twentyish and sixtyish at the same time.” On p. 127 “She asked about ‘those two friends of yours I once met,’ without, it seemed, being able to name them.”

    If Mary is actually Anthony’s daughter and he doesn’t realize it, this would justify her screeching the car around and saying over and over “you just don’t get it.”

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 August 2012 at 3:18 pm

      Hi Johannes,
      Thanks for posting this! I don’t have the book to hand, so can’t reread those pages. It seemed pretty clear to me on reading the book that Mary and Veronica were one and the same, but I’ll be very interested to reread that section with the alternative theory in mind. It seems strange to me, but I wouldn’t dismiss it without going back to the text. Has anyone else got a view on this?

      1. Dorothy Smiljanich 26 December 2012 at 1:30 pm

        Was mystified by the ending; did not get at all that Tony and Sara had sex; thought that Veronica had two children – Adrian II with Adrian I; and Mary with Tony. Am not sure what to make of a novel that remains so ambiguous….

  33. Kasey 17 August 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I know that this is late, but I chose this book for a book club that I lead and I have found some good discussion points on this thread. I am still confused by some parts of the book as I think we all are. However I do not think that Adrian was Tony’s kid and I don’t think that Tony and Sara slept together. Im still confused by veronica’s actions and don’t think that Tony was maybe correct in thinking that she was damaged before, but I do think she is damaged after Adrian’s affair with her mother. I think this is why she burnt the diary. I also think Barnes wanted to keep us wondering because she was the woman of mystery and his Ex-wife was the woman of logic. He maintained this through out the book even up until the very end.

    One thing I found quite interesting that has not been mentioned yet, was that Tony talks about letter vs email and how a letter you can second guess before sending it, and email is more spontaneous. However it was a letter that he sent to Adrian, and that letter that caused him great remorse.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 August 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Hi Kasey

      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you found this post and the comments useful! It would certainly be a great book for a book club discussion – the uncertainty leaves room for so many interpretations.

      I agree with your view on Tony and Sara and Veronica. I’d forgotten about his mention of letter vs email. You’re right, that is a little strange. Or maybe he’s saying that’s why his actions were so bad, and why he feels the remorse – if he’d just fired off an angry email it would have been more forgivable, but to take the time to write a hateful letter, and then put a stamp on and take it out and mail it, all without ever second-guessing himself, is perhaps more culpable.

      1. Randy 20 August 2012 at 2:48 pm

        Email did not exist at the time he wrote the letter to Adrian/Veronica.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 21 August 2012 at 9:55 am

          Hi Randy
          Yes, I know. What I meant was that it existed when he was pondering the difference between letter and email, and when he was thinking back over his life and assigning blame. So when he makes the point to us that you can second-guess a letter, he’s perhaps saying that he’s more culpable for not having done so. I didn’t mean that he had the option of writing an email back then, although I can see I wasn’t entirely clear!

          1. Randy 21 August 2012 at 3:10 pm

            No worries. I should have been clearer myself. Really loving all these interesting comments! Appreciate your facilitation.

            1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 23 August 2012 at 3:31 pm

              You’re welcome, Randy! I’m enjoying them too 🙂

  34. David S 19 August 2012 at 11:01 pm


    Thank you for providing this forum. I have enjoyed the discussion. I disagree with your interpretation that Veronica’s obstructionist behavior was not very credible.

    Tony points out that Veronica was hardly a part of his life story at numerous times. I think it is safe to say by how dismissive Veronica was of him on their initial contact — neither was he. She was an obstructionist because Tony was meddling (like an insurance agent) in her business without any sense of what she had been through. The meeting on the wobbly bridge, the meeting in the cafe — Tony was all about himself here and she, having a different memory of events, was most likely in disbelief at his ignorance.

    Eventually, Veronica realizes “Tony doesn’t get it” which is when she aggressively shows him what he was missing and kicks him from her car.

    The ending of the book was incredible and I think Barnes crafts an excellent trail of breadcrumbs to be deconstructed.

    Again, thank you for the forum.

    1. Randy 20 August 2012 at 3:16 pm

      Agreed. Veronica’s behavior is entirely reasonable given the timing of the events. She may have only recently learned of Adrian’s affair with her mother, as well as Tony’s letter–both of which her mother had in possession, in secret in all likelihood. Also, I cannot recall any evidence that Veronica ever saw or read the letter. Just because Tony addressed it to them both, does not mean Adrian ever told her about it. He may have withheld it from her, then approached Sarah, and well…we know what happened then.

      The whole Mary thing might be a clue, but then again I myself call all my siblings by other names than their proper first name.

      My thoughts: Adrian receives the letter, then approaches Sarah. Affair ensues, infant results. Sarah could easily say it was Fathers. Adrian kills himself from shame and overwhelm. Veronica feels she’s lost everything, again. Tony, then Adrian. Probably repeats this cycle her whole life. Time passes, Mother dies, diary and letter revealed. Veronica’s feelings at these recent events would then be very fresh and raw, hence her attitude towards Tony, whether or not she still had feelings for him after all these years.

      I think Veronica really wants Tony to “see” his part in the tragedy, but he can’t. Because the Old Tony can’t simply reinsert himself into the events of Young Tony after 40-50 years. He can’t just pick up where he left off. But poor Veronica has never stopped living it, has been in it the whole time. And the recent discovery of the diary and the letter is just acidic icing on the crappy cake of her life.

      In the end however, it is all in the eyes of the teller. And we only have Tony’s viewpoint.

      Theory 2: Veronica is Adrian’s mother. In the 40s, 50s, 60s it was common for a pregnant girl to have her child raised by her mother/family, the the child never knowing the truth–believing Veronica to be his sister, and being upset that his “mother” had recently died. So when Veronica learns of the diary and the letter, I think she would want Tony to see what she believed was his part in her ruined life. And frustrated as hell when he didn’t get it.

      Great book.

    2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 21 August 2012 at 10:06 am

      Hi David and Randy

      It’s true that we only have Tony’s side of the story, so perhaps I bought too much into his version of events. But I really didn’t see that he was meddling in her business. All he wanted was to be given what was left to him in the will.

      I assumed Veronica had read the letter since it was addressed to her, but you’re right, Randy, that it’s possible she didn’t. This would explain some of her anger, but as I’ve said in previous comments, Tony’s culpability still seems way overblown.

      I agree with both of you, though, that it’s a great book, and the space for different interpretations is part of its appeal.

  35. Mary 21 August 2012 at 2:05 am

    First THANKS Andrew – I just finished this book today and had to reread the ending a couple times hoping I’d get it! Was so relieved to learn that so many others are grappling with this book. Bottom line – I appreciate your explanation and while I read and enjoyed many of the comments from your blog guests, my favorite analysis was from Diana. It was like a light bulb went on as I read her interpretation. And I totally agree – while somewhat disappointed in how the ending was written I did very much enjoy the book. The narrative style, the flow and energy kept me totally involved. Odd but a fun read.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 21 August 2012 at 10:08 am

      Hi Mary
      You’re welcome! Yes, I thought Diana’s analysis was spot on. I’ve got a lot from reading these comments, though – especially the ones I disagreed with! They opened up new possibilities for me, and although I didn’t buy all the theories, it was great to see how many different ways people could read the same book. Thanks for the comment!

      1. Randy 21 August 2012 at 3:17 pm

        Yes, overall I think Diana’s interpretation is the most likely scenario. I finished the book a week ago and am now about 25% through it for the second time. Knowing the conclusion now, it is amazing how much I totally glazed over the first time. Julian Barnes is a subtle, crafty storyteller for sure.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 23 August 2012 at 3:34 pm

          He certainly is – it’s amazing how much depth there is in such a short book. I don’t normally reread books very much, but this is one I think I’ll go back to, especially now that I’ve been given all these fascinating interpretations!

  36. Mike Curtis 1 September 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I thought what Veronica was saying that Tony didn’t get was that it was the mother who was the really manipulative and the “bad” person who tried to take Tony from V and then succeeded in taking Adrian, with all that resulted in. Tony gave V a really bad press, including to Margaret, basically just because she wouldn’t sleep with him when they were first together. He made her out to be a “Fruitcake” and the mother to be the person who saw through her – he was wrong. He saw himself as some kind of victim of V when the letter proved he was far from good too. The ending completely reverses the culpability of the characters and rewrites history as Barnes intended.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 September 2012 at 12:24 pm

      Hi Mike,
      That’s an interesting way of looking at it. Thanks for adding to the discussion! I didn’t read Veronica’s words that way at all – I thought it was Tony’s guilt that he “didn’t get”. But you may be right! I think Tony’s bad opinion of Veronica is not entirely due to her refusing to sleep with him. From their first meeting she was unpredictable and volatile. It may be judgmental of him to call her a Fruitcake rather than just admit that he never really understood her. I do agree that the ending reverses the culpability, but as I said before, I’m not convinced that dashing off an angry letter to a former girlfriend who you feel has wronged you is such a terrible thing. Anyway, thanks again Mike! Good to hear from you.

  37. weqq 3 September 2012 at 11:42 am


  38. Eunyoung Kim 3 September 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Hello! Andrew^^
    I would like to share my explanation with you.

    I think Veronica is not their parents’ biological daughter. The evidence I think so is the scene when Tony met her father in the train station, he thought how this ugly man has this pretty daughter. Also, when he met her mother, he got the impression that she doesn’t resemble her daughter at all. I think the writer imply this fact very clearly.

    I think Veronica would have had an affair with her father or her brother and her mother would have got angry about the betrayal. She would like to revenge Veronica by seducing her lover. that’s why she tried to seduce Tony and Adrian as soon as she saw them. She wrote a letter to Tony when he broke up with Veronica with nice words because she felt relief with the fact that she didn’t have to seduce him any more. She tried to seduce him not because she liked him but because she would like to revenge Veronica. It means she reluctantly seduce him and Adrian.

    And I think when Adrian knew that Sarah didn’t love him at all but had his baby, he felt frustration and would like to kill himself. He couldn’t stay with Sarah or Veronica any more.

    The reason why Veronica always says to Tony,’ you didn’t know ‘, is that Tony didn’t know the family’s secret-the affair and the revange thing.

    The uncompleted sentence Adrian wrote in his diary would mean that ‘If Tony knows the secret of this family, Tony would like to kill himself instead of me.

    Tony and Adrian was the victim of these two women. Veronica didn’t want to let tony know her secret, so she burnt Adrian’s diary. Adrian would have written about the secret and the frustration he felt.

    What do you think of my explanation? I think I did well.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 September 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Eunyoung,
      I love your explanation! I’m curious about how you came up with the idea of a relationship with the father or brother. I ask this because I also had some suspicion of incest when I first read the book, but I couldn’t find anything in the text that would have made me think that. It wasn’t followed up on in the book, so I thought I must have got the wrong idea. But then another commenter earlier also raised the possibility, and now you as well. So I’d love it if you could say a bit more about why you think Veronica had an affair with the father/brother. Thanks for the comment!

      1. Eunyoung Kim 3 September 2012 at 1:13 pm

        As you know, Tony mentioned that in the letter he wrote to Adrian, even if he also didn’t have any evidence he still felt that. So he suggested Adrian to meet her mother and ask about that. I think his suspition was right.

        I am very happy to know that you love my explanation. Thank you.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 4 September 2012 at 4:27 pm

          Ah thanks – to be honest I had forgotten that (I read the book when it first came out, which was over a year ago now!). Thanks for the reminder! Very interesting…

  39. Eunyoung Kim 3 September 2012 at 1:19 pm

    But Tony understood the situation in a wrong way- sexual harassment. In reality, It was an affair.

  40. Kanishk 4 September 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Loved all the interpretations here…

    As I see it, Barnes has attempted to bring forth how history has different versions when it is viewed by different observers/participants. Hence he ended the story so as to be open to all forms of interpretations.

    A suicide happens and our protagonist (treated as part historian, part observer by the author) tries to get to it’s core over a period of forty years, writing his version of that historical fact, and also trying to get to know more of through others’ versions (Adrian’s diary, Veronica, The Mother, Jack, his friends Alex & Colin).

    Barnes has impeccably swung the readers as mute observers (akin to Tony), leaving them “on their own” and in situations “where they still didn’t get it!”

    We as readers are made to rely on Tony’s memories, many of which keep on changing during the course of the novel (for example, initially he went to the river to view the tide alone, later he remembers going there with Veronica). As such, the version of history that we get is quite lop-sided and suited to what Tony wants to think. Which is usually the case with history, which has different versions depending on who wrote it: the victor or the defeated. The real truth behind the history is something the readers seldom get to know!

    About the 500 pounds: At the time of his death, Adrian was guilty to Tony for stealing his girlfriend and wanted to give his diary to Tony to make up for it, as the diary had the answers to most of Tony’s doubts about the whole turn of events. But Sara didn’t want Tony or the world to know the secret about her and Adrian, hence she kept the diary with her till she died. On her death-bed, she thought it her duty to give the diary to it’s rightful owner, and also gave him 500 pounds as a penalty for keeping it with her for forty years.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 4 September 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Hi Kanishk

      I think you’re spot on with that observation. There are so many different interpretations in these comments, and although I agree with some more than others, I’ve been careful not to discount any of them for that very reason – it was the author’s intention to have it open-ended, to fit with his theme of the mutability of memory and how the same events look different to different observers. Great point! That’s why, like Tony, we sometimes feel as if we just don’t get it!

      The £500 still seems odd to me. I take your point about Sara’s guilt for holding onto it for so long, but leaving £500 seems a strange way of atoning. A letter of apology and explanation would have been more appropriate to me. But maybe she couldn’t face writing it, and money seemed easier. It’s certainly possible. Thanks very much for taking the time to add to the discussion!

      1. Hestie 6 September 2012 at 4:48 pm

        Thank you for the explanation and forum Andrew. Finished reading the book today (I’m a bit late) and enjoyed reading all the theories. Most interesting to note how even our memories of the book in trying to explain the ending is not perfect just like Tony’s memories.

        For example several people wrote that Tony called Veronica a fruitcake, he didn’t his ex-wife did… or is that just how I remember it? 🙂

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 September 2012 at 7:18 pm

          🙂 That’s a great point, Hestie. I read the book a year ago now, and although I have a good overall memory of it, a lot of the details are murky. So imagine what it’ll be like a lifetime later! Not surprising that Tony’s recollections are imperfect.

          Re the fruitcake, I had it in my head that Tony called her that, but now that you mention it I think you’re right – his ex-wife came up with the name, based on his descriptions of Veronica.

          I think sometimes memories get corralled into our need to make sense of things – if it suits our argument to say that Tony called Veronica a fruitcake, then we’ll say that and believe it to be true. We need to make things fit, and we’re not above self-deception and memory-alteration in the cause of neatness and internal consistency. This is not a criticism of any of the commenters, by the way – it’s just the way we all are, and this is one of Barnes’s main points.

      2. Karen 25 October 2012 at 3:21 am

        Still trying to figure out why Sarah left money to Tony. Perhaps she knew that her daughter always loved him and that this was a way to get Tony to contact Veronica after all these years. She may have known that her daughter had the diary and that Tony’s bond with Adrian would further the likelihood of communication between the two. I never thought Mrs. Ford was a “Mrs. Robinson” type older woman. I thought that she liked Tony as nice young man and felt that her daughter was perhaps teasing or manipulating him at the time. Thus, the advice “Don’t let Veronica get away with too much.” As for the relationship between Adrian and her – perhaps Sarah was consoling a depressed young man and and passion grew out of control.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 25 October 2012 at 4:05 pm

          Hi Karen
          I had the same view of Sarah – she didn’t seem to be trying to seduce Tony. It was more as if she felt sorry for him and thought Veronica was taking advantage of him. The relationship with Adrian, then, came as a real surprise. The money still baffles me, and other commenters have also raised it as an issue, without any satisfactory explanations.

  41. ian 7 September 2012 at 3:06 am

    I found it an engaging book to the point i felt compelled to find this site and i am glad i did!

    I think the most likely interpretation (IMO) is that veronica was a little unusual, very insecure and had difficulty expressing her true feelings to tony (and probably everyone). She was actually very much in love with him and was seeking the assurance / approval of family by taking him to chiselhurst. Even the line “he’ll do wont he” is another way of saying “please tell me if you approve”. He left her and her response was to have sex with him – ie “please take me back” but could never drop her defences to say it. After this failed she tried adrian the person tony most looked up to in a ploy to win him back. The “you never got it” is really about her true feelings for him that she couldnt bring herself to say and he couldnt see.

    her behaviour in later life when contacted by tony is also consistent with a long standing affection but outwardly cold (insecurity)exterior. It also appears that she never married so there is something about attachment that causes anxiety in her.

    Of course the link from Tony to the adrian to the mother to adrian 2 is entirely due to circumstance but in Tony’s mind he egotistically creates the connection being back to his letter and therefore him. Veronica sees it as being Tony’s rejection of her and being caused by her actions in trying to win back his favor.

    I think the book demonstrates the old adage “things are not as they seem” and the world / events can be looked at very differently based on your own mindset. Tony never got it – never understood Veronica and her motives and still didnt at the end of the book.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 8 September 2012 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Ian

      I’m glad you found the site too! Nice insight into Veronica’s character. A couple of other commenters have also said Veronica’s behaviour was about a lifelong love that Tony just couldn’t see. It wasn’t my impression at all on reading the book, but it does have a certain appeal.

      I don’t think Tony egotistically creates the connection – it seems implied in that formula in the diary. Also if the “you don’t get it” refers to Veronica loving Tony, I’m not sure why she would show the young Adrian to Tony as an explanation. It doesn’t seem connected to me. But, as you quite rightly say, things can be viewed very differently by different people! I don’t fully buy into your interpretation of the book, but I’m not saying it’s wrong. Perhaps the point is that there is no correct interpretation. Thanks for stopping by!

      1. Kendel 9 September 2012 at 3:35 pm

        I believe all the clues are in the beginning. We are getting history from Tony’s point of view, and we are told in the beginning by Adrian:

        “That’s one of the central problems of history…….we need to know the history of the historian in order to know the version that is being put in front of us”

        We get insights into the “Tony-specific” quality of the history he is telling us, as he remembers fondly his times with Veronica. I believe part of the reason the ending leaves us unsatisfied is because we must realize we are getting Tony’s history only, and the subjective we have taken for the objective.

        For this reason I think Veronica’s love for Tony is that which he “just doesn’t get”.

        His late memories attest to that, as does her willingness to meet him in person, and her willingness to share her pain.

        At least, this is my story ;-))

        1. Kendel 9 September 2012 at 4:00 pm

          Reply to my own reply 😉

          What s the significance of Severn Bore? I have a feeling I’m missing something obvious.

          1. Kendel 9 September 2012 at 4:24 pm

            “and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. Those are the ones who are ruthless, the ones to be careful of.”

            To the extent the end is unsatisfying, I think part of the reason is our own desire to see good in Tony, not wanting to believe him “ruthless”. He even catches himself impugning motives of others, and telling the reader “you might think this is rubbish….”, and suggesting that his interpretation and memory of events may be unfair.

            1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 10 September 2012 at 7:39 pm

              Hi Kendel,

              Allow me to reply to your reply to your reply to your reply 🙂

              Thanks for sharing your story! I think you’re right that the subjectivity is a main theme of the novel, and it’s important to recognise that it’s only Tony’s view of things.

              My take on Severn Bore is that it’s a phenomenon where water flows back upstream, so it’s a symbol of Tony’s desire to turn back time.

              Thanks for sharing that quote – I’d forgotten it. You’re right that we do tend to sympathise with Tony, as with any main protagonist, and it’s hard to accept that he’s ruthless. The act of narration is powerful, and influences the reader to accept your version of events, so it’s hard to break out of that.

  42. ian 9 September 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks for the reply andrew – appreciate you taking the time.

    Just wanted to clarify 2 of the points you raised in your response.

    I think Tony makes the connection between him and adrian 2 and sees that he was the cause – when in fact he had very little to do with it, there were far more significant events that must have occurred. Yes he is in the chain but his role is small – not as big as he sees it be (ie he is egocentric)

    I think Veronica shows him young Adrian as a “look what you did” statement, ie “I loved you and if only you had stayed with me none of this would have happened”.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 10 September 2012 at 7:45 pm

      Hi Ian

      I see what you mean now. Yes, I agree that Tony’s real role is much smaller than he believes it to be, so I understand the use of “egocentric” now.

      I’m still having trouble accepting the Veronica loving Tony thing, but as with so many other things in this book, it’s certainly possible!

      Thanks for clarifying!

      1. Kendel 10 September 2012 at 9:37 pm

        Thanks for the reply Andrew.

        I remain convinced that V loved him…..and only him….and I’m wondering if we have any objective evidence that V and Adrian ever even became involved at all, certainly not to the depth of V and Tony.

        Definitely fun to talk about, and I daresay no one that reads the book gets to be “right”, which I feel is another lesson the book teaches.

        Thanks again

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 13 September 2012 at 4:09 pm

          You’re welcome – I’m glad people are getting so much out of these comments, and also putting so much in. I think you’re right – there’s no objective evidence of anything in this book. Pretty much any interpretation can be made to work, so it comes down to what feels right to any particular reader, which is probably influenced by personality and which characters we identify with the most. Thanks for coming back!

  43. ian 10 September 2012 at 11:09 pm

    The parentage of Adrian Jnr seems to be subject to much debate. There are 4 possibilities and this is my take on them

    Tony and Sara. I cant believe this. I dont think Tony would forget having sex with sara it seems too out of character. Furthermore i think there we clues that sara thru hints that he didnt pick up on.

    Tony and Veronica. Possible but the equations in the book have an “s” in them which to me means that the mother is involved. Also it would imply that Adrian killed himself because he thought the child was his. I believe that is biologically impossible unless Veronica had sex with Tony and then within the space of days had sex with adrian. I didnt get the impression that Adrian took up with Veronica in the same week they broke up and furthermore Veronica was hardly likely to immediately jump into bed with Adrian given her frigidty towards Tony. A no for me.

    Adrian and Veronica. I think this has legs. The practice at the time was certainly if a teenage daughter got pregnant then her mother raised the child and the girl became the elder “sister”. So the relationships between Adrian jnr and sara and veronica would make sense. But i cannot reconcile the equations, the “damaged” child, diary being left with sara with this explanation. So overall this seems unlikely

    Adrian and Sara. Seems to be correct to me. i know it is the most obvious and it is natural with a book of this nature to assume there is more to it. But it seems to check out. The mother was flirtatious. Adrian killed himself (implies he was the father to someone). Child looks like Adrian (according to Tony). The equations in the book (see subsequent post). Diary left to sara. Sara in turn leaving it to Tony. Adrian not living with or being cared for by Veronica. Child being “damaged” ie from older woman. Husband dying young. Veronica being extremely disturbed. For me it has be the correct parentage.

    I think the subject of the parentage goes along way to clarifying the book, its meaning and the ending. Once this is “agreed” upon the options get narrowed significantly. The major remaining mystery then becomes what tony does not get and what is eating at Veronica.

  44. ian 10 September 2012 at 11:24 pm

    What do the equations mean? This is my take.

    a2+ v + a1 X s =b

    b = s – v +/x a1

    (a1= adrian, v = veronica, a2=tony, b=baby, s=sara)

    Fist equation:

    Tony and veronica had a good relationship (+), but adrian and Sara had a passionate relationship (x) and a baby resulted

    Second Equation

    Sara and veronica had a bad relationship (-) and adrian and veronica had a semi passionate relationship (+/x). A baby resulted from the bad relationship between s and v because s got in the middle of the budding relationship between adrian and veronica.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 13 September 2012 at 4:36 pm

      Hi Ian

      Thanks for adding these two comments. I think you’re spot on with the parentage issue. Several possibilities have been raised in these comments, but I agree with your rationale for preferring the straight explanation that things are as they are stated in the book. I think this is one case where things are as they seem!

      I like your explanation of the equations too. To be honest it’s been so long since I read the book, and I don’t have it to hand right now (I’m in Barbados and the book’s in storage in England), so I wouldn’t feel confident analysing them myself. So I’m happy with your interpretation – unless anyone else wants to offer an alternative?

    2. Chitresh 15 September 2012 at 7:47 am

      Hey Ian,
      as for the first equation i think it’s just about the chain of responsibility… with obvious multiplication [reproduction] (such as budding/binary fission occurring in bacterias) occuring between A1 & S…
      second is another one in which he is trying to express his relationships (in this he is not including Tony) may be he is conveying that the his relation with veronica would have drove him to sara anyway…as with her he felt better…

      by the way excellent discussion going on… cleared some doubts of mine regarding veronica’s “u dont get it” behavior from comments… thanks 🙂

      1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 15 September 2012 at 12:42 pm

        Hi Chitresh
        Thanks for the contribution regarding the equations! And I’m glad the discussion is useful for you – lots of interpretations here to choose from 🙂

    3. Bethany 23 September 2013 at 10:39 pm

      I also thought that the b could be bath, as Adrian committed suicide by slitting his wrists in the bath, so the characters that are represented by the letters, are what led him to his death.

  45. Hilla 15 September 2012 at 8:27 pm

    I still don’t understand the “blood money”. What was it for?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 16 September 2012 at 10:33 am

      Hi Hilla

      It seems strange to me too. It’s a small amount to leave to someone in a will, so it seems to be more of a message than anything else. Some suggestions by other commenters have been that the Mother is saying sorry for holding onto the diary and its secrets for so long, or that she’s saying thank you to Tony for introducing Adrian to her. Another is that Veronica thinks the Mother is responsible, and is paying out money to her victims (including Tony).

      To be honest none of these feel quite right to me, and I still don’t think I’ve come to a satisfactory answer. It didn’t make sense to me on reading the book for the first time, and I still feel I’m missing something. Sorry I couldn’t be more help! Maybe someone else can offer an explanation…

      1. Liz 17 October 2016 at 6:05 pm

        “Blood money” is not just a term used for restitution. It can be money paid for a crime (such as money paid to Judas for his betrayal of Jesus, or money paid to a hit man). Could this be some sort of accusation on the part of Sarah (the giver), or Veronica (the person ascribing the motive for Sarah’s actions)?

  46. vijee guna 17 September 2012 at 6:05 am

    Just finished reading “The Sense of an Ending” the other day. To be honest I was kind of muddled and hence didn’t like the book so much. but then I bumped across this blog and man am i glad i did. It made me realize that I want to pick up the book again.
    Anyways, my interpretation of the story is as follows, I don’t think veronica was ever in love with tony. I think she tried but they were obviously too different. Tony was confused by Veronica, and hence speaks of her in antagonism through out the book expect when he feels romantically towards here again for a short while and starts rediscovering his repressed memories and regards her in a different light. Veronica is difficult to understand only so because we can only see her at all times through Tony’s eyes.

    Though Veronica and Tony were never really in love with each other, Veronica felt serious enough about Tony to take him to meet the parents.

    I believe that Veronica, her dad and brother were all aware of Sara’s seducing ways. Maybe she has seduced other younger men. (which I understand is why her father drinks so much and refers to his wife as ‘the mother’).
    I think Veronica and her family, left Tony alone that morning under the pretense of letting him sleep in, so they could let him be alone with Sara. They wanted to see his reaction to Sara’s attempt at seducing him. But I think Tony was too thick headed to realize that he was being seduced. so nothing really transpired. But Veronica is satisfied at Tony having passed the test.

    When Tony is introduced to the family, the first day Veronica looks at him appraisingly along with the rest of her family. She is apprehensive about how he would fare. But when Tony passes the test, she begins to hold hands and kisses him good night and even tells her brother “He’ll do, won’t he?”. She later on, even takes the relationship a bit further and gets more physical and intimate. But in the end their relationship still fails.

    So Adrian and Veronica start seeing each other and they genuinely fall in love. But when Tony writes the second letter, Adrian consults Sara and somehow things get out of hand and they end up having a hot scandalous affair.
    Veronica having genuinely been in love with Adrian is hurt by the turn of events.
    Things were going fine for Veronica and Adrian until the letter from Tony showed up. So Veronica blames Tony.

    But another part of me also felt that Adrian was never in love with Veronica that it was always Sara from the start. I have no theories about the money.

    I think the reason why she is known as Mary when associated with Adrian the second is because as you can understand she does not love him and only looks after him under some sense of obligation, she ‘Veronica’ does not want to be tied to him in any way and hence prefers to be addressed under a different name when around him………..

    Okay I realize my theory about the family knowing Sara’s seduction and wittingly letting it happen is a bit far fetched. but that was the impression i got when i read the book.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 September 2012 at 5:07 pm

      Hi Vijee

      I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post. It doesn’t sound as if you’re muddled at all, though – you seem to have it all worked out!

      I share your opinion of Veronica and Tony’s relationship. I love the idea of Tony being left in the hands of the seductive mother as a kind of test. It is a strange kind of behaviour, but families can be very strange…

      Your idea about the use of Mary is excellent – a kind of distancing effect, witholding her real name to weaken her tie with him. Makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the contribution!

    2. Chitresh 18 September 2012 at 3:40 am

      Hey Vijee
      i also thought about her mother as weird, why else she’ll write letter to Tony after he broke up with her daughter… it does not happen here, dunno about england 🙂
      also Adrian doesnt seem to be the guy (atleast from school’s account by Tony) who’d allow his lover’s mother to seduce him considering that he puts his principles into action… unless he genuinely starts loving her… but then again we cant underestimate a women’s power! 🙂 … as Tony used to…
      Is it mentioned that, after making out with her, he lives with her or was it just a one time thing? gotta look into it
      Thanks Andrew for being attentive host.. 🙂

      1. vijee guna 18 September 2012 at 4:09 am

        I felt the same way about the letter, why write to an ex boyfriend of your daughters… it seems unnecessary… why leave him 500 in her will and Adrian’s diary?

        Sarah’s actions seem to imply that there was more going on between tony and herself…. but what exactly? and a1 and a2 in the equations are Anthony and Adrian, agreed… But assuming x represents a passionate relationship and + a platonic relationship and – a not so understanding one, a troubled relationship, then it is clear a1 had a physical relationship with Sarah, but who exactly is a1, tony or Adrian? Or maybe am reading the equations all wrong…. the clue lies in that small part of Adrian’s diary am sure…..

        The rest of the book is just the perception of Tony and he is unreliable… with all his repressed memory….

        going to read it again, pretty soon! This book is like a math equation i can’t solve…

        You can check out this link if you want….
        Matt’s interpretation (from the link) is pretty interesting….

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 18 September 2012 at 12:54 pm

          Hey Vijee,

          Thanks for the link – Matt’s interpretation does throw a whole new light on things. For me it seems a bit of a stretch, but once you’ve accepted the position that the narrator is unreliable, pretty much anything is possible!

      2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 18 September 2012 at 12:51 pm

        Hi Chitresh,

        Yeah, it’s weird here too! With Adrian I can see him being seduced – you’re right about the account of him, but it comes from Tony and is unreliable. I think the point about his suicide is that for years Tony thought of it as a principled act, but in fact it’s just as banal as that of their old schoolmate Robson.

        I don’t think any details are given of whether it was a one time thing or anything more than that. But my memory of the book is also unreliable!

        You’re welcoming re the hosting – thanks for being a good guest 🙂

    3. Ptm 8 May 2013 at 8:51 am

      Oooooooo – this makes me think veronica and jack were saying tony “would do” for sarah! And maybe adrian was procured for sarah too! But adrian took it seriously. That would be a dark twist.

  47. Julia 18 September 2012 at 12:38 am

    Great discussion!! I have a point no one has mentioned – Note that in a book that most agree is about “memory”, Sara seems to have died of Alzheimers. That would explain some of the weird things, like the odd 500., and lack of a letter explaining things to Tony! And of course, it’s another example of Barnes well chosen details.

    1. vijee guna 18 September 2012 at 12:53 am

      I had the same feeling, that she dies of Alzheimers… But I dismissed it since she was alone, looking after herself at the time she died. Wouldn’t someone suffering from Alzheimer be under the care of someone?

      1. vijee guna 18 September 2012 at 3:49 am

        And she does leave a letter to Tony. Doesn’t she? she says she is not sure of her own motive for leaving him the 500.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 18 September 2012 at 12:56 pm

          Very interesting point, Julia, and not one I’d thought of before. You’re right that Sara’s behaviour is strange, but I’m not sure that means she had Alzheimer’s. Do you have any other reason for thinking that? I agree with you, Vijee, about living alone – can’t remember about the letter now.

          1. Jake Brodie 22 September 2012 at 7:04 am

            In an email to Tony, Veronica describes Sarah’s last year – memory beginning to fail, putting tea in fridge and eggs in breadbin and then going completely downhill. So Alzheimer’s and indeed being taken into care are strong possibilities.

            However, going back to Julia’s original point, Sarah’s will had been made 5 years earlier so it would seem fair to assume that the letter and the £500 came from a period when she was still of sound mind.

            It’s only my mild pedantry that has led me to make this contribution because, for me, the so-called plot is purely incidental. It seems to me the book is really just about “what is history” and I’m afraid to say that I found very little in it that was original or truly insightful.

            Ironically, Barnes attributes his own true gem (“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation”) to a fictitious Frenchman.

            1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 22 September 2012 at 5:28 pm

              Hi Jake
              Ah, I’ve got no problem with pedantry – plenty of imperfections of memory here, although luckily we do have documentation! It’s good to clear that up – I’d forgotten about that email. I agree, though, that the book is more about the nature of history and memory – a drawing out of the themes developed in the school-days section. You’re right that it’s not a new theme – I have a battered copy of EH Carr’s What is History from half a century ago which covers a lot of the same ground. I do think that Barnes had some good observations, though, like the one you mention, and that the story was a good way of bringing them out. Thanks for the comment!

  48. Matty from Tel Aviv 26 September 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I just finished reading the book, and am so glad my google search landed me here. What a treat it is! Thank you, Andrew. After reading the post and many of the interesting comments, I wish to say this: as others did, I hoped for more clarification from the author after learning the truth about Adrian’s son, if it was the truth at all. However, I do not share the sense of dissapointment that some readers expressed about the ending which the author proposed. For me, a banal solution is not a faulty one. It did not make Adrian (senior) less philosophical, or less a hero in my eyes. Maybe this was the reason for the dissapointment: how we loved the idea of a logical, superior suicide. How we hated to realize that the ultimate intelectual’s motive was no grander than a common soap opera figuer. I think this is why Barnes won here – not the price, rather the discussion around the ending: the gap between our own history and what we invent about it is universal, is shared by all. Some quoted the line ‘you don’t get it’. I believe the next part is more important, is the real conclusion: ‘and you never will’. That is why it does not matter why V acted as she did. Even if the facts are known, and the truth is not a grand one, you still don’t get it. And you never will. So, as V put it, stop trying. 🙂
    (I appologise for my mistakes in english, it is not my mother’s tongue. Loved the visit here. Thank you again).

  49. Matty from Tel Aviv 26 September 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I just finished reading the book, and am so glad my google search landed me here. What a treat it is! Thank you, Andrew. After reading the post and many of the interesting comments, I wish to say this: as others did, I hoped for more clarification from the author after learning the truth about Adrian’s son, if it was the truth at all. However, I do not share the sense of dissapointment that some readers expressed about the ending which the author proposed. For me, a banal solution is not a faulty one. It did not make Adrian (senior) less philosophical, or less a hero in my eyes. Maybe this was the reason for the dissapointment: how we loved the idea of a logical, superior suicide. How we hated to realize that the ultimate intelectual’s motive was no grander than a common soap opera figuer. I think this is why Barnes won here – not the price, rather the discussion around the ending: the gap between our own history and what we invent about it is universal, is shared by all. Some quoted the line ‘you don’t get it’. I believe the next part is more important, is the real conclusion: ‘and you never will’. That is why it does not matter why V acted as she did. Even if the facts are known, and the truth is not a grand one, you still don’t get it. And you never will. So, as V put it, stop trying. 🙂
    (I appologise for my mistakes in english, it is not my mother’s tongue. Loved the visit here. Thank you again).

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 26 September 2012 at 7:48 pm

      Hi Matty

      Thanks for the comment. Your English is perfect, no apology necessary 🙂

      You made some great points too. I particularly liked the observation that “the gap between our own history and what we invent about it is universal, is shared by all.” I can certainly admit to that. Memory is not the storage of facts, but the telling of stories to explain ourselves. I’m certainly guilty of shaping the past sometimes to fit the story I want to believe. Maybe we should stop trying to get it – but it’s kind of fun to give it a go!

  50. Robert 29 September 2012 at 10:56 am

    The narrator is a totally insensitive asshole. Reread it and see how repugnant and shallow he is, Adrian having an affair with V.’s mom is preposterous to say the least. The blood money payoff makes no sense whatsoever, A beautifully written but very flawed novel.

    1. Andrew Blackman 29 September 2012 at 7:49 pm

      Hi Robert
      That’s interesting – I actually felt quite sorry for him. He’s got his faults, certainly, but he doesn’t come across to me as repugnant and shallow. What were the parts of the novel that made you see him that way? I agree that Adrian having an affair with the mother is bizarre, and am also baffled by the payoff. Thanks for commenting!

  51. Victoria 29 September 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Just finished this book and enjoyed the discussion here- thanks for encouraging it! I see Tony as struggling with remorse – not only about Adrian and Veronica – but in coming to terms with an average life. He is wanting to be forgiven, even when he can’t forgive himself. Keeps looking for the “out” that can explain tragedy and the paths of life. He keeps stepping into chasms of assumptions simply because of who he is. Narcissistic, self-indulgent, maybe touched by a bit of melancholy and reflective as he looks back on his life. And of course, pride rears its head again and again. There is no making this situation “right” with Adrian, Veronica, Margaret, and Susie. There is no changing history or controlling how others perceive his actions, now and then. I like ex-wife Margaret ‘s fond compassion for Tony and her clarity about their relationship and ending a conversation that clearly won’t end as Tony might wish: you’re on your own. He needs to forgive himself and accept remorse for what is his responsibility – apologizing without the agenda that somehow exonerates his actions as a young man. The depressing thing about all this for me is that Tony’s life of “quiet desperation” seems likely to continue. Joy seems an elusive destination for him.

    1. Andrew Blackman 29 September 2012 at 7:52 pm

      Hi Victoria
      You’re welcome! I think that’s an excellent analysis of Tony’s character. The “average life” is key. He is disappointed with how things worked out, and struggling to accept that that’s it. Some commenters have even suggested that he manufactured a lot of the incidents in the book just to make his life less average. I don’t think I’d go that far, but I do think his attitude colours his memories. I agree, it’s sad to see where he ends up, and that there’s little hope. Thanks for stopping by!

  52. Jack 3 October 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I think that it is clear that the baby is Adrian’s, not least as the second equation is a2 + v + a1 x s = b; at the end of the book Anthony actually says that the second a (presumably this means a2) is himself, and a1 is Adrian (multiplied with s, which is presumably representing his consummation with Sarah). Also, it wouldn’t really make sense for Anthony to say that the baby looks like Adrian if it is his own.

    There is a reference to Sarah making a horizontal gesture at waist height to Anthony when he waved to her on leaving the house, and Sarah smiling at Anthony, ‘almost as if we had a secret’; this is again recalled at the end of the book. This perhaps could be that she caught him having a wank in the basin on the first night that he is led to his room by Veronica, and is gesticulating the action to tease him. This could explain why she was trying to seduce him at breakfast the following morning, demonstrating how liberal she is with the availability of her eggs, and maybe why she says, ‘don’t let Veronica get away with too much’, i.e. I caught you flying solo last night, you probably should be sleeping with her by now. This is certainly the most likely waist height horizontal secretive gestures that I can think of, especially considering that one of Anthony’s prominent memories is gouts of sperm being ‘sluiced down the full length’ of the house against which the mother is later leaning when she makes the aforementioned secretive gesture, ‘as the sunlight fell on the wisteria climbing above her head’.

    The first equation is b = s – v x+ a1; in the prior paragraph it says that an ‘entirely successful one (relationship) can be represented by both addition and multiplication’, therefore implying that the baby is a result of Sarah getting in the way of an entirely successful relationship between Veronica and Adrian (a1). My take is that she clearly therefore was in love with Adrian, rather than it be any sort of attempt to win back Anthony. This is again supported by the red glass wedding ring worn by Veronica.

    I think that the incest theory mentioned a couple of times is also likely, and in the book Anthony actually asks himself whether this is what he means by a history of ‘damage’ in the family, whether events like these are inferred by mental impression or the other way around. My impression was that it was the latter and that there was actually a history of sexual abuse / incest, probably with the brother, if not the father as well.

    Firstly, Veronica’s attraction to Adrian, who fits the exact archetype of the elder brother Jack, studying the same course (ironically moral sciences) at the same university, suggests that maybe she has had a prior relationship with Jack, who ‘stopped trying to change her mind years ago’, has a reputation, a habit of ‘not being serious about being serious’ and whose acknowledged motto is ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’.

    Secondly, she has a very strong need for approval from the father and brother, making the excuse of Anthony needing a lie-in in order to escape for the morning with them, before showing any public affection to Anthony and accepting him into the family by the end of the weekend.

    Thirdly, Veronica is strangely very reticent to sleep with Anthony during their relationship, needing to pleasure herself with his wrist, and yet is clearly quite au fait with how to handle herself in the bedroom. As Anthony says, ‘I was wrong about most things, then as now. For instance, why did I assume that she was a virgin?’ I think that this all tallies with her need to disassociate the ideas of sex and love, due to her experience of being abused, which is why she is able to only sleep with Anthony once she falls out of love with him.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 October 2012 at 7:42 pm

      Hi Jack

      This is a wonderful contribution – very insightful, and I agree with every point you make. Thanks for taking the time to write it. I think you’re right about the waist-high gesture being a reference to Tony’s masturbation, and the other comments and actions fit with that interpretation as well.

      Also your exploration of the question of incest within the family is very powerful, particularly the observation that it would explain Veronica’s strange mix of sexual reticence and experience, and that she would need to disassociate the ideas of sex and love.

      Again, thanks very much for contributing so richly to the discussion.

  53. Jack 4 October 2012 at 2:36 am

    No problem and thanks for your comments Andrew; I actually really enjoyed the book! A further thought, having slept on it (I read it yesterday so still very fresh in my mind), is on the other two key memories that introduce the story:

    – a river rushing nonsensically upstream, lit by half a dozen chasing torch beams;
    – another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface.

    In my opinion these allude to the passage of his life. The first via his memory, lived selectively and retroactively in a favourable light, or at least a life of vitality where he plays an important role in ‘a chain of individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary’; the second river, as he lives it, a life of greyness, banality and meaninglessness (‘Camus said that suicide was the only true philosophical question’) subverted and disguised by the erotic distractions of life, the stiff and exciting wind.

    There are of course parallels in the story between the subjectiveness of a remembered life, as narrated by Anthony, and the discussions in the classroom on whether history becomes more or less accurate through time, selective recollection and revelation. However, I would say that at least as strongly, the theme of the book is moreover to do with relationships, how we deal with the tedium of life and ways in which we sublimate our erotic desires; this too is explicitly referred to at the start:

    ‘”Birth, and Copulation, and Death” – that’s what T.S. Eliot says it’s all about’ … and ‘Sex and death,’ Finn continued, … or love and death, if you prefer. The erotic principle, in any case, coming into conflict with the death principle. And what ensues from that conflict.’

    I love the structure of the book, with selective memories introducing and ending the story into which they are woven, then a split in the middle, with deep philosophical ideas expressed via the tragic muse Adrian in the first half, and then revisited in the latter-life recollections of Anthony in the second half. Like the rivers and life, the story itself can loosely run forwards as well as backwards, with the tight group of friends shaken up by the entrance of Adrian in the first half mirroring the tight family shaken up by the entrance of the baby in the second half, as well as the ignoble suicides of Robson and Adrian in the first and second halves respectively.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 4 October 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Thanks again! I read it more than a year ago now so it’s far from fresh in my mind, but it’s great to be reminded of all the layers of meaning in the book. I also found the image of the river flowing backwards to be very powerful, and I like how you’ve extended it here. I agree, the structure was very clever, with events in the second half mirroring those in the first, giving the sense that the river is indeed flowing backwards for a time.

      1. lindam 10 March 2013 at 9:24 pm

        There was some mention of Veronica being “damaged” early on, which, coupled with the mention of some strange actions of her father, made me wonder if perhaps her father had abused her. Subsequently, I wondered if her father actually “fathered” the child, and that Veronica is the mother of Adrian 2. This abuse, known by Sara, would cause her to make comments to Tony, and thinking that he knew about the family dysfunctions, also offering him “blood money”. And Adrian, who then ended up in a sexual relationship with Sara, commits suicide because he realizes who the father really is.

  54. Paul Star 8 October 2012 at 7:00 am

    I have just read Julian Barnes’ novel and, no doubt as Barnes intended, struggled to make “sense of an ending” that is obscure. I have since read the first half of your seemingly endless blog in which numerous readers agonise over what it all means.

    I felt that one of the main themes of the novel was masturbation, the first person narrator engaging in a great deal of wanking in the course of it. His friend Adrian is portrayed as a first class mind who goes to a first rate university, while he (Tony) is only a second class mind who goes to Bristol. Only as a wanker is he first rate, and his self-obsessed chronicle of and fantasy about his life and his relationships – particularly the first one, when he “doesn’t get it” – emerges as just one big wank. By extension, we who read it and thrash around trying to understand it are also wankers, and even Barnes himself is, effectively, a wanker, playing with himself and with us by writing the novel.

    I would not have given it the Man Booker Prize.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 15 October 2012 at 5:05 pm

      Hi Paul

      Sorry, I missed this at first – as you rightly say, there have been a lot of comments!

      I don’t remember masturbation being a big theme of the novel, or Tony doing a great deal of wanking. There’s the scene in the bathroom of Veronica’s family’s house, yes, but I can’t remember any others. The average man does a lot more masturbation over the course of a lifetime than Tony mentions. Of course it’s not normally described much in literature, but I thought the point was simply to emphasise Tony’s sexual frustration.

      Is Tony really that self-obsessed? He’s actually spent a lifetime avoiding thinking about himself and his relationships too much, which is why he doesn’t get it. He comes late to the whole thing, prompted by the mystery of the diary. I think it’s quite natural for him to want to understand his life and his relationships with others, and I don’t equate that with masturbation.

      I also think it’s natural for readers to want to understand a book they’ve just read. It’s what I’ve tried to do with the hundreds of books I’ve blogged about on this site, and it hasn’t felt like masturbation to me.

      I respect your right not to like the book, but I don’t think that means that you and I and the other commenters and Julian Barnes are all wankers.

  55. Lisa 11 October 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks Andrew, I just finished reading this book and was left somewhat bewildered. I have one additional question – do you think Adrian lived to see his son born?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 11 October 2012 at 9:29 pm

      Hi Lisa
      My impression was that he didn’t, but I can’t remember now whether there was anything in the book to make it clear. Does anyone else have a definitive answer?

  56. Terry 15 October 2012 at 7:45 am

    Thanks so much Andrew. I got to the part where Tony finally gets it (but I didn’t) and it kept me awake for quite a while as I tried to fathom the revealation – such as it was.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 15 October 2012 at 5:06 pm

      Hi Terry
      You’re welcome – glad it was useful! Sleep well 🙂

  57. Terry 16 October 2012 at 6:35 am

    Hi Andrew. Have I missed something else here? Why did Adrian’s son act so weirdly when he saw Tony? Why did it upset him so much if he had never actually clapped eyes on him before and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) have known the history between them?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 17 October 2012 at 3:25 pm

      Hi Terry,
      I saw the behaviour as due to his mental illness – I assumed he would have reacted the same if approached by any stranger. As you say, it seems that he couldn’t have known the history. It’s also possible that Tony, as narrator, is exaggerating his reaction due to his own feelings of guilt. Does that make sense? As always, open to other interpretations!

  58. Simon G 19 October 2012 at 5:24 am

    Just read Sense of an Ending. I made more sense of the beginning when I read that. I re-read the ending a couple of times and cast my mind back to my maths struggles. I parked it there.
    The real purpose of the book is the sense of waste of life that is Tony’s. He is an ordinary man, a safe bat in cricketing terms along with his two other schoolmates both disappeared. Adrian was the bright star, gilded youth, brilliant but carefree bat. He shone and got out very early but played the innings that Tony would have loved to play but had not the gift. Veronica, Susan and the others are simply figurations of his lost life. Play safe and you end up worrying about patches for your trousers and ignoring the bigger picture. The meaning for me was that Tony despite being the narrator did not get it. We saw more clearly through him than he did himself. His pretence at understanding the family relations did not take into account the emptiness of his own. There is your ending. Tony’s life is at an end before it even began. Like a bad driver it seems he is never involved in an accident but has seen plenty in his rear mirror.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 19 October 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Hi Simon
      Love the cricketing metaphor. Yes, he is a safe bat, and there is a real sense of waste. I think he does get some of that in the end, but it’s too late by then. His life has gone by and he never got to play the way he wanted. And of course, everybody’s innings ends sooner or later, whether you play it safe or not!

  59. Vera 19 October 2012 at 10:46 pm

    When I finished reading it, I immediately remembered a story by M.Spark called “The Black Madonna”. Makes me want to reread that story, too.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 19 October 2012 at 11:10 pm

      Interesting – I’ve read a book by Doris Lessing called The Black Madonna, didn’t realise Muriel Spark had written a story with that name too. I’ll check it out – which collection does it appear in? Thanks Vera.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 20 October 2012 at 4:58 pm

          Hi Vera, I’ll check it out – thanks for coming back and letting me know!

      1. Catherine 20 October 2012 at 10:51 am

        I’ve just finished the book and was intrigued enough to know what others might think to Google it! My take is that Adrian had a mutually passionate love affair with Sarah, she writes that she thinks the last few months of his life were happy and Tony’s friend Alex also attested to Adrian’s happiness in the months preceding his suicide, ‘ As we said goodbye, he told me he was in love.’ That love was for Sarah, not Veronica, This love is blighted when Sarah gets pregnant and Adrian makes the choice to reject a life with this ‘condition’ in it. Veronica must have been aware of the affair, not least because the child is named Adrian (this is the only part of the book I can’t reconcile. Why would Sarah out the affair and announce its consequence to the world? She remains married but her husband slides into the alcoholism which kills him five years later). 40 years of Veronica’s bitterness is now beamed directly onto Tony! I believe she did love him and refused to sleep with him because she wanted a commitment from him, which never came.That’s why he never ‘got it’. She really wanted him, and after her family’s and his friend’s approval thought that they were heading to the next stage, ie marriage. Veronica’s skewed take on things leads her to believe that Tony’s failure to recognise their ‘suitability’ and his rejection of her after they had sex (which she likens to rape), leads her to Adrian and so initiates the chain of tragic events. Adrian’s diary entry about the relationship accumulator formulas and his inference that the responsibility should be apportioned more exactly, ‘So, for instance, if Tony…’ is seized upon by Veronica as affirmation of his culpability. Knowing Tony’s dogged nature, her withholding of the diary is deliberately designed to reel him in, as are her cryptic one-liners. She hopes by revealing Adrian’s damaged son to him that he will finally ‘get it’ and be called to account for ruining her family’s lives, but he doesn’t even recognise Adrian in him, which enrages her. When he does eventually realise who Adrian Jr is, his letter of apology to Veronica still gets it wrong. Only in the last few pages does he finally see what ‘he had made happen.’ The irony is that Veronica may never know this. And even if she did you somehow know it would bring her no comfort. No sense of an ending for her then!

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 20 October 2012 at 5:03 pm

          Hi Catherine
          Thanks for the comment – your take makes a lot of sense. I agree that Veronica transfers her bitterness to Tony, and it’s a good point that his perceived rejection of her is a factor as well as the letter. You’re right, Veronica doesn’t seem as if she’d get comfort from anything Tony does or says at this stage. Having your boyfriend impregnate your mother and then kill himself is the kind of thing that could certainly lead to that kind of bitterness and anger over a lifetime. I still think it’s unfair to blame Tony to the extent that she does, but maybe she just needs an outlet for all that anger.

          1. wanda G 21 October 2012 at 7:32 am

            Having just read the book, my first thoughts are how much I enjoyed the first half of the book. It became slightly tedious towards the end .To me this is because there are so many open suppositions in the book. The character of Tony is the clearest defined person in the book, and the closest to, I imagine, the majority of the great British nature. Probably we can identify with his nature easier, not just because on information, but because of his traits.

            The ending, to me, needed some more definitions to the other characters in the book, to allow the reader to ponder more on the issues raised, and not to just shut off with questions of trails abandoned and highlights dashed. There were to many ‘plot’ failures to allow me to question the intended contents of the author’s writing.

            In questioning the possibilities in this story, I ended up questioning the other characters and coming up with disbelief in their solidity in the novel, not in Tony’s detailing of them.

            1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 22 October 2012 at 4:36 pm

              Hi wanda,
              Thanks for commenting. I think the problems you raise have troubled many readers, myself included. I remember getting towards the end and thinking “He’s running out of pages, there’s no way he’ll be able to resolve all this stuff”. And then it ended, with so many questions left unanswered. It’s a style, I suppose, and I’ve come across it in some other books I’ve read recently, but to me the ending did feel a little disappointing. I did find the other characters solid, but not always easy to understand!

        2. Russell 22 October 2012 at 5:42 am

          Good comments, but I don’t know if Veronica is trying to reel Tony in. On the contrary, she seems keen to keep him at arm’s length. The relationship between Veronica and her family is certainly intriguing and possibly unhealthy.

          1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 22 October 2012 at 4:25 pm

            Yes, that was my impression too, but I liked Catherine’s suggestion that it might be deliberate. If she knows Tony well enough to know that he’ll keep going even if she is being obstructive, then it could be a ploy. As with so many things in this book, it’s hard to know for sure!

        3. Karen 25 October 2012 at 3:44 am

          Yours is the analysis I most agree with! Why do you think that Sarah left Tony 500 pounds? And why name the baby Adrian when doing so would surely rub salt into the veins of both her husband and daughter? Was she a bad, stupid, or foolish woman? I didn’t see her as any of those – from what we are told about her by Tony or Veronica.

          1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 25 October 2012 at 4:00 pm

            Thanks Karen. Those are both things that still bother me, and that I don’t have good answers for. The family seems very strange, and it’s possible that Sarah wanted to hurt her husband, and maybe even Veronica too. Without being told the history, we can’t tell – it seems there’s another whole story there. The £500 is just odd. Maybe a token apology for not showing him the diary earlier? The ‘blood money’ phrase just doesn’t seem to make sense.

            1. Mona 12 January 2014 at 3:42 am

              Ok. So maybe Sarah tried to seduce Tony and succeeded with Adrian as payback for the incestuous relationship her daughter and husband were having. And naming the baby Adrian, as you said Karen, was to “rub salt into the wound”. I still don’t understand the 500 in blood money.

        4. cammac 26 October 2012 at 7:01 am

          Thank you Catherine, the one thing bothering me was ‘for instance, if Tony…’ I couldn’t figure out where it might be going. I had thought that Adrian was maybe trying to find a solution to the formula, in that he was looking for a future for b, the baby. And I thought he might be suggesting that if Tony shared some of the responsibility, then he should be responsible for the baby’s future, perhaps to raise him with Veronica. I think what you’re saying is more likely, that he is simply assigning the accumulated culpability.

  60. Russell 22 October 2012 at 4:39 am

    I agree that it’s a stretch to draw a direct line between Tony’s letter and Adrian’s suicide. After all, Adrian would have doubtless met Sarah with or without Tony’s letter, while their ensuing affair can’t possibly be laid at Tony’s feet. That was a decision between two consenting adults, for which Tony should feel no guilt. Moreover, I find it hard to believe that such an affair would have taken place in the first place. We’re regularly reminded that Adrian was a serious, logical and moral individual. Does that sound like the kind of person who would carry on with his girlfriend’s mother? I think not.

    Also, are we supposed to believe that the only fact significant to the outcome of the story that Tony misremembers is the content of his letter? If so, this is rather weak, if only for the reasons mentioned above. Are all the other misremembered moments in Tony’s life extraneous to the plot, only serving to demonstrate how people rewrite or conveniently forget things in their past? If so, big deal. Or are we to conclude that Tony has once again got the wrong end of the stick. Is he the father of Adrian Junior? Is Sarah the real mother or is Veronica? We’re regularly told that Tony doesn’t ‘get it’. Perhaps, at the end of the book, this is still the case.

    And why is Veronica known as Mary to Adrian Jr. and his carers? Is she concealing her true identity to them? Obviously not, since they know her to be Adrian’s brother. I don’t buy the explanation that it would be an easier name for a mentally handicapped person to use. A decent author will ensure that intriguing pieces of information like this allude to something he’s already told us. Otherwise they are pointless details that pose unnecessary questions. And Barnes is too good a writer to do this. So what is the explanation?

    Another unanswered question is why Sarah left £500 to Tony, and why Veronica called it ‘blood money’. Giving the diary makes sense, if only as a device to get the plot moving, but why the money? The term ‘blood money’ suggests a debt is owed to Tony by Sarah for Adrian’s death. But that’s illogical. If the £500 had gone to Veronica, that would be blood money, but not to Tony.

    For what it’s worth, I think Adrian and Sarah definitely hooked up, otherwise why would she have his diary? We’re told that Veronica’s father effectively drank himself to death, which is likely if his wife was having another man’s baby. And we’re told that Sarah ended up keeping lodgers on moving to London, despite not needing the money – perhaps the actions of an incorrigible seductress.

    But what really happened that weekend at Chislehurst? What’s with the sleep-in? Did Veronica really encourage it or did Sarah? If Tony was really not a man to sleep late, why did he in this instance? Was it just a device to enable Tony and Sarah a scene alone, where her enigmatic character could be revealed, and her incipient attempts to come between Tony and Veronica could be played out? If so, why Tony’s comments about never sleeping in? Surely Barnes would have just told us that Tony woke late and everyone bar Sarah was out?

    So many questions, not enough answers! People’s thoughts would be appreciated.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 22 October 2012 at 4:45 pm

      Hi Russell

      You raise some great questions here, some of which have been raised in other comments and not really answered satisfactorily, so I’d also love to hear other people’s answers. The blood money, for example, never made sense to me, and still doesn’t despite a few suggestions by previous commenters. Similarly with the use of Mary – it’s her middle name, yes, but why use it? Not clear. And the exact events that weekend, again not clear.

      The seduction of Adrian does seem bizarre but to me it’s not unbelievable. Even serious, logical, moral young men are still young men, and sex can do strange things to men. There are so many examples of men who’ve risked families, careers and more for the chance of a quick fling, so I can see Adrian giving in to Sarah’s seduction. It’s only later, when the lust has worn off, that his true nature kicks in again and he looks at what he’s done with disgust and slits his wrists in the bath.

      Thanks for commenting, Russell, and I look forward to hearing if anyone else has new thoughts to add on these very good questions.

  61. Mina 22 October 2012 at 8:02 pm

    My impression is that Veronica never loved Tony, and didn’t like him very much, she has always been hostile to him, from the beginning to the end. She would not have minded if her mother seduced Tony, as she was not in love with him, actually she was possible curious and a bit perverse about what could happen if she let her mother and Tony alone the morning of their visit to her parents house. (Fortunately, Tony was too dull and “average” to pursue anything with “the mother”.)

    But she loved Adrian, from the beginning when she was infatuated with his brain and depth and his whole first class student persona which Tony never was, until his suicide and even after. She blamed Tony (completely unfairly in my opinion) for ruining the relationship between her and Adrian and causing Adrian’s suicide and she never forgave him for it. (Unfortunately for everybody, Adrian, the brilliant, “serious” and philosophically minded one fell in love or at least fell into the arms of the absolute wrong person and could not live with his actions).

    I don’t believe in the incest theory. I think Veronica was a complicated, conflicted, unhappy woman with a bit of a superiority complex, and she became more conflicted and unhappy as the time went on and especially after Adrian’s suicide, her true love. I think she is an interesting character, not fully developed likely intentionally, to add to her allura of mystery and inner-trouble.

    Fascinating book, not in the least due to many possible interpretations and character analysis.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 23 October 2012 at 8:32 pm

      Hi Mina

      Thanks for the comment. My view of Veronica was very similar to yours when I read the book, and I haven’t really been convinced by all the comments claiming she loved Tony. It’s possible, of course, but it wasn’t my impression – I agree that she loved Adrian, and was bitter about losing him and blamed Tony unfairly. I think it’s definitely intentional that she’s not fully developed, because Tony is the narrator and he doesn’t get her. It makes her frustrating as a character, but it accurately reflects Tony’s view of her.

  62. Russell 25 October 2012 at 5:42 am

    I have come up with a pretty far out theory. I’m sure it’s full of holes, but I think it’s fun, nonetheless.

    Adrian’s mother has an affair with a young, married civil servant. Both of them leave their families and make a home in Kent (we know Adrian’s mother abandoned the family when he was very young). Her new man already has a son – Jack – and they quickly produce a child of their own, who they call Veronica. When they are old enough, Jack learns that his mother is really his step mother. He takes to calling her ‘the mother’, as opposed to just ‘mother’ or ‘mum’, to tease her about this.

    Veronica leaves for university and meets Tony, who introduces her to his friend Adrian. Later, Tony and Veronica split up and she starts a relationship with Adrian. They sleep together and she gets pregnant. Before they know about the pregnancy, they visit Veronica’s parents, at which point Adrian realises he has slept with his own sister. Upon discovering that Veronica is pregnant, Adrian commits suicide and Veronica gives birth to a mentally disabled child (mixed genes, and all that).

    Such is the shame attached to unmarried parenthood that the child is raised as Veronica’s little brother. When Veronica’s father dies, her mother escapes to London, leaving Veronica to raise her son. She tells her son, and his eventual carers, that she is called Mary to avoid the discovery that she is, in fact, his mother. She wears a glass wedding ring for the rest of her life to commemorate the marriage to Adrian she was doomed never to have.

    Any thoughts?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 25 October 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Love, it Russell! I thought it was going to get Oedipal, which would have been interesting too, but I like your theory that it’s Veronica who gets pregnant, and he commits suicide because of sleeping with his sister. You’re right, it’s pretty far out, and I think that if Barnes had intended this to be the truth he’d have given us more clues, but I can’t think of any holes to poke in it. Nice!

      1. Russell 26 October 2012 at 2:05 am

        Thanks Andrew.

        This came into my head when I started re-reading the book. Adrian mentions that his mother abandoned the family when he was young, which sounds like the kind of reckless, whimsical thing Sarah Ford might do. Adrian also says he has no knowledge of his mother’s private life, because she comes up to London to see him. So she could have a new family, for all he knows. And ‘Up to London’ is what you would say if someone was travelling from Kent. The rest was filled in by my imagination, but it does kind of work. Not that I think it’s the truth necessarily!

        One thing that stood out on rereading the book is that Sarah Ford doesn’t look much like Veronica. She is much taller and is facially dissimilar. She also acts differently to the rest of the Ford clan and seems to take against her own daughter. It made me wonder whether Sarah is really Veronica’s natural mother? Could this indicate a family breakup that left Veronica mentally scarred? Or this just a red herring?

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 29 October 2012 at 7:36 pm

          Yes, it does work! I agree that Sarah stands out from the rest of the family both physically and in her character. I just thought of it as showing the problems within the family, but it could have greater significance.

    2. Jen 19 February 2013 at 3:11 am

      I think that Sarah may have come on to Tony – his subsequent masturbation that night after a heated kiss from Veronica and her mother’s flirtations make this more than plausible for a teenage or young man! Especially when he’s clearly sexually frustrated by his girlfriend, who he later writes a scathing letter about to his friend Adrian saying she’s a, “cocktease”. It seems unlikely to me that Tony could go his whole life, “not getting it”, that he did have sex with an older woman when he so clearly and vividly recounts all of his sexual partners.

      It seems that Adrian might have gone to visit Sarah because of that scathing letter, which directed him to do so – or – simply that an already damaged and insecure Veronica suspected that Tony was eluding to that idea or notion…maybe yet another jab at Veronica, explaining that even her own mother was not above trying to sleep with her boyfriend at the time. Perhaps, Adrian did not have much regard for Veronica and was carrying on with her mother? Maybe that letter found much later, confirmed what Veronica suspected all along? That her mother’s wish for another child or simply younger men had some truth to it and she was broken hearted by Tony and then at Adrian’s betrayal. It seems that Tony was a rather pretentious young man and felt constantly judged by Veronica and then by her family, maybe it was nothing more than that?? Well, and a flirty Mrs.?

      It could be that the child was Veronica and Adrian and Veronica’s anger stems from the belief that had Tony never written it, Adrian would have not killed himself and could have raised their child?

      It just seems unlikely that Tony would have slept with Sarah and it seems less likely that Veronica carried a torch for him… rather simply anger. Adrian had no one. He wanted approval from his friends – he got a scathing letter from one of them instead. Maybe he simply didn’t want a child and felt that Veronica had trapped him? Perhaps Sarah raised the child since Veronica was a unwed and the child had no father, assuming it was Adrian? It seemed that Veronica had a crush on Adrian from the start!

      Maybe it was what he eluded to in that letter rather than what actually happened? Then, with Adrian, it DID happen? And, though a faulty recount of our lives is sometimes obscured by time, I don’t know that in a real attempt at seeking out the truth you’d conveniently leave out a critical memory such as sleeping with your girlfriend’s mum!

      After reading this book, I’m at a loss. To be honest, this is not my style of book! It’s frustrating to me!

  63. Margie 27 October 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Quite an abrupt ending and by then found myself questioning the accuracy of Tony’s memories and his perceptions. He is an “average” guy who usually wants to play things safe and uses that lens to view the world and his life events.
    He seems to be afraid to make deep contacts with others out of fear of loss. Rather immature emotional intelligence!

    I read a number of reviews on the book and one reviewer even referred to Tony as a “doofus”.

    If I was doing a book club presentation on this book I’d start from the abrupt ending. From that vantage point, perhaps the characters, especially Veronica, can be more fully understood.

    And there is a reproduction metaphor that I can’t quite figure out — an egg — a broken egg discarded by Sarah, Veronica’s Mother, when she was serving Tony his breakfast on that weekend. The egg event with Sarah come up a few times in the novella. And I noticed that there was an egg in shell on the cover of the UK version of the book – whereas we have the mature dandelion puff cover of ours. Was the broken egg (old mature eggs in a pre menopausal woman, Sarah) some kind of sexual innuendo that we could not hope to catch until the end of the book? Did Sarah have her eyes on young Tony like she did on Adrian? Did she want to have another baby; or merely a tryst or two with a young man to re-fire her jets before she was too old?

    All in all, I found this book to be engaging. At times I felt like slapping Tony silly — he just didn’t get it!

    It’s about the human condition and I suppose on some level we can all relate to some of the themes identified in the book: loss and fear of risking loss, memory, aging, trying to recapture youth, and others.

    I am interested to understand if female and male perspectives on this story differ.

    1. Socha 28 October 2012 at 9:25 am

      I just finished this beautiful novel.

      My feeling is that Tony is young Adrian’s father or that this is at least a possibility according to Adrian’s mathematical equation.

      Blood money? Did Sarah leave Adrian’s diary to Tony in the hope that Tony would take his responisibility in participating financially in the care of his son, young Adrian?
      Why did the carer talk about budget cuts that made it harder to care for people like Adrian? Does the carer know?

      Why else would Tony’s appearance be upsetting to young Adrian ‘especially now’? Does he look like him after all, despite Tony seeing a resemblance with Adrian? Young Adrian is looking into Tony’s face as if he recognises him, although he would never have met him before (except possibly for a few minutes as V’s passenger on the afternoon she drove Tony around to them, but that wouldn’t have made a big impression and it was also after Sarah’s death).

      1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 29 October 2012 at 8:17 pm

        Hi Socha
        I’d forgotten that phrase ‘especially now’ – that is strange, because it seems unlikely Young Adrian would recognise Tony. Another thing that doesn’t quite add up… Also not sure whether the carer’s talk of budget cuts is significant. Most things in the book seem to be, but I’m not sure how it fits together. I agree it’s possible that Tony is young Adrian’s father, although it’s not my interpretation.

      2. Socha 2 November 2012 at 6:30 am

        Hi Andrew, thanks for replying.

        English is not my first language so I might have used the wrong word. I meant ‘recognise’ as in seeing a familiarity, like looking in a mirror and seeing a resemblance to his own appearance. It would also make more sense to the phrase ‘bloodmoney’ as young Adrian would be Tony’s blood, and it would in a way explain the sentence from the diary: ‘what if Tony’ etc.

        It’s probably too far fetched, but I thought as the novel deals with the unreliability of memory and Tony ‘not getting it’, it might be a possiblity.

        Tony’s memory of Adrian as the stark logician would also prove to be false if Adrian had taken on the role of helping Veronica in her ordeal of having been left by Tony and finding out the sexual betrayal of her mom and her former boyfriend.
        It also would make Tony’s letter to Veronica all the more important and poisonous.

        It would however not explain Adrian’s suicide.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 November 2012 at 6:52 pm

          Hi Socha
          I see what you mean. You used the right word, although in English we’d often use it in the reflexive form – he recognised himself in Tony. I don’t think your theory is too far-fetched at all. This book can support many different interpretations. Because the narrator’s memory is unreliable, so much is possible. You’re right that it wouldn’t explain Adrian’s suicide, but then maybe the original interpretation is correct after all – an intellectual refusal of the world. Very interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks for coming back to comment again, Socha!

    2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 29 October 2012 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Margie
      Interesting point about female and male perspectives. It’s certainly possible that men would identify more with Tony, and sympathise with him “not getting it”! I know I did. Thanks for raising the metaphor of the egg – it certainly does come up quite a bit. The cover of my UK version had the dandelion too – that was the first edition hardback. Maybe the paperback or other editions have the egg, but I haven’t seen it. Interesting…

  64. macs 1 November 2012 at 10:06 am

    could you help me ad? i’ve read about twice. but still i didn’t get the point. what the most proper that can be applied win the sense of an ending? and what the interesting topic i can write on my essay?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 November 2012 at 6:41 pm

      Hi macs
      Thanks for stopping by. Sorry, not sure I understand what you’re asking exactly…

  65. Ruby 2 November 2012 at 6:08 am

    How can we be sure Adrian (junior) is his real name? After all Veronica changed her name to Mary?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 November 2012 at 6:42 pm

      Hi Ruby
      We can’t be sure of anything in this novel! It’s possible it’s not his real name. What significance do you think that would have?

  66. luis 4 November 2012 at 5:50 am

    Your post was really helpful, i was really confused about the end and i also want to say that i agree with you on the thought that Tony’s friends held more responsibility than Tony did, if he felt that he in a way was responsible for Adrian being with Veronica’s mom than it was a completely indirect action.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 November 2012 at 6:43 pm

      Hi luis
      Glad it was helpful. Thanks for letting me know! Good that you agree with my interpretation – Tony’s responsibility certainly does seem very indirect.

  67. Kent 8 November 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the clarification! What a grim, unpleasant and silly little book.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 8 November 2012 at 5:19 pm

      Hi Kent
      Glad it helped! As I’m sure you can tell from my post and subsequent comments, I don’t agree with that view of it, but I respect your opinion. Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment!

  68. Pingback: A review of The Sense of an Ending (2011), a novel by Julian Barnes « Just Another Number

  69. Bert 10 November 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I’ve finished the book today, which I’ve read in Dutch, so I hope threre aren’t things lost in translation. The ending made me wonder, which made me google and find this interesting blog! It’s nice to follow the different theories (especially the one where Adrian sr and Veronica are siblings!).

    It’s also my conviction that the child is of Tony x Sarah.
    For starters one thing is sure: the conclusion of Tony in the end is wrong. The theme of the book about failing memories insures this. So Adrian jr. is definitely not the child of Adrian sr and Sarah!

    I guess it’s important to look at the unclear, unmentioned and unresolved issues.
    1. In the formulae in the book a1 is adrian and a2 is anthony. The other option isn’t mentioned, and therefore will probably be the right one. Additionally, the author had deliberately chosen for the same initials and must have a meaning with it.
    2. A literal meaning of ‘blood’ is that’s your kin. That’s the way Veronica meant it. It explains the reason of the otherwise strange introduction of the blood money (why 500 quid?)
    3. The already mentioned strange reaction of Adrian jr seeing Tony’s face (resemblance)
    4. The way Tony is suddenly so very, very assured that Adrian jr resembles Adrian sr. The emphasis points out that he is (again) wrong.
    5. It explains the hostility of Veronica

    There will be more clues, the book seems pretty well constructed.

    The point of the plot is that the protagonist, even after lengthy reflections, isn’t able to remember he had sex with his girl friend’s mother. A memory he has repressed a long time ago out of embarrassment and which he only remembers symbolically in the broken egg incident. Repressing such an event is a summit of false memorizing, emphasizing the theme of the book.

  70. Bert 11 November 2012 at 7:25 am

    Something different.
    What I, apart from the weaving of the plot and the unreliable witness, liked about the book is that the protagonist is a bore, a stalker, a voyeur and egocentric person, which gradually dawns upon the reader. His youthful musical preference for Dvorak, his irritating people till he gets what he wants, the following of the group in the end of the book with him yearning for new habits. When Veronica concedes in a conversation, he for an hour only talks about himself without questioning her and afterwards he accuses her of not telling anything about herself. Also his lack of energy is remarkable. He gathers his information by watching, instead of direct questioning the leader of the boys.

    He is not the sort of person you want to spend time with.

    The behaviour of Veronica should be seen in this light. She must be irritated by this person, with whom she probably only spent time because she was inexperienced and not an attractive girl. In the weekend, after he had f***** the mother, Veronica was satisfied with him. Which tells that she maybe knew (and sort of arranged) what had happened. A test of how boring he was.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 11 November 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Hi Bert
      Thanks for your two comments. I think you have added a lot to the discussion. You’re right that Tony’s unreliable memory and suppressing of crucial events probably means that the obvious explanations are not always true. And yes, Veronica’s behaviour does make more sense in this light. One thing I don’t understand in your comment – what’s the significance of him liking Dvorak?

      1. Bert 11 November 2012 at 4:11 pm

        Hi Andrew,

        First, thanks you for your calm and consequent replying to everyone’s comments and ideas. A beacon of rest in these hectic times!

        With Tony’s love for Dvorak I just mean that it portrays a young man who is dull at a young age. Later on in the book Tony says he still loves Dvorak and that he still has to chuckle about the joke over Ted Hughes’s animals. Boring a whole life time.

        Your article ‘Sense of an ending explained’ shows very well what a meagre book it would be if we go for Tony’s explanation. The ending and the book make sense if Tony is the father. I read the link in one of the comments to someone who thinks Tony has had a longlasting relation with Sarah, but that of course stretches the human repressing capabilities way too far.

        I got the book as a present from a friend, who liked the book very much and said he had a discussion with a friend about the ending. I’m curious what he has to say about it.

        1. Stella 14 November 2012 at 9:23 pm

          “Boring a whole life time.” – haha, indeed! 😀

          I agree Tony being the father of Adrian II. It fits better with “you just don’t get it”, the letter from The Mother after V and Ts break-up, the £500 in “blood money” etc. But I just can’t see how Tony could repress that memory. He must be close to mentally ill if he blocks out such an important event so completely. (I guess that raises the question who Tony is narrating this to? A diary? Himself, in his on mind?).

          If I recall correctly T and V broke up just before the summer break, and then T gets the letter from A about his new relationship with Veronica sometime in the fall.Then Sarah already would have been +4 months pregnant. So why would Adrian kill himself over a pregnancy he clearly could not have been the cause of?

          I’m eager to hear any theories! 🙂

          1. Stella 14 November 2012 at 9:24 pm

            Dang, first line should be “I agree THAT Tony being the father of Adrian II fits better with ..”

          2. Bert 14 November 2012 at 10:07 pm

            The question about the story time, Stella.

            Rereading this aspect is quite unclear, Tony is such an unreliable witness 😉 I believe Tony was with the Fords just before the summer vacation in the second year. During the third year Adrian had his relation with Veronica. After he graduated Tony travelled for half a year in the States, and then came back hearing about Adrian.

            If Adrian II was Tony’s, he would be nine months old by then. Which is no real problem for the Tony-father theory. The remark in Sarah’s letter that Anthony I was happy in the last months, would refer to the time he spent with the baby Adrian II. Why he committed suicide is a question anyway, there is no convincing reason it would have had anything to do with the child.

            You’re right it’s quite a thing to repress having sex with your girl friend’s mother. Otherwise he remembers sex with Veronica he had forgotten, he seems to be quite happy to have his own feast.

            Reflecting maybe JB has left the different options deliberately open, so every reader makes up his own history. Reading the book I was thinking of Tony ‘why not steal the letter’ or ‘ask how old Adrian II is’. For us applies the same, why not torture Barnes till he tells what his intentions were.

            1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 19 November 2012 at 3:56 pm

              Thanks Stella for the comment, and thanks Bert for answering. My memory of the timeline is very hazy now, and I don’t have the book to hand, so am glad you stepped in!

        2. Bert 17 November 2012 at 5:22 pm

          (The friend had come to the same conclusion -Tony as father- so there was unfortunately no discussion.)

          1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 19 November 2012 at 3:58 pm

            Interesting that you both came to the same conclusion. Still, I think there’s plenty to talk about in this book apart from the ending. Thanks for the update, anyway!!

            1. Bert 21 November 2012 at 3:09 pm

              I visited him prepared for a heated debate. Instead I had to put up problematic points with the b= s + t theory. Like the baby had to be about nine months old when Adrian killed himself. ‘So what’, my friend said, and indeed, the reason Tony gave for Adrian’s suicide was only Tony’s idea.

              About forgetting such an important happening. In Holland at the moment a man is accused of murdering a girl 13 years ago on the base of his DNA. The DNA was voluntarily rendered by the people in the region (it’s a rural country where people rarely move).
              A question which has arisen now is why he allowed his DNA to be taken. One of the options is dissociation, that he has successfully repressed the memory of his rape and murder.

              1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 24 November 2012 at 2:57 pm

                Fascinating point about the repression, Bert. I think we are good at protecting ourselves, and the mind can suppress memories of all sorts of traumatic events, whether as victim or perpetrator. On a more day-to-day level, I think we shape our own stories of ourselves all the time, playing up the memories that fit with our self-image and quietly discarding those that jar. Your example of the rape/murder case perfectly illustrates the point. Thanks for your thoughtful additions to the conversation.

                1. Bert 26 November 2012 at 9:25 am

                  You strike a very good point, Andrew, in remembering the events that fit in your self-image and discarding the others. Tony pictures himself as a decent guy, who fell sort of victim to a mysterious girl who wasn’t nice, honest and open to him. In the book there are many clues that this self-image was wrong, with the hard proof of the nasty letter he wrote to Andrew.

                  The sex with Sarah certainly didn’t fit in his image. Additionally, the memory of the sex wasn’t fed into a strong one: he didn’t speak about it and he didn’t keep a diary. Other events from the weekend were also important, like what Veronica intended to do with him and what the father and brother thought of him.

                  Of course it’s a piece of fiction. What we are searching for is the author’s intention, a rather forbidden area. A writer gets an idea for a novel: an article in a newspaper about memory loss or maybe a friend telling him he had completely forgotten once having sex with a certain lady. But we better put these considerations aside, they lower the debate…

                  1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 December 2012 at 12:41 pm

                    It’s interesting, Bert – as younger authors embrace the internet and start putting more of their thoughts online, maybe it’ll be easier to pinpoint authorial intention. We could look back over Julian Barnes’s tweets to find the one where he mentions his friend forgetting having sex with someone. Barnes seems more old-school, though – if he did tweet or blog, I don’t think it would be very revealing. His books are a kind of revelation, of course, but subtle and coded.

        3. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 19 November 2012 at 3:55 pm

          Hi Bert

          You’re welcome – and sorry for being a bit tardy this time! A busy week.

          I see what you mean now. “Boring a whole life time” – love it! You’re right, the book does become quite different, and in many ways more satisfying, if Tony is the father.

          This is definitely a good book to give as a present, and to talk about afterwards! Hope you and your friend have a good discussion.

  71. jemma 13 November 2012 at 12:13 am

    thank you thank you. I read the book, enjoyed the writing but found the story confusing. Memories of school/early years distorted by……a boring mundane life. I did not get the whole “you dont get it” from Veronica and am pleased to see it finally written before me.
    I certainly have questions on Tonys relationship with Veronica’s mother-was there one? this would support Berts theory of Adrian jr being Tonys- but what was the point of forgetting that little incident? Tony did say that Adrian jr looked like Adrian senior but is this just Tony getting ‘confused’ out his memories.
    This book has got under my skin.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 19 November 2012 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Jemma
      You’re welcome! Glad it was helpful. It’s certainly a possibility that Tony and Veronica’s mother had a relationship. I think the point would be that Tony repressed the memory out of shame. There are a lot of lines in the book about the unreliable nature of history and memory, and this supports the idea that the “ending” we are given is not the true one, but Tony’s distorted version of events. If this is true, then the clarity we are all looking for is simply not there and never can be. That’s why it gets under the skin!!

      1. Cheryl 20 November 2012 at 8:59 pm

        I wonder if Adrian is Veronica and Tony’s son, and Veronica’s mother ‘the Mother’ took main parental responsibility. Mary/Mummy.

        Veronica and Jack may not have been Sarah’s natural children hence Jack’s usage of ‘the Mother’.

        Adrian and Veronica may have fallen in love and agreed to bring up Tony’s child as their own – like Sarah had with her, but Tony and his vitriolic letter, which could also be seen as as self-prophesying (I hope that makes sense) proved too much for the relationship to bear.

        I think Adrian committed suicide before the baby was born and Veronica chose to name her son after him. I also think the red glass ring is in respect of her love for Adrian with the color also having a particular significance – that needs a bit more thought.

        Explains a lot methinks, and hopefully food for thought.

        Sorry if a bit garbled and typos, but it’s morning and I should have fallen asleep hours ago. Night.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 24 November 2012 at 3:02 pm

          Hi Cheryl

          Thanks for commenting – not garbled at all! It’s a very interesting thought. Several commenters have suggested that the child was Tony’s and Sarah’s, but I don’t think the possibility that it was Tony and Veronica’s has been brought up before. I can’t think of anything that contradicts your interpretation right now, so it’s certainly a possibility. I plan to reread the book soon, and will do so with your suggestion in mind. Thanks!

  72. cekigil 29 November 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    Lots of people are focusing on memory, not on the definition of history which, for me, is the core.

    “History is that certainity produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

    Here, we are still trying to produce certainity such as asking who the real parents are. To my opinion these are only traps Barnes wants us to fall into.

    Booker awarded book deserves more than this. Barnes’ definition of history answers all questions. There is imperfection of Tony’s memory (we all agreed) and there’s inadequancies of documentation (such as; only a paper of a diary OR no actual permission letter of Adrian – what if Adrian wanted permission of Tony for corroboration about relation with Sarah for whom Adrian just used ‘she/her’ in his letter and Tony projected it to be Veronica!-)

    In my opinion these are only possibilities and details, which we do not need to be sure of. Definition of history here comes to our simple lives with an unrest. Because there is great unrest 🙂

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 December 2012 at 12:43 pm

      I think you’re absolutely right, and that’s what makes it an interesting book. The impulse to find the “truth” is a strong one, though, which is why historians spend years looking for it even when it can’t really exist, and why we spend so long analysing a piece of fiction that proclaims its own resistance to certain diagnosis!

      1. Patrick Vance 16 December 2012 at 4:46 pm

        I think the best we can do is accept the ending is a mystery and subject to many interpretations, which I believe was intentional. I’m certain of one thing which is Barnes did not want or expect his readers to believe the conclusion offered by Tony Webster.

        I think there are too many clues that Tony is not a reliable historian. The conclusion that Adrian is the father is provided by Tony himself, who we know, “just doesn’t get it and will never get it.”

        One mistake commonly made by police investigators is that they propose a theory and then fit the facts to the theory. All Tony proposed was a theory that Adrian was the father based on little evidence. The evidence is that the social worker believes that Veronica is Adrian Jr.’s sister and Tony’s observation was that Adrian Jr. looked like Adrian. Hardly a blood test. Years ago I was in a Norht Carolina Courtroom waiting for my friend’s case to be called. Before my friend’s case was called, there was a paternity suit going on with the young mother attempting to prove that the defendant was the father by showing the judge a picture of the baby with the opinion it looked just like the defendant. His defense was the baby looked like his brother. Not much evidence that Tony, who never got things right, got the ending right either.

        I thought the clues were numerous that Tony’s conclusion could not be trusted. First, one of the themes of the book was that history was not trustworthy written with the lies of the victors or the delusions of the vanquished. I thought Webster was contantly jumping to probably untrue conclusions with no evidence at all. He decided that Veronica broke up with him when the remembered conversation seemed to indicate that she was afraid of rejection and was asking for a commitment wanting to know where the relationship was going. His response was, “Does it have to lead somewhere.” His response to Jack’s wink forty years later was that it was condescending. He interpreted her statement to her brother’ “He’ll do won’t he” as an insult meaning to him somehow that he was only good enough until she found someone better.

        I also thought there was some indication Margaret was still interested in him. Afterall she invited him to ask her on holiday. His response was he wouldn’t do it because she didn’t mean it. Then he thought that if she wanted to go on holiday with him, she would ask him, which she, of course, did. Also, she was interested in whether Tony was still in love with Veronica and when she decided he was, she told him he was on his own. We don’t know this, of course, because Tony himself doesn’t see it, but then he doesn’t get it and never will.

        I’ve read a few of the posts and some of the theories but not all. Afterall, there are 241 comments which I think is a compliment to how clever this ending really was. Here’s a theory, which may or may not have been proposed. My first thought was that Adrian Jr. was Tony’s son. That certainly would explain a lot of things, for example Veronica’s anger, which I agree is too much if the father was actually Adrian. However, what if the father is Tony.

        We’re thrown off a little bit because a condom was used. I just checked and according to Planned Parenthood, in practical use they are only 75 to 85 % reliable. Why have the full sex scene at all and why does Veronica want Tony to know she is going out with Adrian.

        My theory is that the full sex scene, although with condom, provides an opportunity for Veronica to become pregnant with Tony’s son. As others have proposed she actually was in love with Tony which is why she decided to have full sex with him. However, his reactions afterward destroyed any possibility he would be a husband and father. She takes up with Adrian instead, but doesn’t tell Adrian at first she is pregnant. She wants Tony to know because he is the father, so Adrian writes the letter. His reponse was the ugly, jealous and vengeful letter to Adrain, but sure to be shown to Veronica. Later Adrian finds out Veronica is pregnant with Tony’s sone and decides not to marry Veronica and be the father of Tony’s child. Adrian then commits suicide. Why – not critically important except to move the plot forward. Veronica is now an unmarried mother. The solution was to say the child was the mother’s (Sarah) child making Veronica a very conventional sister. The answer to all of these questions are, of course, in Adrian’s diary, which is why the mother wills the diary to Tony who will read the diary and learn that Adrian Jr. is his son. Why does she also give him 500 pounds. Because this is a very loose theory maybe the he is suppose to use the 500 pounds on behalf of his son. The answer how is in the diary.

        Not perfect, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the perfect ending. Certainly is has us wondering. Pat

        1. Patrick Vance 16 December 2012 at 5:21 pm

          First, sorry about all the typos.

          One more comment. My theory above is that Tony was the father and that Veronica’s baby was believed to be her brother with Sarah believed to be the mother. One thing about this theory is that it explains why this was never explained to Tony by Veronica and why she didn’t want him to have the diary. She wanted him to figure it out and hopefully feel terribly guilty, but what chance was there of that. “You don’t get it and you will never get it.” , However, she didn’t want to tell him, which would be an admission he was the father (with all the potential problems that might cause her and Adrian Jr.) and that she had concealed that fact from him.

  73. Danny 2 December 2012 at 4:18 pm

    As the reader is only privy to the thoughts and story told through the memory of Tony it follows that we naturally accept his ideas, interpretations and recollection of events as truth and our empathy is with his stance and standing. To that extent we automatically cast Veronica as being disagreeable and whose selfish and elusive behaviour serves to frustrate the good intentions of our storyteller. However, upon reviewing the facts presented to us I believe the correct interpretation is that Anthony is a self-deluded bore whose concept of remorse overreaches his sense of self importance and does not take into account that his impact on the events was so insignificant that the actual protagonists would barely have noticed him. The evidence for this is borne out from his acidic letter laced with vitriol but amounting to little more than bitter grapes from a jilted lover. Veronica was wise to ditch him and engage with the intellectually superior and charismatic Adrian. I would imagine the repeat phrase of “you just don’t get it” is a remark alluding to his simple minded nature and the immature impression that his letter would have any longer lasting impression is fanciful. 40 years have elapsed and he stills believe that a romance might be rekindled or else that the letter would have any impact or lead to Veronica blaming him for the disability of her brother. On this theme, we are led to believe that he doesn’t remember forming the letter or its content and yet he vividly remembers numerous instances of performing sexual acts upon himself. The author provides a clue for us very early when he surmises that to understand history you have to understand the historian. Our Historian takes delight in a long running, mundane correspondence with the local authorities regarding his tree, our Historian is such an inoffensive yet dull man that even his ex wife indulges his inane company and our Historian ends up gaining enjoyment from travelling to a completely different region to sit in solitude in a Pub whilst gaining some pleasure at his existence being noticed in the Newsagent. I believe the author leads us to believe that Anthony is an interesting character whose existence and actions led to the major incidents relayed in the book of which Anthony’s self-perception endorses this view but in reality the opposite is true. For a man whose first point of discussion with a stranger (the care worker) amounts to him defining what size a hand made chip should be and who acquiesces to being driven in a haphazard manner by an almost mute Veroncia whilst he whittles on with scattered thoughts of 40 years ago further emphasises the type of man we are seeing the story through. Anthony is also at pains to stress that he has a survival instinct and the ability for self preservation. There are no facts to support this and steady Eddie appears to have alienated and bored persons into submission. In his mind, he was a forward thinking precocious student full of sexual vitality but alas his delusions bear no truth and he would have been better advised to keep his hair by becoming an alcoholic. Having initially considered that Tony might have slept with Veronica’s Mother, a review of the facts would confirm this to be unlikely, in fact he would more likely have visited the sink basin again to deposit his affection for her. The story concerns memory, recollection and friendship and Tony’s are selective, scattered and superficial respectively and the real message is that even the simple man can afford themselves delusions of importance. The reference to startling young Adrian ‘especially now’ I take to infer that a man with his sensitivities having had the shock of his mother dying and its associated impact and impression would require a period of stability and the sudden appearance of a new person (clearly not a care worker) would be an additional burden and strain upon the young mans degree of normality. I still have no idea why the use of ‘Mary’ but then again why not? The author has purposefully left the story to have unanswered questions so there might not be any hidden inference to this aspect.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 December 2012 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Danny
      Thanks for your comment, and your dissection of Tony’s character! You do a great job of separating Tony’s reality from his self-perception, something I don’t think I was sufficiently clear about on my own first reading. Your explanation of the phrase “especially now” also makes sense. Thanks very much!

  74. Kevin 10 December 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for the concise explanation–makes a lot of sense! I’ve read some other explanations that, I believe, try to infer a more fantastic explanation (i.e., the baby was Tony and Sara’s; the baby was Tony and Veronica’s; Veronica in part 2 was actually Tony and Veronica’s daughter Mary; etc). These are entertaining, perhaps slightly plausible, discussions, but not I think the main point of the novel. It is more a musing on the limitations of our memory and self-perception. Tony’s letter seems to him to have acted as an almost supernatural curse, yet an inpartial observer (the reader) can see that although the letter was unkind and foolish, it surely couldn’t have been a curse. I agree with you in that the problem I had with this wonderful novel was the behavior of Veronica in part 2–I found her behavior to be important to the plot and the themes and therefore a bit contrived. No matter…it was a great reading experience and worthy of much thought and discussion!

  75. Roy 13 December 2012 at 10:18 am

    Hi, since I’m dutch, I would like to excuse my use of English in advance.

    I think that Veronica was very much in love with Tony. The reason for behaviour earlier on in the story, is caused by her family. I think either her (and Jack’s) mother isn’t her birth mother. This combined with an alcoholic father, leaves her as an assertive/defensive person whom is not only capable of speaking her mind but also someone who is inable to show emotional attachment very easily. This could also explain why her brother is the one that needs to give approval of Tony. Her father is not to be trusted, being the alcoholic that he is, and her mother is not her mother. She relies on Jack.

    Tony however, is insecure and socially inept person. He does not pick up on most things, turns sultry when things don’t go his way (the day the picture was taken), and even childish when faced with bigger obstacles (The tree incident, the emailing procedure)

    The relationship between Veronica and Tony, as he describes it, seems to me like a cloud of interpretations gone wrong. He projects his own insecurities onto her, essentially making her someone whom is always judging him and making him feel inept. When in fact, he is doing this himself.

    When he spent the weekend with her parents, I believe he did sleep with Sarah. Not because he wanted to perhaps, but to feel less bored. Or to stop feeling less adequate. I think Sarah seduced him, being in her pre-menopause state (as referenced by “the egg”, to me a clear sign that she’s thinking about her life and regretting not having children of her own. Feeling old, and less attractive. Later mentioned by Veronica that she took in lots of young lodgers, eventho she didn’t need the money) and Tony let it happen. He just repressed it.

    I believe that the reason Veronica was “withholding” full sex with Tony, is because she was very carefull about bringing children into a disfunctional family life, being the subject of one herself. This would also explain why she was so skilled and informed about the use of a condom. When eventually they do move a step further, which would have probably been a big deal for her, and lets Tony put his hand down her pants, it’s no longer enough for Tony. Having had a “real” sexual experience with her mother. Or he might possibly feel guilty. They then proceed to break up. After which Veronica ends up having sex with, in my eyes an attempt to get him back.

    She then proceeds to date Adrian. I believe she does this to make Tony jealous. She probably knows that Adrian is someone that Tony looks up to. Even encouraging Adrian to write a letter to Tony about it. Which she wouldn’t do if she had no feelings for him. What she doesn’t realise however, is that her being with Adrian is a concern that has been with Tony for quite a long time. That’s why he replies with such a hateful response. It’s confirmation to him that he will never be good enough.

    Adrian, being as smart as perceptive as he is, undoubtedly picks up on the fact that the woman he loves is still in love with someone else. I believe this is what might have sparked his affair with Sarah and resulted in a child being born.

    The reason for Adrian killing himself, I think, lies in his suicide note.

    “Life is a gift bestowed without anyone asking for it; that the thinking person has the philosophical duty to examine both the nature of life and the conditions it comes with; and that if this person decides to renounce the gift no one asks for, it is a moral and human duty to act on the consequences of that decision.”

    We are quick to think that “life” means his life. I believe it to be the life of his child, the baby. What would be best for the baby. He now has a baby with the mother of the woman he loves, yet who doesn’t love him but Tony. He tries to relate all this in mathematical terms (as they did with Robson’s suicide) to determine what path would be best for the baby, to see what links would form the best possible outcome. At which he fails. I think his suicide comes from the fact that he can’t find a solution. Which is troubling for someone of his intellect. (Tony’s mother even hints at this)

    Tony then goes on to have a boring life. Awakened only by his past. The reason why Veronica is so cross with him, is not only because she still loves him, but because she blames him for depriving her of the boring life she wish she could have had with him. Now her life consisted (I assume) of a suicide close to her, an undoubtedly having to care for her disabled “brother” as her mom doesn’t seem like a stable person who would, Adrian is dead, and her brother is off somewhere. The boy had no-one else, and coming from a broken home, she felt responsible. Her life and all her expectations were taken away, because Tony failed to see the connection between them. A connection he later does recognise, as he starts to place her in fond memories he carries (the overturning tide). Something Veronica doesn’t remember at all.

    I think Tony indirectly does blame himself for Adrian’s suicide, and the other events that occurred, but has repressed the way that he is “responsible”. If he hadn’t slept with Veronica’s mother, he might not have felt guilty or bored, which means that Veronica and Adrian wouldn’t have hooked up, which leads to Adrian probably never meeting her mother, which results in no disabled baby being born and no dead Adrian.

    But then again, who is responsible for a chain of events is something that occurs in the first pages of the book. That’s why we probably didn’t get to hear Veronica’s side of the story. She wants to assign somebody responsible for her life turning out the way it has (and thus blames Tony that he “never gets it”) But in the end, everyone in the chain of events has their part to play. (As described in Adrian’s diary)

    1. Gillyanne 10 January 2013 at 4:13 pm

      I also wonder whether Sarah herself was very jealous of the young Veronica and played a nasty ploy of denegrating her daughter to Tony. I mean telling a boyfriend that his girlfriend is damaged is an envious nasty thing to do.

  76. Sahil 23 December 2012 at 3:31 pm

    After reading a book, we all want to get something out of it. Maybe a moral, learning or the fun we had while we were at it. After “The Sense of an Ending”, what I get is not the story that was created in the last few pages but the way he explained the concept of memories and how a sense of ending to your life makes you look back. The psychological points explained and detailed are philosophically self-evident and remain the core of the book. Cherish those and register some learning from this to apply to our own lives.

    As for the case of The Ending, please read the equations that Adrian1 wrote of relationship. It clearly explains that baby was conceived by a1 and s in the absence of v. Then he questions the role of a2 and v in the baby. So there’s a lot in those questions.

    All in all, this was a fantastic read and worthy of a Booker!

    1. Gillyanne 22 January 2013 at 3:48 pm


      I admire your certainty. Interpretation is always coloured by timescale. The re writing of history is common place. I like that
      inevitable fact being brought out by this novel.

  77. Barbara 27 December 2012 at 6:40 am

    I think the book is all about the first discussion, about the nature of history and how it is a mixture of inaccurate memory and poor decscription plus the bias of personal perspective.This is played out in the plot by Tony constructing the history of Adrian and Veronicas based on his own constructed history biased by his feelings of being humilated by Veronica and feeling inferior to Adrian. His history is completely wrong.
    The inevitable innaccuracy of history is demonstrated at the start by the various truths about the reason for Robson’s death.How can so many truths be dreamed up as history so close to the event . With time they become entrenched
    Later when Adrian committs suicide there is much discussion about the philosophy of responsibility and his rejection of the gift of life as a positive choice but for me history should choose that he was frightened of the pram in the hall ; the same as Robson.
    That Veronica’s mother should have been sufficiently in tune with Adrian to have had a relationship with him may be because she is portrayed as being set apart from her family just by the way she tosses the egg into the bin. There was something telling about that and the rest of the family are portrayed as trite and cliched . Plus she is older and has had time to reflect on the history of her life which may have brought her closer an understanding Adrian who is similarly thoughtful about life.
    Veronica seems not to fit but many mothers have offspring with whom they are out of tune .
    Her impatience with Tony may be because having to care for a disabled brother keeps you shatply in the real world of practicality ie the pram in the hall and where philosophical vageries are not useful and annoying.

  78. MarkS 27 December 2012 at 5:54 pm

    The big mystery to me, what I “don’t get”, is why anyone thinks this book is any good at all. It’s filled with banalities about history and memory (they’re not always reliable: doh!) that I had to force myself to read word by word. The main characters all behave so enigmatically that it’s impossible to tell if they’re really just “fruitcakes” (how one character describes another), or if the narrator has just screwed up the story so badly that they merely come off that way. At first I thought I must have missed something obvious, and so googled “Sense of an Ending explained”. Andrew’s straightforward explanation of the “facts” revealed at the end seems the most likely to me, but now that I know that everyone thinks the ending is enigmatic, I just don’t care to spend any more time trying to decipher it. (But thanks to Andrew for the space to vent!)

    If you like unreliable narrators and stories about the meaning of memory, try Gene Wolfe’s “Fifth Head of Cerberus”. Vastly superior in every way.

  79. MItch 29 December 2012 at 12:16 am

    I picked up on something that maybe I’m just imagining, but, this is how I saw it. Veronica dated Tony specifically to bring him home for her mother. In other words, she was procuring for her mother. Think about it. Veronica says to Jack “He will do, don’t you think” and Jack smiles and winks at Tony. Is Jack assuming Tony knows why he is there? Maybe it was previously Jack’s job to procure for his mother by bringing his friends home but now that he’s in his last year of college, the job has fallen to Veronica. Veronica gets Tony all worked up the night before and then makes sure to get her father and brother out of the house so that Tony and her mother can be alone. Why does she do this? Mrs. Ford seems oddly focused on the broken egg. Is she nervous and unsure how to seduce him? And then the odd wave she gave him as he was leaving. What was she saying to him? Veronica teases Tony but never has sex with him. Only after they break up, when she is certain he will not see her mother again, does Veronica have sex with Tony.

    If Tony is an unreliable narrator, did he have sex with Mrs. Ford and he’s leaving that out. Is that the reason for the “blood money?” He mentions several times that he and Suzie “get on well” but towards the end he reveals that his relationship with his daughter is strained. So he was telling us he was capable of lying, even to himself. Is he lying about his relationship with Veronica’s mother? Is that why she keeps saying he still doesn’t get it and never will? Maybe he didn’t understand why she brought him home. Even if he did have sex with her mother, did he not understand she was trying to get pregnant?

    So that brings us to Adrian’s suicide. Why would he kill himself just because he got Mrs. Ford pregnant? She’s already married, she could easily say her husband got her pregnant. He would have no responsibility. And when the baby was born autistic (I’m assuming he was autistic) they probably wouldn’t have known that until the boy was older and by that time Adrian was already dead. So did Adrian commit suicide because he fell in love with Mrs. Ford but came to realize she used him as nothing more than a sperm donor, and after she got pregnant she had no more need for him in her life? He was happy the last few months of his life, she said. Until he killed himself, he was happy.

    I know I’m reading into this tremendously, but this is what I came away with. Please feel free to punch holes in my theory so I can stop turning this over in my mind.

    1. Gillyanne 10 January 2013 at 4:05 pm

      Perhaps the reason for the blood money is that Sarah thanks Tony for telling Adrian to check up with Veronica’s mom

  80. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 1 January 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks for the new comments, and apologies for not replying recently. I’ve been moving house and haven’t been able to keep up with everything. Some good new theories there, and I appreciate all the comments and suggestions. Mitch, I think yours makes sense, and I can’t poke holes in it! MarkS, sorry you didn’t like it, but glad this space to vent was satisfying! Barbara and Sahil, you’re right to focus on the unreliability of history as the main theme, and for me too this was the most satisfying part of the book. Roy, thanks so much for giving such a detailed interpretation – you raise some excellent points, and you certainly didn’t need to excuse your use of English! Sorry I didn’t get to your comment earlier, to reply in more detail. Kevin, sounds as if your reading of the book was about the same as mine, which is reassuring. I’ve been feeling sometimes as if I don’t get it either!

  81. Contrarah 7 January 2013 at 11:54 am

    Tony is the father of one of Sarah’s boys. Why does nobody else see this? It drives me mad. To you all i say “You just don’t get it do you?!” I think that she has done this numerous times (see quotes from her husband) and those children are all the boys living in the home together. Otherwise why does he get paid ‘blood money’?

    Tony has manipulated his whole memory of that weekend when he blatantly had sex with his girlfriend’s mother. That is the revelation, that Tony has completely wiped from his memory. It accords with his whole attitude throughout the book, especially in part 2.

    1. Gillyanne 10 January 2013 at 4:02 pm

      oh Wow, I just thought what if all those 5 boys are the produce of Veronica and her father?

      1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 14 January 2013 at 3:07 pm

        Thanks for the comments! Sorry, Contrarah, but I still don’t see how ‘blood money’ makes sense even if that’s true. I guess it’s possible that all the boys in the home are Sarah’s, but it doesn’t strike me as likely. And to be honest the idea of all 5 of them being Veronica and her father’s is even more unlikely!

        As ever, though, could just be me not getting it!

  82. Vivian Henoch 8 January 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Okay, now I’m intrigued. I haven’t read all the comments, but most of them and nowhere do I see a really convincing motive for Adrian’s suicide. The book spins – I think – on the reader’s very inability to clear up the ending. That to me is the point.

    Why the title? A sense of ending.

    We have only a sense of ending in this story, because we can never know it. We can never really know how people end. Like Tony, we are in a sense all unreliable narrators.

    The story unfolds like a mystery. We are given hints, red herrings, and red flags, but ultimately are left guessing. Whose story is it? Really. Ostensibly it’s Tony Webster’s story, a recollection of boyhood friendships and a disturbing relationship with a young women in college, and a troubling encounter with her family during a weekend visit. The author craftily leads us down the path of a failed romance – dotted with seemingly random and trivial incidents.

    There are two suicides. Both rationalized in offhand ways. Both come back to haunt.

    What’s a peaceful life? What’s life not fully lived?

    What is Tony not telling us. . . or not telling himself. Why does Adrian kill himself.

    There’s are letters exchanged – words misremembered or dismissed as childishly vengeful.
    There are scenes that repeat, convolute and collapse in on themselves.

    The question is : what is the nature of love, what is remembered, what is repressed.
    Is Tony in love with Veronica. Or is Tony really in love with Adrian ? Is the story about repressed homosexuality – or repressed heterosexuality?

    Is Adrian really the father of the young man? Or is Tony.
    Whose “damaged” baby is born ? Sarah’s and Tony’s? Sarah’s and Adrian’s. Veronica’s and A1 or A2, she honestly doesn’t know? Veronica’s and Jack’s??? Who’s covering for whom.

    Just a thought here: what Tony doesn’t ever get. . . or want to reveal… is that he’s gay. The scene in the kitchen is a repressed sexual encounter with Sarah… only remembered as a broken egg and sizzling pan tossed casually into the sink. It’s Sarah who identifies the “truth.” Recall the the words in the cut-off page of Adrian’s diary, the diary Sarah leaves to Tony … If only Tony… were, what…we are left to wonder and imagine.

    The author’s theme is time: as it passes and conceals the truths – the stories of our lives, punctuated and transformed by those moments of strange, unexpected reversals, surprises, never ending.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 14 January 2013 at 3:10 pm

      I like that idea, Vivian, that we can only get the sense of an ending. In life, as you say, there are no real endings – time just flows on and covers over the tracks. I also wondered about Tony being gay. He certainly seems to worship Adrian more than any of the female characters. Very interesting comment, thank you!

  83. Gillyanne 10 January 2013 at 3:59 pm


    Do we believe that Adrian1 and Veronica married or cohabitated for any length of time.? That question being answered, how does it happen that Adrian1 went to live with Sarah before she died and before he went on to his suicide? We do not get a sense of timescale of the two incidents taking place. Did Adrian1 commit suicide after Sarah died?

    I do like the book it is fascinating and leads me to rethink many aspects. Tony seems to be very extreme egotistical. His annoyance with Veronica in the beginning discusses his impatience for her to give herself to him. When they have faced they are over, she relents and does the full thing, and he still does not react. I imagine that Veronica expected some further commitment from Tony after her giving him the full experience he desires. Tony does comment on how he enjoyed the early days of his relationship with her when he was kept in that imagining/fantsasy phase of their relationship.

    His rewriting of his history from his egotistical memory allows him to paint a picture where his only fault was the spat of his awful letter to A&V. Clearly he is at fault when he did not commit to V after her commitment to him. He took and she gave. He takes no responsibility for his selfish yearnings.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 14 January 2013 at 3:13 pm

      Hi Gillyanne

      You’re right, the timescales are hard to judge. I think, though, that Adrian1 dies long before Sarah – her death is quite recent, which is what prompts the giving of the diary and the re-examination of things that happened a long time earlier. Thanks for adding your thoughts on Tony and Veronica! Glad you found the book fascinating.

  84. J. Robert Lennon 11 January 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Thanks for this post, and thanks especially to Jack for his comment of 3 October. I think both the original post and Jack’s comment explain just about everything, but I thought I’d add a few small thoughts.

    I think this is a terrific book, but Barnes both overplays and underplays the mystery: overplays it in the sense that his pointed clues make us think there’s still more than we’re missing and need to “get”; and underplays because the handful of small details we really can “get” (the “horizontal gesture,” etc) are extraordinarily subtle. Given the amount of thinking we need to do for them, they’re rather insignificant.

    I do think that Veronica’s wild anger is justified. Her mother is a narcissist and quite crazy (she is, in fact, coming on to Tony in the kitchen, and he doesn’t realize it), her father is probably a sexual abuser (given Veronica’s experienced sexual performance once she and Tony have broken up), and she is in love with Tony, who is her hope for getting out of the hell of her family. But she doesn’t know what love really is, doesn’t know how to express it, can’t tell Tony the truth. And she can only sleep with him once she no longer love him. He misintereprets her coldness as meanness, not hurt, and he does inestimable damage with his letter as a result.

    Ultimately, he overestimates the strength of Adrian and Veronica and underestimates his own. But I still don’t understand the red glass ring.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 14 January 2013 at 3:16 pm

      Thanks – glad you found the post and the comments helpful. I agree with your way of putting it, both overplaying and underplaying the mystery. I think this is where a lot of these 265 comments have come from – people are led to expect more, and keep searching for the ‘secret’ to the ending.

      Your analysis of Veronica is to me the most convincing so far, and makes me more compassionate towards her than I was in my original post.

  85. Lucy Thorpe 12 January 2013 at 9:05 am

    I think you could discuss the ending for ever. For me the whole point is not to understand the ending but to appreciate that you will only ever get “the sense of an ending”. As one review pointed out the clue comes in the quote made by Adrian to his school teacher “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” All we know is that something happened. At the end of the book you can’t say more than that.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 14 January 2013 at 3:20 pm

      I do agree, Lucy, that we can only get the sense of an ending, and I think you’re right about Barnes’s motivation. The thing is, though, that as J Robert Lennon points out above, when an author creates so many clues, readers tend to expect them to be resolved in some way. I think that’s why there’s been so much interest in this post and so much debate in the comments, even though you’re right, we can’t know much about what really happened.

  86. Rachel 13 January 2013 at 2:46 pm

    It’s been really interesting to read all the posts here. I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and it annoyed me slightly and frustrated me greatly that I didn’t fully understand what had happened. My sister is a big Julian Barnes fan and I asked her if she’d read it and whether she’d understood the ending. Her response was that she’d read it a while ago and thought she remembered not liking it, but would re-read it again now. I look forward to that debate …

    I agree with those who’ve already commented that the references to history /”… imperfections of memory … inadequacies of documentation …” right at the start of the book are the biggest clues to the reader not to believe Tony’s eventual interpretation of events. Not only that, but I also agree it’s a big stretch to imply that Tony should feel responsible for Adrian (in his interpretation) sleeping with Veronica’s mother and his subsequent suicide / fathering of a child. Advising him to consult the mother was all he did – Adrian was an individual who had responsibility for his own actions – Tony can hardly be blamed. That just didn’t make sense to me.

    I’m more convinced by the theories that Tony is in fact the father, which would explain Veronica’s anger, her determination to bring him face-to-face with his own son, and her repeated insistence that he just “didn’t get it”. That said, however, I also think it’s a stretch to imply that Tony did not remember sleeping with Sarah – surely once he’d arrived at the conclusion that Adrian had done so, wouldn’t this have jogged his own (repressed) memory of events, or can people really be that self-delusional in their determination not to face up to ugly truths?
    The clues are certainly there to point to this as the more logical conclusion – their time alone together, the broken egg, his sexual frustration, her odd wave (the “horizontal gesture”), the reference to “blood money”.
    Perhaps Julian Barnes hadn’t quite decided himself how to satisfactorily end the book – hence the title. Perhaps we’ll never know. Perhaps someone should ask him?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 14 January 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Hey, there’s a good idea, Rachel (about asking him)! Novelists tend to be reticent about talking about their endings, though, at least when there are still new readers to be found. Might be a while before he opens up!

  87. Melody 13 January 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I also came to the conclusion that Anthony had a repressed memory (a theme this book largely reposes on) of an affair with Sarah. But in my theory, Adrian also had an affair with Sarah.
    The child Adrian jr was produced from the affair Tony had with Sarah, but Adrian thought it was from his own affair with Sarah (which is what stemmed his suicide).

    This is only my own attempt at deciphering the ending of the book, and I do realize I probably left a lot of loose ends hanging.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 14 January 2013 at 3:28 pm

      Hi Melody
      That’s certainly a possibility, and would make Tony much more culpable than he is if we believe the straight version of events. Good idea!

  88. Ezequiel 14 January 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Hello everybody,

    There is something that I don’t understand in the sequence and the way Tony narrates the facts. Where is he speaking from? Because nothing suggest that Tony’s narration is a diary. I mean that narrative doesn’t progress in “real time” but, on the contrary, it is a flashback: when he starts narrating he already knows the ending. Then, we should assume that when Tony spoke or wrote his story, he already had all the information (the content of his own letter, the existence of Adrian’s son, all his memories, all the things he had remembered, even his conclusions and reflections).

    So, how is it that when he first mentions the letter he doesn’t tell us its content? Because I can understand that he had forgotten it but I think that at the time of narrating this subject has already remembered. Then he should tell us.

    Same reflection for the last pages when he first sees Andrew’s son and affirms “Then I understood” when he really doesn’t, at least when he narrates he knows that at that time he didn’t understand. Considering that he is narrating past events from the present time and that he already knows the truth at the time of writing then he should have said “Then I thought I understood” or something like that. In my opinion his affirmation misleads the reader. The narrator cheats: he makes us believe something that is not true just to lead us to a spectacular ending.

    I’ve really loved this novel when I first read it. May be during my first reading I read it as if it were a diary and I assumed or believed that the narrator was discovering the facts of the past and the same time as me. But now I’m re-reading the novel (and arriving again to the end) and I feel a little bit uncomfortable about the construction. I think that all these pitfalls would be solved presenting the novel as a diary and not as a flashback.

    Do you understand what I am trying to say? Does anyone agree?

    1. Ezequiel 14 January 2013 at 1:58 pm

      I meant Adrian not Andrew.

    2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 14 January 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Hi Ezequiel

      I understand exactly what you’re trying to say. It’s always a problem with first-person narrators. If they’re telling it to you at the end, they already know everything, but the novelist of course doesn’t want to reveal it all at the beginning! Sometimes it sounds strange, though, if the narrator says things like “That’s what I thought then” or “Now I understand more” too often. It sounds a bit as if the novelist is trying too hard to build up dramatic tension. So I suppose Barnes decided to have Tony tell the story as he discovered it, even though you’re right that logically it doesn’t make sense in a few places. Well spotted! Thanks for the comment.

  89. Pingback: The (Non)Sense of an Ending | Tales from the Reading Room

  90. Josse Pietersma 19 January 2013 at 5:21 pm

    About Tony feeling responsible: This discussion is actually started in Old Joe Hunt’s history class. Adrian then states that neither individuals nor anonymous processes can be blamed for starting the First World War: ‘It seems to me that there is -was- a chain of individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary, but not so long a chain that everybody can simply blame everyone else.’
    In the end of the story Tony regards himself guilty in the same way as the Serbian gunman who’s name he doesn’t remember -Gavrilo Princip- is held responsible for starting WWI.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 21 January 2013 at 5:44 pm

      Hi Josse

      That’s a good way of looking at it. To be honest I never really agreed with Princip being held responsible for WWI either, but that’s probably a separate discussion! I do take the point about a chain of responsibilities, but I think we also have to look at the relative weights of each link in the chain, and the intentions of each actor, and what they could reasonably have expected to be the result. I don’t think Princip could ever have imagined that his actions would cause the death of tens of millions of people, and nor could Tony have imagined that his letter would cause the death of his friend, so I find it hard to hold them to account.

  91. JenniferD. 21 January 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks for this sequel (?) to your initial review, Andrew. Though I wasn’t one of the readers who was confused by the ending (though I did feel like, “Wow, we got strung along for that?”) I struggled with Veronica’s part in the story and her hostility. I am fine in not having things spelled out for me when reading, but this aspect of the story was, as you note, lacking in credibility and having more detail on why would have been great.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 21 January 2013 at 5:47 pm

      Hi Jennifer

      Thanks for commenting! Sounds as if your response was similar to mine. There have been some good explanations of Veronica’s hostility in the comments, but it is still not entirely credible for me.

  92. Hugh 22 January 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Okay. I’ve now read this twice. At the end of my first reading, I assumed a trick had been played on me that I’d enjoy being on the inside of for my second read. Not exactly.

    I feel it’s a bit of a waste of a “novel” to spend so much time thinking about the facts presented (although I’ve enjoyed reading the efforts on this blog.) Aren’t the best books ones where we recognize themes or enjoy creative conceits and plot devices that are clever without being too self conscious? How disappointing for Barnes that no one is “appreciating” this book because we’re all so darned convinced it’s really some banal sudoku where we get the satisfaction of understanding the family tree of the five main characters? (But, but there are equations!)

    So can we discuss the conceits/images/themes? Everyone gets “memory/history is unreliable” for free.

    My favorite was the boyhood watches turned in toward the wrist concealing time, or making it a “personal time” keeper. Then, that’s the same wrist that was made shiny by Veronica’s dry humping of Tony’s passive arm, prepared by his rolling up his sleeve and removing his watch. Hmm, and the tub of cold water left with Adrian dead for a day and a half. How’d he kill himself? Slit wrists. So yes, the pulse at our wrists in the tick tock of our own life’s clock. But why would Veronica need to hump it?

    I’ll read this Novella another time or two just in case it’s going to crystalize (take that “deliquescence”). But, if all of these hints don’t materialize at some point, I’m going to decide this the the “Man Booker’s New Clothes” with everyone just pretending they know what’s going on. Sure, life is a complicated story that doesn’t always add up and sometimes we’re mistaken or confused about our perception of it, but the same really shouldn’t be true about novels.

    BTW, Andrew, our intrepid guide have found your copy yet?!

    1. Hugh 22 January 2013 at 11:03 pm

      Sorry, I left out a word and punctuation when I was being cheeky toward Andrew, but I bet this crowd can fill in the gap. :winky emoticon:

    2. Hugh 22 January 2013 at 11:22 pm

      Also, I looked up the “Sense of an Ending” creative writing text of the same title. It refers to the narrative drive. Readers are engaged by the sense that an ending is coming. I think the title is certainly a conceit around that, but perhaps is a comment on what drives us in our own personal narratives in life.

      Perhaps the joke/point is that there isn’t actually an ending that’s satisfactory in life. Our need for one is what drives us to organize our memories, imperfect though they are toward some meaningful finality. The novel seeks to point this out through it’s classroom discussions about history and it’s ending that disallows us to bring it to a conclusion that makes sense.

      Perhaps in this case art imitates life so closely that truth and fiction are equally strange.

      1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 28 January 2013 at 4:36 pm

        Yes, your analysis of the creative writing text makes sense, Hugh – must be Barnes’s comment about our need for an ending, and he deliberately frustrates us. As all these comments show, the need is very much there. Normally I only get about 10 to 20 comments per post, and here we are at 285+! The narrative drive is a powerful one.

        Oh, and yes, we are definitely well practised at filling in gaps 😉

    3. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 28 January 2013 at 6:20 am

      Hi Hugh
      Thanks for the comment – I love the point about the watches. I thought that was an interesting image, but hadn’t made the connection with the dry humping and the slit wrists. I’m with you – can see the connection with the slit wrists, but not so much with the humping. Maybe sex as a way of fighting against time? The only two ways of fighting the tick tock of your own clock – have kids to perpetuate yourself in a new generation, or kill yourself… OK, I’m reaching here 🙂

      No, I haven’t found my copy. My books are all in boxes and I haven’t unpacked them all yet. Am still waiting to settle down into a nice place with a big wall just waiting for my massive floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to be installed. But it might be a long wait…

  93. Gillian 23 January 2013 at 6:26 pm

    This book felt like a tragedy at first – how Tony could not sustain any attachments and eventually gave up on all the love that was available to him all his life from teenage friends to lovers to his wife and even his grandchildren, and was left lonely and grasping with fragmented memories. But Barnes is charging us with doing the opposite – living and loving to the fullest and creating beautiful memories – that is the wonder of this book.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 28 January 2013 at 4:38 pm

      Hi Gillian
      Very interesting point. I hadn’t really thought of it that way myself, but that’s often the effect of tragedies, isn’t it – to make us more determined to avoid the same fate. Tony’s life certainly does inspire me to do everything I can to do the opposite! Thanks for the comment.

  94. Enid P. 25 January 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Hi. I first read “Sense of an Ending” a year ago and more naively than most, probably took Tony too much at his word, puzzled a bit, and promptly forgot all about it. Now I’ve just reread it and what I saw was an entirely different book, one I shan’t forget. Hope this isn’t too far out but when I reread the following from page 1, it rang a huge bell and I reached for my old Bartlett’s Quotations and it seemed to be a bit more than a coincidence.

    Barnes: “It takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down.”

    Proust: “The time we have at our disposal every day is elastic, the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it.”

    I thought maybe Barnes was giving us a clue he was going to up the ante. They both heard the tick tock of time but unlike Proust who captured every nuance until you thought you knew people down to their bones, Barnes set out to transcend him, convincing us that history, relationships, and people are in the most profound sense simply unknowable. At least that’s how it seemed to me.

    1. Hugh 25 January 2013 at 9:58 pm

      Great insight, Enid! Tony is the anti-Proust. Or is Barnes who is the anti-Proust?

    2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 28 January 2013 at 4:41 pm

      I agree with Hugh – wonderful insight, Enid! As I mentioned in my email to you, this is not a link I’d seen myself, but now that you mention it, it makes perfect sense. The malleability of time is a key theme in both Barnes and Proust, but what they do with it is very different. Thanks for commenting and making such an excellent point.

  95. Karen 27 January 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for the forum and your careful responses to the posts. I have just finished reading them in preparation for my book clubs discussion of The Sense of an Ending this evening. Like the previous responders I was bewildered and confused by the ending but have become a little clearer as a result of reading everyone’s interpretations. I tend to agree most with the interpretation advanced by P Vance on 12/16/12, i.e.., that Tony is the father. However I think that the readers inability to know with absolute certainty the paternity of Adrian is symbolic of our inability to be able to be sure of the events of history. No one has mentioned a connection from parts 1 and 2 that I suspect is highly significant. The last sentence of the book “There is great unrest” harkens back to an early episode in Old Joe Hunt’s history class wherein he asks Marshall [” a cautious know- nothing who lacked the inventiveness of true ignorance”] to describe Henry the Eighths reign. Marshall answers “There was unrest, sir” and when asked to elaborate added “I’d say there was great unrest, sir”. I think that Barnes is too proficient a novelist for this to be happenstance. What is the meaning of this connection? I’d appreciate comments on this point. Thanks again.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 28 January 2013 at 4:47 pm

      Hi Karen

      I’m glad you found the forum helpful, and hope you enjoy your book club discussion! I agree that the last line is definitely not happenstance – Barnes is referring back to the school discussion you mention. My take on it is that it reinforces the unknowability of history, whether personal or national. Think of all the events of Henry VIII’s reign, all the wars and political manoeuvrings and deaths and crises – and it all gets reduced to some know-nothing schoolboy saying there was “great unrest”. The same happens with Tony’s life and those of the other main characters – ultimately the details are lost in time, and all we can really be certain of is the vague platitude he concludes with.

      That’s going from memory, which is getting hazier by the comment, but hope it helps! Anyone else have a fresher opinion?

    2. bebe 30 January 2013 at 6:02 pm

      I took the title “The Sense of an Ending” to be about trying to make sense of the ending of a life, trying to understand the “how and the why” of a “flower cut down in the blossom of youth.”

      Karen makes a great connection between the “unrest” mentioned back in history class and then again in the last lines of the book. In introducing Adrian to the story, the narrator tells us that all the boys in history class were “absolutists” looking to “ascribe responsibility.” It is (new kid) Adrian who says that ascribing responsibility is “a kind of cop-out. We want to blame an individual so that everyone else is exculpated. Or we blame a historical process as a way of exonerating individuals.”

      The book ends: “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.” Tony is trying to make sense of the end of Adrian’s life and who holds responsibility for the whole chain of events.

      1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 February 2013 at 4:45 pm

        Hi bebe
        That’s a good way of looking at the title. Your comment on the history class made me think about a book I read recently called What is History? by EH Carr. In it he makes the point that causes in history are very complex, and can’t be reduced either to one individual’s fault or to “vast, impersonal forces”. So it seems that Adrian’s (and perhaps Barnes’s) binary opposition is false – the truth of history lies somewhere in the middle, in assigning responsibility to lots of different people and lots of different causes. Nobody takes all the blame, but nobody is exculpated either. The chain of events in this book makes more sense to me when viewed in this light.

  96. Joachim 3 February 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Having just finished the book (I liked it a lot) and browsed some of the remarks here, I am amazed at the number of people who want to find out what really happened – who is the father, why is V angry, etc. This reminds me very much of the debate in Sweden fifteen years ago on Håkan Nesser’s novel “Kim Novak badade aldrig i Genesarets sjö”. The plot has some similarities: it describes growing up in the sixties (in a small Swedish town) recollected by the narrator as he remembers it, and there is a mystery (a murder) where at the end we learn the culprit is either the narrator himself or his best friend. We are left wondering who. The considerable energy people spent on discussing this is a tribute to Nesser’s and Barnes’ writing. The question of what really happened is of course meaningless: there is no reality involved here, these are works of fiction.

    The speculations do not tell us much about the story, they tell us how different readers perceive it, and thus more about the readers. S’s gesture at waist level a sexual allusion? To me it just meant “drop it”.

    My vote on the baby? If T is dishonest or blocked enough to omit a sexual relation with S, then what else must we question in the narrative? There is a limit to how unreliable a narrator can be until the concept of a plot collapses. I had no problem with T’s perception of the ending, though I was perplexed enough to scan the book and the web to check if I had missed something. No doubt that was Barnes’ intention. I don’t hold it against him. In contrast I think Nesser overplayed it when he after a while publicly announced that he knows who is the murderer in his book, but still won’t tell. That is just a silly PR trick.

    1. Catherine 5 February 2013 at 6:20 am

      Hi, I have just finished The Sense of an Ending and like many correspondents could not make out quite what was happening, so turned to this forum. I can see the very varied interpretations that people put forward, which helps, but I am still completely puzzled by the negative description of Veronica, particularly in the second half of the book. What is it that she has done that is so ‘superior’ and damaging to Tony? Why does Sarah warn Tony against her? (And why is Jack equally condemned? After all Tony only met him once and his only crime seems to have been to wink at Tony!)

      1. JD 5 February 2013 at 5:39 pm

        I, too, just finished the book and was as confused as most. However, after reading the various interpretations (all of which I could not have come up with myself, so thank you all) I have to believe that A2 is Adrian and Sarah’s child. For the child to be Tony’s, the whole of the book would be rendered meaningless; memory, past, remorse. Barnes does not mock his readers in that way. I believe it was in character for Adrian to take Tony’s advice to seek out Sarah’s opinion on her daughter and, subsequently, they began a relationship. Sarah, by Tony’s description, was the only Ford who wasn’t common, Looking back, she was an exceptional woman married to a 40’s lifestyle witnessing the 60’s. Basically, she was in heat. Her admonition to Tony was far enough out of the bounds of decent conversation in those days to be considered intimate and flirting. I believe Adrian, not possessing the self-doubt of Tony, had his fun. Two things: 1) I do not know why Adrian committed suicide. 2) Veronica/Mary needs no explanation. I trust Tony’s memories on this. She was simply an unlikeable girl/woman. Entitled but untitled. But it is no wonder she burned the diary. What woman wouldn’t burn the diary of man who chose her mother over him? All in all, a fantastic read with a few paragraphs of literary joy.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 February 2013 at 4:54 pm

          Hi JD, thanks for your perspective. I agree re A2 being Adrian and Sarah’s child. It seems too big a leap to believe he’s Tony’s. But it is interesting to read all the different interpretations, isn’t it?

      2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 February 2013 at 4:51 pm

        Hi Catherine
        Good points. I wonder if Tony is associating Veronica and Jack with his own misery and failures at that time of his life. He was awkward, sexually inept, and failed in his relationship with Veronica, so since he doesn’t seem to be a character who looks at himself very honestly, perhaps the easiest solution would be to lay the blame on Veronica and Jack?

    2. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 February 2013 at 4:48 pm

      Hi Joachim

      I didn’t know about that debate in Sweden, but it does sound very similar. In the end, as you say, it’s all fiction anyway, but there still does seem to be a need to discover the “truth”. As you say, a tribute to the skill of the novelist in making us believe there is a reality.

      I like your point “There is a limit to how unreliable a narrator can be until the concept of a plot collapses.” I think that’s the problem with some of the interpretations here – if you accept such vast lies and/or suppressions, then anything at all could have happened.

  97. Tanya Clift 8 February 2013 at 5:08 am

    I’m so glad I read this review! I got to the end of this brilliant book not fully understanding the ending at first, simply because it was so transparent. I thought it was almost too obvious that they had had an affair and had to re-read it several times. Glad I’m not going mad!

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 9 February 2013 at 4:23 pm

      Hi Tanya, I’m glad you liked the review, and also glad you’re not going mad 😉

  98. Christophe 23 February 2013 at 5:09 am

    Hi Andrew

    I just finished the book. It has recently been published in France. The “perfect” novel doesn’t exist. Even Great Expectations contains one or two chapters that do not seem “indispensable”. But perfection has nothing to do with genius or with art in general.
    Like you I was a bit disappointed with the ending of The Sense of an Ending. However, I consider it a classic. Of course, only time decides whether a book (or a movie, or a record) becomes a classic. But time is on Julian Barnes’ side. Yes it is.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 24 February 2013 at 9:19 am

      Hi Christophe
      Good point. Plenty of classics have disappointing or extraneous elements. I think major prizes like the Booker create huge expectations for a book, which are quite unrealistic.

  99. Amy 28 February 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I agree with you that it is a bit of a stretch to see Tony as FULLY responsible for Adrain’s suicide, but the reasoning below is a bit off I think.

    “I have to say, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to see Tony as responsible for Adrian’s death. It’s true that if Tony hadn’t written the letter, perhaps Adrian would not have killed himself. But a man who accidentally runs over a child as he’s driving to work could just as easily say, “If only I’d left home a few minutes earlier, I never would have hit her.” Is he responsible, then, because he left home at that particular time?”

    I wouldn’t question the driver’s responsibility based on time of leaving his house, I would base it on how he was driving- speed, conditions, carelessness, etc. You need a further examination above- He may have hit the child because he was speeding through a school zone crosswalk. I see that as much more of a parallel for Tony’s letter to Adrain (and Veronica). Tony could have left the “jovial” first note as his only communication to the couple. OR his follow-up could have been MUCH less harsh and more understanding. If that had been the case, maybe Adrian wouldn’t have been driven to suicide, but just a small amount of guilt in short-term. It is not as simple as if he didn’t send the letter. It is more about contents. In your example, again, it is not about the person hitting a child on accident, it is about how they hit the child.

    Just thought I’d share……

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 March 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Hi Amy

      Thanks for the comment. You raise a good point. My reasoning in the analogy was that the driver couldn’t have predicted that his actions would result in the death of the child. If he was speeding through a school zone crosswalk, then it’s much clearer – his actions were reckless and he is responsible. But if he was just driving normally, and a child ran out and he killed him, then he’d feel terrible, but I don’t see how he’s logically responsible.

      My point was that Tony’s actions seem like the normal response to a bitter breakup. Yes, it was a harsh, angry letter, but I don’t see how he could possibly have predicted that Adrian would end up sleeping with the mother and then killing himself as a result. So to me he was like the driver who was driving normally but saw his actions have unexpected consequences. Of course he would wish in hindsight that he’d done something different, but at the time I don’t think he was at fault.

      I realise that people have different reactions, though, and several other people in the comments have believed Tony to be more at fault. So thanks very much for sharing your perspective.

  100. Kt 1 March 2013 at 5:00 am

    Possibly, Sarah sent Tony the “blood money” because she did have an affair with Adrian, but had actually slept with Tony beforehand which led to her pregnancy and Adrian 2. Sarah loved Adrian and told him the baby was his, which caused uproar and in the end Adrian’s suicide. Sarah felt guilty about this until her death, which is also why she included the detail in her notes of Adrian actually being very happy before his death, to appease her guilt somewhat. Veronica was possibly told about Tony just before Sarah passed away, which is why her anger is so fresh. Her memories have been dredged up and her world turned upside down too. Veronica held on to Adrian’s diaries as she realised he’d died without knowing the truth, and in turn realised all that Tony had done to make Adrian’s guilt about being with Veronica worse, which would’ve been very confusing for her in light of him sleeping with her mother.
    Ok I might as well write my own novella here. I guess I need to feel like the story had some more impact than an obvious ending. Does this plot work, or are there holes I’m not seeing?

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 March 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Kt

      I can’t see any holes in your plot. It’s certainly a possibility, like the others we’ve heard in these comments. I still think that the obvious ending is the ending, but then perhaps the point is that there is no “real’ ending, obvious or otherwise – only the sense of an ending. I think that Barnes will not satisfy any of us in the end, and nor did he intend to. But the impulse to create an ending is still a powerful one!

  101. Saffy 2 March 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Why is everyone suggesting that Tony is the father of the younger Adrian when his resemblance to the original Adrian makes it clear who his father is? I “just don’t get it” ‘)

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 3 March 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Hi Saffy

      To me it was clear who the father was, too, but it’s a novel that seems to promise more of an ending than it delivers, so I think that there’s a natural impulse to “fill in the gaps” and provide a subtler interpretation. Because much is left unsaid, it’s quite possible for several different interpretations to be true…

      1. Kt 4 March 2013 at 11:33 pm

        Also, in my experience with the book club I held this week, it’s really interesting to see which ending people ‘pick’. This seems to show what ending satisfies the person. In my case, I just prefer adding more layers to the Sarah character. The idea that she was in love with Adrian rather than a fling. Maybe the romantic in me! This is something usually annoying about a book, the open ended writing. But in this case it seems almost sweet that we get to make the meaning what we wish. And as Andrew says, maybe that was the purpose.

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 March 2013 at 3:10 pm

          Yes – it’s like a literary version of the “Choose your own adventure” books I used to read as a boy. Well, maybe not actually! But it is good to choose your own ending. Openness gives space to the reader, which can be psychologically revealing.

  102. Burt 3 March 2013 at 9:02 pm

    My view: the mother has slept with a boyfriend of Veronica’s in the past perhaps — she certainly flirts with them. But I’m pretty certain the child is Adrian’s and Veronica’s mother’s, not Tony’s. He looks like Adrian, and he’s named Adrian. It’s possible that there’s an implication that Tony somehow “slept in” and got it on with the mother too, there are hints (including the money she leaves him) — but I don’t think so; otherwise the letter he wrote would never have been so bitter. But I think the point is that what he never “got” was Veronica’s love for him, and his for her. And the way Veronica had been “damaged” by her mother. The NY Times review got this right (though the reviewer seems to have missed the fact that Tony and Veronica actually did end up sleeping together). There’s more in the book too, I suspect, that I haven’t grasped yet — but it’s a brilliant book. The letter Tony reads (which he sent them in his youth) — that letter is an amazing, amazing part of the book. Reminds me, as a book, of The Good Soldier. Much better book than Mr. Blackman seems to realize, in my opinion.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 6 March 2013 at 3:15 pm

      Hi Burt
      Thanks for your comment. I agree with your interpretation of the plot. I also loved the book – as I mentioned in the post, I was focusing in this post only on the ending, which was my least favourite part. My original review gives a more balanced opinion of the book as a whole.

  103. Jessica 7 March 2013 at 4:57 am

    Hi Andrew,
    I know it’s a long time since anyone else has posted! I read the book last week and felt very dissatisfied with the ending. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I understood it, because I thought I did, but that a lot of things didn’t seem to add up, that the character of Veronica seemed incomprehensible, that Tony’s self-blame seemed based on his earlier interpretation but seemed to carry on, that there were too many questions left unanswered. I would have just dismissed it as not my sort of book, except that I really enjoyed so much of it, particularly the beginning – it just felt so flawed! So I thought, maybe it’s just me? Maybe I’m just so pathetically anal that I can’t bear not to have all the ends tied up! I know that I get extremely irritated by small contradictions in books. So I googled it and found your blog – and your interpretation is the same as mine. So now I’m left with the feeling that it’s a book with a wonderful beginning and a really poor ending. I haven’t read all the comments (there are so many of them!), but it seems to me that the fact that there are so many contradictory interpretations is worrying, that it takes away from, rather than illustrates, the themes of memory and interpretation.

    So here are a few thoughts which occurred to me while reading some of the comments. I really don’t think that Tony was the father. I can fully understand him forgetting quite how horrible his letter was, but forgetting that he’d slept with his girlfriends mother? So that would mean that he was intentionally deceiving us. But that would in turn mean that we have a book in which the first person narrator is both forgetful and wrong in his interpretations of events (which is what surely the book is partly about) and also lying. That seems to me to be too much. I once read a whodunit in which you discovered at the end that one of the narrators was the murderer. He definitely lied and left things out, but it was acceptable, because that was what the narrative device was about. I can’t believe that this is what Barnes is doing here. And if we can’t believe what Tony says because he’s a liar, how far is that supposed to go? Maybe he was making everything up! Still on Tony, one of the comments mentioned his dark side, instancing the landlord and the chips and the insurance company. I can quite understands him getting cross about hand-cut chips and insurance companies. What is more disturbing is his almost stalking of Adrian 2 and his companions. What was he trying to do? Just find out the truth or form some kind of friendship with Adrian 2? His obsession with Veronica and re-evaluating his past reminded me of having read somewhere that some people are using Friends Reunited to get back together with old lovers, sometimes breaking up their present relationships in the process. Have they forgotten why the relationship didn’t work in the first place? Or are they using the benefit of hindsight? But it seems to me that Tony was well rid of Veronica, precisely because he never managed to understand her.

    So we get to Veronica and I agree with you, Andrew, that her character was very unsatisfactory. Was she in love with Tony? If she was, she set about it in a very odd way. She was completely selfish sexually, not it seems being in the least interested in satisfying his needs once she had advanced the relationship a bit sexually. When Tony told us that she finally slept with him after they’d broken up, he said we wouldn’t be surprised to hear it – I was! He suggested that she’d been damaged by her father or brother. Some people have suggested that it was her mother, that she’d had a history of sleeping with Veronica’s boyfriends or other young men. If that was so, why did she take him home, and why did she leave him with her mother? I agree with the ex-wife – she was a fruitcake!

    The change of name to Mary seems just pointlessly confusing. I can understand changing your name. My father changed his name to one of his other names in his twenties, because he’d always loathed it and was in a way starting out afresh. But if that was what Veronica did, couldn’t we have had just a little hint about it?

    I could go on and on, but this post is too long already! I’d be interested in what people think, if this discussion is still alive!

    1. Jessica 8 March 2013 at 12:43 pm

      I’ve just looked back at the thread to see if anyone else had posted and discovered that Andrew had posted the day before me! I’d obviously completely misread the date! What a dodo!

      On another note, I’ve noticed that it really bothers me that I don’t like the ending or the way that Veronica is portrayed, which is a sign, I suppose, that I really cared about the book.

      1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 13 March 2013 at 1:41 pm

        Hi Jessica! Don’t worry, you’re not a dodo 🙂 My original post was almost a year ago now, and with all the comments it is quite hard to keep track.

        Thanks so much for your comment. I think what does come across is that you really cared about the book and the characters, and perhaps that’s the reason why so many of us are disappointed or confused by the ending. Barnes does such a wonderful job of creating these characters and making us care and wonder and ask, and we have so many questions in our heads and then so few of them are answered in any satisfying way.

        I agree with all the points you make in your comment, except the part about the different interpretations here undermining Barnes’s themes of memory. To me, his point was that there is no real ending, no absolute truth, only the sense of an ending, and our long discussion here is perhaps the best illustration of that. We yearn for resolution, for the neat ending, but in real life it’s not possible.

        Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Some really good points there. I liked the reference to people getting back together with exes through Friends Reunited!

  104. Pingback: Book review: The sense of an ending | Book of words

  105. Valérie 8 March 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Well, well, after readind this post, there’s only one thing to do: reread the novel, which I’m going to do pretty soon. Thanks a lot for all those ideas.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 13 March 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Hi Valerie
      Yes, I’ve been meaning to do that myself! Will be interesting to see how the novel differs on a second reading, with all these different interpretations in mind…

  106. Nathalie 10 March 2013 at 3:13 am

    Hi everyone.
    I’ve also just finished the book and, like many people, have been combing the web to look for some explanations.
    Thanks so much for the initial post and the comments, it explained a lot… in the sense that I realized that it really was a confused story and that I was not the only one to be lost.

    So here’s my idea : that the author clearly wanted the reader NOT to have the “sense of an ending” : for we don’t have a proper ending… So, we question the sense of the book in its entirey. And come to the conclusion that we like proper endings… But how can we get a proper ending since the story of Tony’s life is still being experienced by him ?

    Well, I hope I’m not too confusing myself. Anyway, I felt much relief in seeing that I was not the only one who got puzzled by this book !
    Thanks again !

    A French reader

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 13 March 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Nathalie

      Thanks – you’re not confusing at all! I think you’re right, this is the author’s intention. We demand proper endings from literature, but in life there’s only one ending for all of us, and it’s rarely neat or satisfying.

      I do wonder, though, whether Barnes’s point is worth making. We all know, after all, that real life doesn’t have endings, but we turn to literature for some sense of ordering the chaos anyway. Can’t we just live with that little fiction? Just a thought… Thanks for your comment!

  107. Robert 14 March 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Thanks Andrew for this remarkable project, intriguing comments and wonderful commentary on a superb novel. To me, the site demonstrates exactly what Barnes must have hoped for–that the reading of his story would bring us to acknowledge that “the longer we live, the less we understand.” Or, to put it another way: “Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss. of failure.” We know neither ourselves or others, but yet, if we take the risk, we journey on, open to ourselves and others, listening to (or reading) the account of the other, attempting to know what we cannot know, the impossibility of the secret that we seek. We cannot grasp it, but we can perhaps love it. It is the sense of an ending that we hope for, the sense of desire that moves us on, that calls to us to give an accounting of ourselves,a story, a narrative telling that says more than we can say. I’d suggest that the “b” in the equation is not “baby,” but Barnes himself. “B” =v, a,s,v etc. It is the gap between real life and linguistic narrative. It is us, the complexity of mortal existence, its banality and its wonder.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 16 March 2013 at 8:16 am

      Hi Robert

      You’re welcome, although I can’t take too much credit – I really just provided a starting point, and it’s all the commenters who have contributed so much richness and depth. Your comment is a great addition. Many thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I think you’ve really hit on the essence of the novel.

  108. Valérie 16 March 2013 at 9:16 am

    I’m currently rereading the novel and one thing is clear (for me): the scene in the kitchen clearly contains sexual innuendo. When Sara puts water in the sauce pan and it results in “chaos” (clearly a metaphor of Tony’s -fantasized or real- ejaculation). A very well-written scene by the way. I guess the bacon and the eggs are metaphors of two specific parts of man’s body. And what she does with the eggs might imply it was not a very tender moment for him. 😉
    The fact that Veronica calls the legacy Blood money makes me think they really did it and that Sara got pregnant. Because how could Sara have any blood connection with Tony except through their son? Moreover we can’t understand why Adrian Jr feels so ill at ease when Tony is around if it is not because he recognises his father, to whom he must look like a lot (event though Tony prefers to say he looks like Adrian).

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 16 March 2013 at 11:11 am

      Hi Valérie

      Thanks for coming back! I agree about the kitchen scene – lots of sexual innuendo there! It could indeed be a reference to a sexual encounter that actually took place, although I read it as simply flirting.

      Blood money doesn’t normally imply a family connection – that could be a translation issue (I’m not sure if you’re reading it in French or English). It is usually a kind of compensation for a crime, for example money paid by a murderer to the victim’s family. Somewhat confusingly, it can also be a reward to someone for spilling blood, like an assassin’s pay, or Judas’s 30 pieces of silver. So it’s still not really clear to me what it means in this context.

      1. Kiran 16 March 2013 at 9:06 pm

        Hi Andrew,
        I just finished reading the book and kinda found your webpage. I felt I was still missing something very important that any reader of this book should comprehend in order to enjoy its complete essence. My question is this: Who is the father of the challenged man that is believed to be Veronica’s brother? Is it Adrian or Tony?.. I feel it has to be Tony and not really Adrian.
        During the weekend at Veronica’s home, Tony was left alone with V’s mother for a while and they would have possibly indulged in sex. And which Tony too would have probably been involved equally as he also makes a comment while V’s dad is driving him back home.”I like your mum”.
        Tony is old and it has been mentioned multiple times in the book that his memories are only half clear. Hence, when he sees the forty year old dysfunctional person at the pub, he conveniently believes that he should be Adrian’s son.
        This makes me feel that it was Tony who had fathered Sarah’s challenged son. Andrew and folks, what do you think about this?

        1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 20 March 2013 at 12:38 pm

          Hi Kiran

          Thanks for the comment. Several people in the comments have also believed that Tony was the father, and I can see the attraction of that theory. For me, it seems too much to believe that he would repress the memory of having slept with his girlfriend’s mother. He is an unreliable narrator, yes, but just how unreliable? For me, it seems more likely that Adrian is the father. But you may be right – only Julian Barnes can tell us, and he probably won’t!

          1. Chris 23 March 2013 at 6:54 pm

            I don’t think Tony is the father, either. Tony is as unreliable a narrator as any of us would be about our own lives. While we probably wouldn’t forget sleeping with an ex-girlfriend’s mother, our version of “the facts” is almost certainly different from the version told by others of the same events. Take a mildly sordid event from your past (the letter, in Tony’s case). Over time, you move on. You live life because you have to. You clean your apartment and you tend to your finances. You forgive yourself for that suspect action, which might be the worst thing that you’ve ever done. However, maybe other people don’t forgive you. Maybe your actions were so immaterial to their lives (even though it was a big deal to you) that they don’t need to forgive you to move on. However, some events wreak havoc on people’s lives, with or without forgiveness. Fathering a child with a girlfriend’s mother or committing suicide, for example. What Tony doesn’t “get” is that his ordeal about unravelling the mystery and obtaining forgiveness is a seflish and low-level pursuit. Something very real and very significant happened to Veronica. Her life was never the same after Adrian slept with her mother and then committed suicide. Adrian is the one that she is angry at, and because he killed himself she will never be able to really move on, partly because she is flawed herself. Tony doesn’t “get” that he is a pretty irrelevant character to not only her life, but apparently most people’s lives.

  109. p. alkan 18 March 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Would it be too far-fetched to suggest that Veronica’s mother was also Adrian’s mother?(as far as we learn from Tony’s memories, Adrian’s mother is out of the picture, we do not really know what really happened to her or if Adrian has a clear memory of her). If Adrian had a sexual intercourse with Veronica’s mother, then he would be having a rather Oedipal moment, and Tony becomes the catalyst in a chain of events which results in the infamous re-union with the mother and the son. Adrian’s suicide and the money left to Tony would then make sense (Adrian cannot bear having had sex with his own mother and Mrs Ford sends the “blood money” because afterall Tony leads the reunion)

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 20 March 2013 at 12:40 pm

      I love the Oedipal theory! Sure, from my fading memory of the book I think it’s possible, and it would be a really interesting interpretation. Will be interesting to keep that in mind as I re-read it. I do suspect that if that were true, Barnes would have dropped in a few more hints, but you never know!

  110. Liang Xu 19 March 2013 at 5:43 am

    I could not agree more with your review. When I saw veronica keep saying ‘ you just don’t get it, you never get it’, I was really upset because I did not get it. I almost through my book out of window because of the pointless words she said.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 20 March 2013 at 12:42 pm

      Thanks Liang. I didn’t feel like that myself, but can understand your frustration. I’m glad you didn’t actually throw the book out of the window – that would be a shame, especially if you were reading it on your Kindle 😉

      1. elena 27 April 2014 at 9:45 pm

        I scrolled through the long discussion to see if anyone else had suspected what I had: That perhaps Sarah was Adrian’s mother. It is indeed farfetched – but would be a neat wrap-up– Adrian goes to speak to the mother upon Tony’s suggestion, commences on an affair, Sarah becomes pregnant, and the half-witted product of incest is created. Adrian learns he has humped Mom, and kills himself (I would be convinced if he had also blinded himself or alluded to being blind in a surviving writing). Veronica, the damaged product of a sociopathic mother, learns, upon the mother’s death, that Adrian was her half-brother and that Tony was the catalyst of the forbidden affair. She becomes angry at Tony- who else is around to blame?
        The mother’s legacy is a last evil stab at her family, as she should have destroyed the letter and the diary long ago. She knew that those items would be read by her daughter (father was dead, brother was in Asia). 500 pounds is Tony’s pimping fee.
        The mother’s handling of eggs represents how she handles her own children- with no care whatsoever. Broken ones, like Adrian Jr., and even Veronica, may simply be thrown in the trash.
        The ending evoked a passive version of the ending of Chinatown–

        Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my sister…


        Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my daughter…


        Evelyn Mulwray: My sister, my daughter.

        [More slaps]

        Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!

        Evelyn Mulwray: She’s my sister AND my daughter!

  111. Jeffrey Fischer 23 March 2013 at 5:58 pm

    I think the book is not so much about the surprise ending, but about the “oh, I get it” moments from Tony as he was remembering the past and learning the truth. In the end, he still never got it. The moral is that your ego can play with you, if you don’t have a clear sense of self. Tony’s ego was so overpowering that he couldn’t get past himself. His apology letters to Veronica were all about him. He never really grew from the teenager who was trapped in a cage of his own making. That is the story.

  112. Chris 23 March 2013 at 7:42 pm

    I think this entire book is about Tony’s ability to obsess about irrelevant things, and how, when he looks back on them, they seem very much relevant. This is true for all of us. Our lives are very relevant to US.

    However, when looking at Tony’s life from Veronica’s point of view, he’s just irrelevant. Tony doesn’t get how incredibly boring he is. Veronica has a terrific story to tell, and she couldn’t care less about Tony and his mundane life, or how he thinks his little letter destroyed lives. It didn’t. For all of the admiration Tony showered upon Adrian, Adrian was nothing more than an intelligent person who fathered a son with his girlfriend’s mother and committed suicide because of it. ADRIAN’s actions destroyed lives. They were big, ugly actions.

    We all look at our lives from our own prism. If our past includes truly horrible acts, then we have to deal with them (not run and commit suicide). Likewise, we don’t need to dwell on insignificant aspects of our past, as they probably have had little impact on others.

    This book is about forgiveness and moving on. Forgiving ourselves for not being perfect, and moving on when others have done terrible things to us. We don’t have to forgive them, but we do have to move on. Both of the characters in this book fail at this. Tony can’t forgive himself for writing the letter, although it is not the cause of everyone’s problems. Veronica can’t move on and find happiness because she is still shattered as a result of Adrian’s actions.

  113. Jessica 29 March 2013 at 9:53 am

    Hi again,everyone! I’ve come back after a bit of a distraction! Thank you for your comment, Andrew (13th March). What you said about all we have is a sense of an ending was very useful (to be honest the title of the book had confused me), but it left me dissatisfied. Then in your reply to Nathalie on the same day, you asked if the point was worth making and that really rang true with me. When I was at university, one of the German lecturers asked me to go and see a German play (in English) which was coming to the theatre. I’m afraid I left (along with a lot of the audience!) during the interval. Very embarrassingly, he saw me and asked me why I was leaving. I said that it was because it was so boring and he said that that was the point – that a lot of life is so boring. But we know that and we go to the theatre to be interested and not bored. And with books, I think when most people read them, they have a yearning for life to make sense. They know, of course, that it doesn’t, that someone can be weeding the front garden and a car goes out of control and kills them – senseless tragedies. Of course, the endings of books are rarely real endings: they are often beginnings, but endings of one stage of someone’s life.

    Another point – people keep on referring to Tony as old and saying that this explains why he’s forgotten things. Tony’s only in his 60s. Speaking as someone in her 50s, that doesn’t seem that old! When people first start forgetting things, it’s the things that have just happened that they tend to forget, not things from the past. I don’t think that Barnes is suggesting that Tony’s memory is any more flawed than anyone else’s.

    I really liked the Oedipal explanation, p.alkan, though I don’t think it’s true (I think Barnes would surely have hinted at it!) – it does explain Adrian’s suicide, though, in a very satisfying manner!

    Interesting reply, Chris, definitely food for thought.

    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 29 March 2013 at 3:10 pm

      I’m glad the point rang true with you, Jessica. I can see the point you were making to your German lecturer, too. Also true about “old” Tony! My parents are older than him, and their memories are sharper than mine. I think that Tony’s memory is selective, like everyone else’s, and that he represses or reframes things that make him uncomfortable, but I find it implausible that he’d forget really major events.

      Thanks for coming back, Jessica! Nice comment.

  114. EdC 31 March 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I’ve read the book recently and will be selecting it to be read by my bookclub. Wow! I enjoyed the book immensely and am facinated by the quantity and quality of interpretations. Many I agree and many not so much, nevertheless, the variety is incredible. May I add a couple of mine.

    First: why did Adran Jr. refer to Veronica as Mary? Although the novel has woven a web of intricate doubts and suspect memories, perhaps this one question has a simpler explanation. The child bears the name Adrian, then IF we can assume that the child has an awareness that he was named after his father and IF the child’s true mother was Sarah and IF the child knows his true parentage and IF he also has the intelligence to know that Adrian and Veronica were married to each other, then it might be that Veronica went by her middle name of Mary as his sister to avoid either the child or anyone else for that matter of suspecting Adian Jr’s regretful bastardhood.
    Second, Tony’s memory banks dealt with a number of women that were mentioned in the book. All, Tony’s mother, his wife, his daughter, Veronica, Veronica’s mother, the often overlooked Ann in the USA… All seemed to have traits or strengths that kept Tony from “getting it” for one reason or another and from forming a lasting relationship with any of them. I do not know anything about the author’s background or history (nor could I trust it, right?) so I do not know if his mother was domineering, dysfunctional, or present, but since a number of reviewers have considered Tony as his alter ego, to accept that we may conclude that the author’s relationships with women were also troubled.

  115. Pamela 1 April 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I just finished this novel and I found the end to be clear. I read many of the posts about various possible scenarios but I fail to understand all the fuss. We have to take the narrator at his word of reporting what’s happening in the present, even if he does continue to tell us his memory is unreliable and selective in reporting past events. If we can’t take his word for what’s happening then we have a real problem on our hands because then we have nothing to believe or disbelieve except for what little we get from the other characters–which again is from Tony’s POV. We can’t throw everything that happens into question. The idea that Tony had sex with Veronica’s mother is simple inaccurate. There is nothing whatsoever to support that. Our narrator would have to be split personality or really disturbed to not remember that. And there is nothing to support that.

    Some people seem to want more complexities in the ending. But in psychotherapy there’s a saying, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” I think this fits here. He has finally “got it” in the end, and he is remorseful. He is really taking on even more responsibility than he should, and yet, how wonderfully liberating it is for him to see himself clearly, finally. What is not satisfying to readers is beyond me. I didn’t think it was the best novel ever, but for what it was, I thought it was overall satisfying and made sense in the end. Of course we will never know all that was in the diary, but that seems irrelevant in the end.

  116. Gillian 1 April 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Barnes explains Veronica’s instability during Tony’s weekend visit to the Veronica’s family home. They say that each unhappy family lives in a conspiracy of silence. Veronica seems to be in unspoken cahoots with her father and brother when they head out for an early walk, leaving her mother alone with Tony to do with what she will. Angela grew up with an unhappy mother who would seduce, an alcoholic father and a brother who had already ‘checked out’. First Tony and then Adrian was fed to the wolves when they entered Tony’s world.

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  118. PW 4 April 2013 at 2:04 am

    I didn’t read all of the above but two questions: Why did Veronica’s mother will Tony money and what did the horizontal hand gesture mean? I assumed it was some kind of sexual innuendo (after I read the ending), but had a hard time visualizing just what this could be.

  119. Eric Fry 8 April 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Here’s a possible explanation:

    What Tony doesn’t “get” about Veronica is that she brings young men home for her mother to seduce. The family is in on it. Hence, the father’s passive-aggressive attitude. When Veronica asks her family if Tony will do, she means for her mother. The family comes up with false pretences (that he likes to lie in, that they’re going to a church, which we later learn doesn’t exist) to leave Tony and the mother alone together one morning. When the mother gives an ambiguous horizontal gesture as Tony is leaving, it is intended for the family. Horizontal gestures express negatives. She’s saying “this one won’t do.” Veronica breaks up with Tony so she can find another young man for her mother — in this case, Adrian.

  120. Eric Fry 8 April 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Adding to my previous post: Veronica doesn’t want to have sex with her boyfriends because it would almost be like incest, knowing, as she does, that her mother might have sex with them. Tony is confused about whether Veronica is a virgin because she knows how to use a condom but avoids sex. Veronica would have learned about the use of condoms from her mother. Veronica is trapped by her mother in an unreal world.

    1. Marlee 5 November 2013 at 9:16 pm

      this is for Eric: wow!! what an amazing interpretation! I love it. The whole family in on it. It truly explains Veronica and the sleeping in and the lies about the area and the gesture by The Mother.

      I don’t know if I agree with this or not but I really think it’s clever.

  121. Edward Gibson 17 April 2013 at 6:56 am

    I just read the book, and though I did read most of these great posts (but not all, so sorry if I’m just repeating what others might have said). My interpretation upon reading the book, accepting that tony is a manipulative narrator and selective recollector of events, was that he did indeed have a sexual relationship with Sarah. His final memory at the end of the book, and Sarah’s unusual farewell, made that clear, in my view (even if he did not admit it explicitly). His remorse, therefore, is rooted in his suggestion in the famous letter that Adrian approach Sarah, knowing what he’d be stepping into if he did. Adrian2 is thus Adrian’s son. So this was not a random or unintended consequence of Tony’s angry letter. There was intent to undermine the Adrian-Veronica relationship by leading Adrian to Sarah. Hence the “remorse” and “unrest” expressed by Tony at the end. He can’t give us the clear truth because he is incapable of accurately or honestly come out with it, whether because his memory is unreliable or because he is manipulative. But it comes out between the lines.

    1. Marlee 5 November 2013 at 9:20 pm

      great interpretation! I agree. After posting I went back and read all the comments and think that I need to combine your idea and Eric’s with mine.

  122. Bill F. 20 April 2013 at 12:06 am

    I linked my book club’s web site to this page to help provide background material for our discussion of “The Sense of an Ending” last week. I also posted my thoughts there on the role of wrists in the story, and I am copying those thoughts here. Thanks for enriching our discussion. Maybe this will contribute to yours. (I originally posted the paragraph below at, but I certainly don’t claim any copyright for it.)

    “What is it about wrists in this story? Adrian commits suicide by slitting his wrists, and the author calls our attention to them by including clinical details of the process. Tony wears his watch with its face turned toward his wrist, and he says, “I know this much: 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.” Tony and Veronica have “infra-sex” by way of his wrist (and not just any wrist, mind you, but specifically the left wrist, where he wears his watch). Is the wrist some sort of symbol here? I doubt it. I suspect it was simply a way for the author to bring together in one spot several themes of the story: sex and death (“Eros and Thanatos”) and the unsettling mysteries of the passage of time.”

    Incidentally, when I was a kid in Virginia, a horizontal gesture like the one Sarah made to Tony simply meant “everything’s cool.”

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  124. Roger Scowen 25 April 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you for this website with so many comments on Julian Barnes’s ‘The Sense of an Ending’.

    I haven’t read them all, but the many possible interpretations suggested to me that the author has deliberately and masterfully illustrated the truth of Adrian’s quote (page 7), ‘But there is one line of thought according to which all you can truly say any historical event — even the outbreak of the First World War, for example — is that “something happened”.’

  125. Helen 1 June 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Have just finished this booked and been a bit mystified as others are. I haven’t read all the comments on this website, so forgive me if someone else has already made this point, but the heart of the “mystery” seems to be Veronica ‘s mixed messages to Tony – wanting to communicate yet at the same time telling him that he “doesn’t get it” without enlightening him any further. As a woman I found the young Tony’s attitude to Victoria somewhere between irritating and exploitative. She clearly wants marriage where he wants sex – the breakup happens when she questions where the relationship is going, which for a woman only means “why isn’t there a ring on my finger yet?” Hence she has sex with him after the breakup – and indeed he does ask whether this is intended to get him back. What Tony never “gets” is not the totally unguessable fact that Sarah fathered a child with Adrian, but Veronica’s feelings throughout any of it. He brands here a cock-teaser, where she could equally have accused him of stringing her along. He never questions how Veronica was affected by Adrian’s suicide (although he believed them to be together at the time) or, at the end, how Veronica must have felt about her mother’s affair with Adrian. He is, admittedly, remorseful about the “spiteful letter” but this seems to have more to do with his own sense of personal guilt i.e. “did I cause this chain of events?” Tony feels to me to be quite narcissistic throughout, believing himself to be at the centre of a drama whereas really, perhaps, it is Veronica who has been the only solid link in the chain of events and has come off the worst out of all of it. No Tony, you don’t get it. It’s not all about you!!

    1. Marlee 5 November 2013 at 9:26 pm

      good characterization Helen! But why did she have sex with Tony after they’d broken up?

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  127. andy lawrence 17 June 2013 at 12:39 am

    Just finished the book! For me the critical moment was the “hand-cut chips” conversation. This is when all my remaining sympathy for Tony suddenly vanished. I just thought oh yes, Veronica is right. He just doesn’t get it. Not the “great secret” – things in general. I started the book thinking he was just like me, the way you do. This was slowly eroded as the past got continuously re-assessed, but its hard to shake the narrator-identity thing; the daft pompous chips episode just made it finally crack. For a few minutes this seemed like a fairly trivial trick. But as I made a cup of tea after putting the book down I found myself thinking “oh… I am of course the hero of my own story… but maybe I am a prat too..” So that was unsettling…

    1. Marlee 5 November 2013 at 9:31 pm

      interesting point about the chips. why was that written? after going there all that time he suddenly decides he wants thin sliced chips. what was the point of that? I never thought about it. he doesn’t understand that when someone says “hand-cut chips” they aren’t literally hand cut.

  128. Jennifer 28 June 2013 at 7:08 pm

    I’ve got it now – thank you for stating was not obvious. I agree with your assessment and reasoning.
    I think Veronica was just an incredibly jaded person who assumed everyone was out to exploit her. She probably believed Tony had been with her Mum and that is why she finally consented to have sex with him to eliminate the competition. When “the prediction” rang true she cast him as the puppet master. Tony’s instincts were accurate; he actually warned his friend so I don’t believe he bares responsibility.
    It was a good read.

  129. Chinmaya Kothari 29 June 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Andrew!
    I just finished the book and was pretty confused by the ending provided in the book. I came online to check for possible reviews and explanations and found your post which I have to agree with as I was thinking on the same lines.
    I could not go through all the comments to your post but then, going through a few makes it clear that there can be multiple interpretations to the ending and that the book “the sense of an ending” does just that. It provides us with a sense and not the end as such, with quite a few relevant unanswered questions as to Veronica’s strange behavior, the existence of Adrian 2 and more as stated in posts above.
    I do believe that by the end of the book and after some more thought put into it, the name of the book stands vindicated and that is a big feat achieved by the author. Also, through the narrator Tony, and the various references to history, memory and stuff, Julian Barnes has managed to put all the readers into a position where somewhere even they are not aware if they really get it (pun intended) and hence, the protagonist again stands justified someway in real life.
    This I believe is a difficult thing to achieve and hence, kudos to Barnes for writing this piece.

  130. Francesca 25 July 2013 at 12:13 am

    I think you need to speak to Mr Barnes, Andrew. Certainly, you need to start understanding and stop thinking…

  131. Marianne 1 August 2013 at 4:31 pm

    I just finished reading this wonderful book twice and was dying to discuss it with fellow readers when I found this site.
    I think many are over analyzing the book! Here are my thoughts for what they are worth: you must assume Barnes is giving us the truth on a number of occasions, Adrian Jr IS the product of Sarah and Adrian’s affair. That I think is confirmed by the physical similarity to his father and the name given to him. I found it interesting that Adrian Sr is portrayed as being brilliant ( firsts, attending Cambridge, being offed as a replacement to a teacher while still in high school) and by the evidence given WAS intelligent whereas his son is the opposite.
    I think V was serious about Tony hence her bringing him home to meet the parents. I do not believe that V knew Sarah was a flirt or why would you bring a boy home then? Doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t see V doing that if she suspected her own mother would flirt with her boyfriend. I think the mother was frustrated as we know the father is already an alcoholic (breath smelled beery in morning and his red face along with blurting out whatever came to his mind). Alcoholics do not make good sex partners so Sarah is somewhat frustrated as she is still relatively young.
    I believe the “blood money” is exactly what V calls it. This too the author wants us to take as factual. We see the two words in print years later so we are to take them as fact. This money was left to Tony by Sarah because Sarah feels guilty at breaking up Tony and V (don’t let my daughter get away with too much). Taking the definition of blood money as money paid to a victim for killing someone, Sarah feels she “killed” her daughter’s relationship and wants to make amends. Sarah is at the end of her life by the time the will is made. I can see her guilt getting the better of her.
    Why does Sarah leave the diary to Tony also? I think Adrian certainly felt guilt at taking up with V after T and V broke up. He knows T was incensed by this through the nasty letter T sent. I think this remorse and fond feelings he has for T as in the diary and Sarah wanted Tony to know this.
    All in all a great book that perhaps warrants another read. Glad I found your site, thanks!

  132. Sashankh Kale 6 August 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Hello Andrew,
    I just finished reading the book. I was searching online for a commentary on the book, especially the ending, to see if I understood it correct. I really enjoyed reading your explanation.
    Good day.

  133. Garrett 26 August 2013 at 6:50 pm

    This is a good story if you come to the end in a mood to draw a quick conclusion of what happened and move on. This is a great story if you come to the end willing to spend half as much time thinking about the book as you did reading it. We are left knowing that Tony is unreliable, and have reason to wonder how many more important details he has left out, even after he has slowly revealed many to us. He blames memory loss, but whether he is doing so consciously or unconsciously, he is still hiding much of the truth.

    I believe, as some have suggested, that Tony might be the father of Adrian 2. He gives us plenty of hints that he himself had a tryst with Sara, though exactly when is a bit unclear. Was it that night that he claims Veronica told him/gave him permission to sleep the sleep of the wicked? Was it after their break up when Mrs. Ford got in touch with her letter? Whenever it was, I believe Adrian later fell for her too. This careless woman wasn’t concerned about protection, and all of these undersexed schoolboys were mesmerized by her wave of seduction. She was still making eggs, and one of them got her pregnant. I believe Adrian got caught in the act, or perhaps fessed up to it, and was thought to be the father (perhaps thought so himself). Eventually Tony tells us that this is what must have happened, driving Adrian to kill himself (before or after the child is born, we don’t know). But might Mrs. Ford have known all along that Tony was the father? Might she have told Veronica before her passing? Or perhaps it was obvious to Veronica that Adrian 2 is Tony’s son based on physical resemblance (which Tony has not been entirely truthful about to us). Sure, Tony received inordinate blame for Adrian’s death if that blame was based entirely on the letter. But If Tony was the actual father, and this was kept secret, then Veronica had many reasons to dislike him now: 1) as her current or ex-boyfriend he slept with her mother; 2) he fathered a child (her brother) in a careless manner and took no responsibility for that child; 3) he ‘encouraged’ her next boyfriend to also engage with her mother and to question Veronica herself, breaking down their relationship; 4) even when he looked upon Adrian 2 he would not admit this was his son; and 5) he was somehow getting away with all of this without having to deal with or admit any of it, while her own love had killed himself, her mother had died, and she herself had to spend years helping to raise her new brother.

    Tony tells us repeatedly that, clearly unlike Adrian, he has a knack for self-preservation. This is most evident in his ability to hide himself from the larger truth of all that has unraveled from his actions. He is a man in permanent hiding.

  134. Bonnie Blodgett 7 September 2013 at 10:51 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    No one has mentioned what I regard as a flaw in the book’s structure that is causing all this confusion over the ending. The trouble is voice. Even if a narrator is unreliable by virtue of his selective remembering, denial, etc., his narrative has to track. In this book the narrator/author begins the book with a first-person account told from the perspective of the innocent/ignorant pre-Adrian2-awareTony, a person who had no idea what happened after Veronica and Adrian allegedly hooked up. Hence the glossed-over (and delightfully honest, or so it seemed) version of his shallow, callow youth that is the book’s first third: his typical English awkwardness with women, his petty rivalries, and so on. We are given to understand that he is finally letting go of his pride and we believe him. But he isn’t. If Tony really HAD begun the book with all the facts in hand, as Tony/Barnes indicates he is doing, what with the list of clues on page one, then the first third would/could not have been written in that clueless voice. As it is, the book is a train wreck. Barnes could have prevented this by being more explicit and clear from the get-go, but my guess is that this would have struck the author as too heavy-handed by half. For me, plausibility is job one. He could have presented the first part of the book as having been written before Tony found out about Sarah and Adrian. He might have explained that he was writing it all down in an effort to sort out some stuff that was still troubling him, maybe because his wife had left him and his daughter kept him at arm’s length and he was lonely and confused. Who was he anyway? Why did he not have intimate relationships? Was HE the one keeping THEM at arm’s length? If so, why? Maybe by revisiting his life through story-telling he could figure it out. Something might leap out at him. Some pattern or something. Part two could have begun, then, with a fresh slate. Stuff happens, as Adrian suggested to Old Hunt. Unrest, as the other suicide put it. It changes everything. But as is, the voice in beyond merely intentionally unreliable. For me it is simply wrong. And it made the book a terrible disappointment. It had started off so well, and then just got all caught up in its underwear. I felt like the author betrayed my trust and dropped me off a cliff.

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  136. Janelle 7 October 2013 at 10:52 pm

    I just finished this book.

    I think that Veronica constantly telling Tony that he “doesn’t get it” is really just pointing out that he is so completely self-centered and self-absorbed that he can’t for a moment look outside of himself and consider the feelings or actions of others except through the prism of ME ME ME. What did I do, how did it make ME feel, what did others think of ME (as if everyone is always thinking about Tony) and what terrible things did I do to cause SO MUCH PAIN to others…it seems cheeky to take on the responsibility of Adrian’s suicide.

    Tony didn’t cause his friend to kill himself. He wrote a mean letter, a harsh and hateful letter, but it didn’t MAKE anyone do anything. Tony can only see the world as it revolves around him, which is probably the only way to get on because the idea that his actions really didn’t matter much in the long run in the lives of these people would be too much for him to bear.

    Not a very likable character. He didn’t DO anything so terrible, he is just oblivious, which is pretty irritating. I understand why Veronica could barely speak to him.

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  138. Logan 29 October 2013 at 7:26 am

    I’d like to add my input.

    I think that Tony did have sex with Veronica’s mother and he has (intentionally or unintentionally) buried this memory.

    The broken egg reference could go 2 ways imho. Either an unsuccessful sexual attempt or a successful one that did not end in pregnancy. Either way I feel it (at least taken in conjunction with the weird hand gesture and the other sexual innuendo) implies that Tony did have sex with the mother.

    Adrian’s diary contains, “So for instance, if Tony…….”

    If Tony, had gotten her pregnant instead of me?????

    This could be a stretch but could the blood money have been for an abortion? And the mother is reimbursing Tony for facilitating an abortion? It makes the broken egg all the more apt.

    A few other things, the 2 rivers…..

    1=rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams. I see this as Veronica.

    2=broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface. I see this as Veronica’s mother. “exciting,” “stiff,” “flow,” all sexual.
    The disguise was the intent that Tony didn’t recognize in her until it was too late.

    If I am right though, then I wonder what the 6 “chasing torchbeams” of Veronica are. Half dozen could just be a general number referring to other suitors of Veronica (Adrian obviously included) but who would the other 4 be (Tony being another). The other 2 childhood friends? That would take us to 2. I never bought the incest that others claim to see hidden but that could perhaps make sense as the other 2 (either brother and father, or mother and father, or mother and brother???).

    My final point would be that the final line is one of “unrest.” There is certainly a post (post) modernism theme in the book where the narrator is not reliable. But beyond that, memory is not reliable. We can’t trust our own memories so what can we trust. That theme implies something more inherent in Tony’s past than just not remembering his cruel letter. It implies that he could have “forgotten” having sex with Veronica’s mother.

  139. Larry Barkan 1 November 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Thanks for the explanation. I was listening to the book rather than reading it and was puzzled when I heard “he’s her brother.” I didn’t make the connection to Veronica’s mother perhaps because of the episodic way I was listening. Perhaps Veronica withheld the truth out of embarrassment. I don’t know, but Barnes kept me listening.

  140. Marlee 5 November 2013 at 8:54 pm

    I believe the title “The Sense of an Ending” explains the ending. Tony is suppressing what happened to him. He has a sense of what happened but not the whole story. So the ending of the book is only his sense of what happened — not what actually happened. There are so many references to invented memories and forgotten memories that keep emerging as the story progresses towards the “ending”. Veronica constantly says “you just don’t get it” — hinting to the reader the fact that Tony truly doesn’t get it and what we are told is not what actually happened.

    So then what did happen? Did Tony actually sleep with Veronica’s mother and repress it? Did Veronica find out and sleep with Tony after they’d broken up to get back at her mother? Why did Veronica tell the family that Tony like to sleep late and leave Tony alone with her mother? Was the incident with the “broken egg” his repressed memory of him actually having sex with Veronica’s mother — conveniently home alone together?? (Broken egg equals developmentally delayed baby.) Why does Tony remember Veronica’s mother waving in such a strange manner as he looks back at her when he is leaving? Is she signaling him to tell no one?

    Why did Veronica’s father invent the name of a park and another place (I forget what it was) when he was driving Tony to their house? — towards the end of the book Tony looks up online the places that were pointed out to him by V’s father and finds out that they did not really exist. What is that supposed to tell us? Is that another hint about his faulty memory?

    If any of what I just said makes sense then what does Adrian (not the baby) have to do with this whole thing? Did Veronica’s mother do the same thing to Adrian as she did to Tony and then did she get pregnant and have Adrian (the baby)? That would explain why the baby looked like Adrian — although once again we only have Tony’s memory to go on. It would explain Adrian’s suicide and Veronica’s rage.

    Tony thought Veronica’s father was behaving contemptibly toward him. I didn’t see that. I thought he was just being a Dad. How did you feel about that? Were we to see that Tony wasn’t recalling facts the way they were?

    1. Stella B 3 December 2013 at 8:58 am

      I thought what Tony “doesn’t get” isn’t a set of facts (paternity, etc), but is exactly what he projects on Veronica – that he is unable to imagine other people having emotional life and feelings. He is very self-centered. He has no regard for Veronica’s feelings when he casually divulges highly intimate details about her to his ex wife and to Adrian in the letter. He badgers her about the diary that he feels is rightfully his without sensitivity to the fact that diary belonged to her lover with whom (at least in his mind) she was happy and by whose loss she was traumatized and whose private thoughts would be painful for her to revisit and to share with Tony, let alone that this woman just lost her mother and needs sympathy. His own sense of entitlement to a bit of gossip trumps privacy of others. He doesn’t “get it” because he doesn’t care to. He avoids asking the questions (after Adrian’s suicide, at the end of the trip with Annie, at a lunch with Veronica) or stops where the answer suits him (with group home worker) so that he can fit the outside information into conclusions that are convenient for him (the ones that don’t cause him pain and ones that paint him as an important figure). Veronica is mysterious because he doesn’t ask. When he asked her a normal human question about her parents fate, she gave a full and open answer, a way to connect. I think she mistakes his question as him starting to “get it” and thus the response. But Tony doesn’t want to connect, wasting this opening in a boring lunch monologue. I thought the phrase about him never having seen her breasts was interesting. With women and with life, he just doesn’t go all the way, he chooses safety in ignorance, in hasty conclusions. The two theories he presents about Adrian’s parents both create a larger role for Tony than is likely warranted (he was instrumental in bringing baby’s parents together, he was the necessary cause of the tragedy, he is a2, even though this is a stretch since the diary later refers to him as Tony, so if anything he would be T). Everything he sees he reads from the standpoint of self-importance. He does not consider, for example, that Adrian 2 may have been born to Veronica years after Adrian’s death or that he may be her actual full-blood brother whom she raised after her oddball free-spirited mother left home and she is showing him to Tony to make him see where her last 40 years went instead of enduring another lunch with Tony. But those possibilities are not glamorous for Tony, therefore they can’t be true and have no room in his book.

      1. Stella B 3 December 2013 at 9:49 am

        Not that I place a lot of weight on these theories since I think facts are less important here, but just for fun I have a few more. I think the red herring in the book is Adrian being the father of the baby. I really don’t think Adrian was or had an affair with Sarah. Tony was clearly attracted to Sarah and projects same onto Adrian and in his mind has a “surrogate” affair with Sarah through Adrian (who is the idol of his youth), which affair also conveniently brings Adrian and his suicide down to banal level where Tony himself is at. I think Adrian was happy with Veronica but because Tony himself was not he can’t accept it as true. Theory 1. As a theme for Tony’s willful blindness I also thought it was possible that Adrian2 (likely renamed as Adrian when he was a child after the love of her life) was Veronica’s child before she met Tony, either a product of incest or otherwise, hidden away from family and treated as her brother. May be Tony’s sense of “damage” was close to home. This may explain Veronica’s sexual experience but reluctance to engage in intimacy, need for family approval before getting closer to Tony, her mother’s encouragement of the relationship to progress (don’t let her get away with too much), to marry off her “damaged goods” daughter. May be I’m just hung up on the fact that had Tony seen her breasts and body he would have known she is a mother. Also, referring to Sarah as The Mother could imply that Veronica was a mother, too. Because of her sons troubles Veronica could be tense, only rarely allowing herself to feel free (dance). Adrian1 may have loved Veronica but could not accept Adrian2 as part of life’s conditions. Broken egg discarded by Sarah could stand for the disabled child she forced her daughter to hide away until suitable marriage. What came easy to Sarah troubled Veronica. If the child was product of incest with father it would explain fathers jealousy of Tony and remark about being rivals (vis a vis Veronica rather than Sarah) and child’s health problems and Veronica being his sister as well as mother. Theory 2. Adrian and Veronica were married (hence the wedding ring) and Adrian 2 is her brother-in-law, a “replacement” son that Adrian’s mother had later in life. Because Veronica came into family by “marrying”, she is known to Adrian 2 as “Marry”. This would explain family resemblance. His mother could have died around the same time as Sarah.

        1. Stella B 3 December 2013 at 10:21 am

          I also think that Adrian being Tony and Veronica’s son is very possible and fits well into the story. Along with everything else already said to support this, the level of detail in description of putting condom on, slipping it out and it slapping his thighs after suggests repetitive self-delusion and embellishment to block out the truth that their encounter very well could have resulted in pregnancy. There is no detail of the sex, essentially no description of the event so long anticipated, other than to say it was swift business in which safe sex precautions were meticulously maintained. I think Tony’s breaking up with her and not having to connect with her later is also consistent with his fear that pregnancy may have resulted. I don’t subscribe that Veronica was much in love with Tony.

        2. Stella B 3 December 2013 at 10:54 am

          Another reason I don’t think Adrian fathered the baby. To understand history you have to know the history of historian. Tony has childhood experience of classmates’ suicide over a pregnancy, so when there is a baby and a suicide, he puts the two events together the same way and infers same states of mind from the actions, even though to another historian (me) these events appear unrelated. For Tony the b in the formula becomes baby. For me it is likely “blame”‘, but could also be “be” as in to be or not to be. Or brother or blood or anything else really.

  141. Margot 30 December 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Well done, Mr. Blackman, but I am surprised about so much confusion with regard to the parentage of Adrian’s son. I thought Tony’s character did a pretty good job of assembly and correction – that it wasn’t spelled out by Tony (or Barnes) seems to fit Tony’s profile. What continues to puzzle and disappoint me is Veronica’s character. Her behavior simply doesn’t hold in any realistic or understandable way. I love this book for the questions it raises about time and responsibility for one’s own time. Veronica was just not done well. I almost had the sense that Barnes didn’t like her enough to do any more with her.

  142. Cris 5 January 2014 at 5:05 am

    So I’ve read and re read this book a great many times all because I’m entirely convinced that Tony did, in fact, murder Adrian. I go into it in great detail here:

    The last thing I care about is attracting “hits” to my blog that I myself seldom visit. This is not my motivation at all, but seeing how it’s been a year or so and I still haven’t found a soul to assist me in recreating this crime I find myself desperate for someone to share ideas with. Tony definitely committed murder. See page one: “I remember… a shiny inner wrist… bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.”

    Thanks for spending so much time addressing all of us who experience “unrest… great unrest” regarding Barnes’ puzzle-of-a-novella.

    All Best,

  143. Anonymous 5 January 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Adrian’s response in history class is “history is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” So his diary is documentation & Tonys memories are imperfect but he thinks Veronica is crazy & evil. The mother read the diary feels guilty that her daughter & Adrian are so hated by Tony & wants him to know the truth so he knows Veronica is not to blame. And the money was her (the moms) guilt for Adrian’s death (blood money). I still don’t know why Veronica didn’t want him to have the diary. But when she says “you just don’t get it, but then again you never did” I think it refers to Tony not realizing her mom was trying to seduce him & succeeded with Adrian. So Tony didn’t “get it” that Veronica’s mother had serious morality issues & made a mess of Veronica’s family’s life. Tony said in his letter to Adrian, “Veronica is damaged & you should talk to her mother”. Her mother is the reason she is “damaged” but Tony doesn’t “get it”.

  144. Connie 7 January 2014 at 5:50 am

    I apologize if a similar thought has been submitted but as I am coming to the conversation so late I didn’t read the entirety of the thread.

    In my reading, Veronica’s behavior was explained in the end. She was humiliated. Her presence in the life of her brother meant a regular reminder of Adrian and her mother’s betrayal. While Tony felt (rightly) remorse for a terribly mean letter she lived with the humiliating betrayal and all it’s implications for forty years.

  145. Abyss 29 January 2014 at 4:40 am

    Great thread on this – I’m supposed to be working, damn you all!

    Apologies if this has already been discussed, haven’t had time to read everything on here.

    Is it possible that Tony and S did sleep together during that weekend resulting in a pregnancy that was terminated via an abortion that required a payment of an amount that was “less than something but more than nothing”? – an amount difficult for S to explain to the husband, and therefore provided by Tony? Did she then pay him back the “blood money” years later? Does the egg-reference allude to this and explain her carefree attitude to having children or deciding to abort them? i.e. she fried eggs in a “carefree, slapdash way” (she slept around), untroubled when one of them broke” (either: veronica (damaged) vs jack (undamaged), OR a reference to Adrian (mentally disabled, damaged) OR a reference to a previous pregnancy aborted after sleeping with Tony that weekend). The theme of abortion I think is touched on early in the novel after the first teenage suicide. From memory (unreliable, yes) Tony describes abortion as one of many ways that the young man involved (can’t remember the name off hand) could have perhaps avoided suicide – mind you he would have had to live with the moral burden of having aborted a child (depending on what side of the fence you sit on there).
    So, there is perhaps some theme of “a life, for a life” in this book. After the first teenage suicide, the father killed himself – the child lived on, this occurred again with Adrian Snr and Adrian Jnr, then (if you’re to believe the abortion story above) Tony aborted a child, but he lived on. So then, where would Tony lie in the spectrum of moral courage and intelligence between the extremes of Robson and Adrian – both of whom took the same route after pregnancies? In the middle; average, like the majority of us?

  146. Carien 2 February 2014 at 11:22 am

    Tony ‘just does not get it’ as Veronica keeps saying and nor does the reader!
    But by the end, to me at least, it has all been cleared:

    Victoria’s mother Sarah had a way of flirting with boys. This didn’t work with Tony, although they were left by themselves on the first morning of the weekend. And therefore, Victoria afterwards casually remarked about Tony ‘he will do very nicely’ and brother Jack winked.
    That also explains why Sarah was treated in a patronizing way by her husband, Jack and Victoria, Sarah had a bad reputation within the family and Victoria was somehow damaged.
    And that also explains why she kept Tony off during their relationship and could only have sex with him after they broke up.

    When Victoria met Adrian in London with the other boys, she fell for him and wanted him.
    Tony wrote his acid letter, suggesting Adrian to look up Victoria’s mother and drove (motherless) Adrian into the arms of Sarah. When Sarah gave birth to their disfunctional child, that was too much for the intelligent and alway logical thinking Adrian and he committed suicide.

    Victoria was angry towards Tony for writing the letter, but she was angry to everbody, because of her flirtatious and manipulative mother who had made her life miserable.

    Well, at least this is how I look upon this matter!

    1. Carien 2 February 2014 at 12:29 pm

      PS Sorry, angry towards should read angry at 😉

  147. SS 9 February 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I just read the book and like the narrative in the book, i am trying to remember small little details that the author left for us to “solve” the mystery. The mind is remembering selective memory that author himself deliberately wanted us to remember but maybe-maybe we are forgetting what else was there.

    I am going to read this again, but I am going after something my mind is itching to find. Maybe I am wrong and there was nothing like that in the story to suggest anything like that but what if tony and adrian were actually the same person. Andrian was what he wanted to be and tony was -what he really was.

    Why I am going after this and going to re-read the story again is because of tony mentioning hospitals, memory and fearing memory loss in future. And also because how his wife(ex) is always ready to meet him, how his daughter never leaves his son with him and how he mentions the running water in the bathroom, even though he never saw it. How he keeps insisting that he was a better friend with adrian and no one else, how he has just one picture of him with victoria and that does not contain his image but mentions victoria pressing or tilting towards adrian in the picture and not smiling to the photographer.

    how he might have had an affair with sarah and now wants to think it was he actually remembers having sex with victoria even after breaking up with him. how he is protective of his image of adrian and does not want to meet his old friends to spoil it. Victoria keeps telling him that he does not get it because there is no use making him understand it. How his ex wife finally tells him that now he is on his own. and mayb e because he himself is adrian he can understand that equation in the book, that b means baby and so on.

    just a hinch, but i just finished reading the book an hour back. I might be all wrong but as all the other endings that we can think of, this too might also give a sense of some kind of an ending…

  148. Emma 20 February 2014 at 11:11 pm

    I’m not going to read all the comments, but I totally share your views about the story.

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  150. Larry L. 11 March 2014 at 6:08 am

    I read the book straightforwardly notwithstanding that the narrator is unreliable. He’s a lot like other unreliable narrators — in Ford’s Good Soldier, or James’s Turn of the Screw or Beast in the Jungle; that is a highly articulate worldly person who is dimwitted about emotional underpinnings of people’s behavior. But my own reading of Barnes’s narrator is that ultimately there is no solution to the mysteries in the book — because it is fiction and the ‘real’ narrator is allowed to set the rules for the game. In that respect it’s like Atonement — where the ending is remarkable and exciting but can’t be exactly pinned down to what ‘really’ happened. Hey it’s fiction.

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  153. Alexander 9 May 2014 at 12:45 am

    Hi, Just finished sense of an ending.

    I found the first half of this very short book highly amusing perhaps because I look back at life from the same age band as Tony. Then like the sprayed black edge to the book the story became much darker and the book harder to put down. About 75% of the way through I tried to predict the ending. I felt a Mrs Robinson type scenario was on the cards and this proved correct to a degree but I could not see the point of the £500 other than to pay for his solicitor to let him find out.

    I have argued for shorter books but then having one I start complaining about the price for such a small book. After really enjoying Arther and George I read another of his books which was awful. This book has restored some of my faith in Julian Barnes as an author.

    On completing the book I too did not ‘get it’ immediately but careful re reading of some clue areas completed the picture. Yes I believe Tony also had sex with Sarah and having done so knew he could destroy Veronica’s relationship with Adrian by sending him to see Sarah who would offer the same temptations. Julian Barnes also makes it clear Adrian 2 is Adrian 1’s child. The Mary red herring is also clarified by clear statement that Mary is Veronica’s second name.

    A neat ending giving so many people doubts and a need to go back over the text. Robert Harris left me wondering with his ambiguous ending in Archangel.

    Use of the first person and development of memories is all very powerful. For a change I think the book did deserve its prize winning status.

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  157. C G Balan 1 June 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Excellent text, Andrew!

    This is the main flaw of the novel (as I quote you below). When you get to the end it just does not make sense that Veronica so stubbornly withhold that information from him… it was something that, on the contrary, would take away most of the main character’s guilt, isn’t it? But she behaves (and trick us to believe) like Adrian1 was into a relationship with her up to the suicide.
    I wrote to novels (still to be translated into English) and from a writer opinion this was a cheap trick and cheap tricks are not allowed in the ending of a book.
    However the atmosphere, train of thoughts and especially that other revelation – WHEN HE GETS HIS OWN LETTER WHICH HIS MEMORY PURPOSELY DELETE IT OUT OF GULT – it fully makes up for the flawed end.

    When I get there (at the letter) I said to myself: “wow! this is why this book got the Booker prize and I think it deserved it!”

    “To me, Veronica’s obstructive behaviour throughout the novel was not very credible. It seemed to function as a plot device: the author needed to ration information out, to dripfeed it to the reader to maintain suspense, so if Veronica had explained everything immediately, there would have been no book. But her reasons for withholding all this information are not clear.”

  158. Heather 8 July 2014 at 5:59 am

    Of course, one might also wonder whether Sarah was Adrian’s mother which would make Veronica/ Mary his sister. On that scenario, Sarah the mother might have pretended to be the mother of Adrian 2 to conceal the incest. Just saying!! I am not sure that it is legitimate for an author to be so unclear.

    1. Ken1206 21 July 2014 at 12:02 am

      Thank you for posting about this book. I think Veronica’s treatment of Tony 40 years on is quite understandable. She resents his tragic impact on her life. It is too painful for her to tell him straight out that Adrian killed himself because he had a child with her mother (because he took Tony’s advice and sought out her mother), so she gives him hints. When he doesn’t figure them out, she is all the more resentful.

      It’s possible too that, despite her resentment, a part of her, like Tony, really wants to make peace. It’s possible that like Tony she even wants some form of intimacy or at least understanding from this person who’s had so great an effect on her life. Tony’s inability to understand all that there is to make peace about, and all that they really share between them, would frustrate her hopes, and provoke even more resentment.

  159. John Taylor 28 July 2014 at 11:10 am

    Paid £1 for it at Samaritans book fair Saturday and read it in a day. Not since Schlink’s The Reader have I found a novel I want to read again, recommend to friends, and discuss with others.
    Enjoyed reading the discussion which in turn clarified and puzzled.

    I’ve not seen any suggestions as to why, according to Tony, Veronica contrived to leave him alone with her mother that morning (p43 Vintage pbk). Was it because Veronica wanted her mother to reveal family secrets, or seduce him, or what? Or perhaps Tony’s memory was faulty.


  160. Marios 15 August 2014 at 12:42 am

    I just have read the book. In greek though. I still have the questions tha we all have about the ending.

    Adrian says that we can’t know the story even if it is a recent one (like the death of the boys in the start that hangs himself). So that is made clear.

    My only guess about the 500pounds that are called “blood money” are money for the blood exams to see if it is his father??

  161. Eliana 21 August 2014 at 6:44 am

    Hi Andrew,

    I think you’re missing an interesting point here. Considering that it is only Tony’s point of view we can read, then we should infer what was happening on the other side, i.e on Veronica’s side. I think (or maybe I want to do so) that Veronica was in love with Tony but he misunderstood her from the very beginning. Take the example of their sexual encounter. It may be understood as her last desperate attemp to show him the love that he could never see or get from her. Veronica is constantly repeating that he “still don’t get it” because he never did. I think that Veronica didn’t tell Tony what had actually happened because it is not in her nature. I agree with Tony, she was a mysterious character.

  162. James Nagel 2 September 2014 at 12:38 am


    Very much like you I found myself perplexed concerning Veronica’s actions in this plot and the level of guilt Tony feels at the conclusion. I think, like you, the simplest explanation is most likely, however given the focus in the novel on history and one’s interpretation thereof there may be another explanation. Considering how much the failed relationship with Veronica weighed on Tony throughout his life I find it absurd that he would just forget the contents of that bitter letter. In some perverse way I think he may have seen his treatment of Veronica and Adrian’s suicide as a victory and after all do the victors not construct their own version of history? I think the scene where Sarah cooks the eggs in the kitchen is interesting as well. Sarah breaks an egg which is metaphorical in itself and we know that Tony is a weak character. Could it not be that Tony slept with Sarah in that kitchen but chose not to admit it; or put in another way, write it out of history? Perhaps that explains Sarah’s horizontal gesture as he left the Ford’s house as well? Perhaps the gesture was a signal to keep quiet about it all. Given the fact that Sarah quite possibly slept with Tony it is possible she seduced Adrian as well, so paternity may have been in question. The equations in Adrian’s diary seem to confirm this. Tony seemed to run from most things in his life and avoid responsibility. There seems to be questions concerning his relationship with his own family. He seems to consistently write most things in his life that require any sort of commitment out of his own history; his relationship with his daughter and his grandchildren, his refusal to have a second child with his wife and, at the end, any responsibility he may bear toward Adrian2. In his later life he seems to have reached an age where he is reflecting on his own life and makes some sort of attempt to make amends but in the end falls back into his old ways; he says he won’t be seeing Veronica or Adrian2 again.

    I only read the book once after borrowing it from a friend. I seem to recall Tony saying that Adrian2 pushes his face into some tissue rolls in a shop in order to avoid him yet I don’t recall Tony actually describing this scene, but I may be wrong? Why does Adrian2 dislike him on sight and do everything to avoid him? Why one stranger and not another? Could it be that they are not strangers to one another and Adrian2 knows exactly who he is and despises him for it?


  163. Barun 16 September 2014 at 4:58 am

    I was literally puzzled at the end of the book…..just too many possibilities. Here is the one I choose to stick to. Both Adrian and Tony slept with Veronica’s mother. Adrian being Adrian (philosophically self evident…) who searched for meaning in life just could not live with this fact and committed suicide. Tony being a survivor chose to ignore the sex part with Veronica’s mother to live his life in a normal way. Towards the end, when Tony sees the deformed child, he chooses to believe that the child looks like Adrian and not him…as this fits his narrative and frees him from his guilt……

  164. Kirsty 16 September 2014 at 2:52 pm

    What does Young Adrian think Veronica is called ‘Mary’?

  165. Natasha 16 September 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Why is Veronica suddenly called Mary? Mother Mary? Certainly a major character wouldn’t just suddenly go by another name for no reason?

  166. Henry Gasko 19 September 2014 at 8:55 am


    Thanks for the review and this explanatory piece. I read this with high expectations and also came away with that distinct “is that all there is” feeling.

    And I agree totally that Veronica’s actions throughout the novel are little more than cheap plot devices – I wonder what females make of it. First she is a cock-tease (which I suppose many girls were back then, although cultural reluctance was the explanation), then she gives in to him while or after breaking up with him (again for no reason), and then in the second half she withholds information for no apparent reason except it is necessary for the plot. What rubbish writing.

    I was also reminded of another novel in a similar vein – unreliable narrator, deeply introspective. That is Joseph Heller’s “Something Happened”. However in that novel, the ending is a genuine surprise and real kick in the guts (if my memory serves me well – it has been a while since I read it). So I urge everyone of your readers to go out and get it, and experience a real post-modern novel.

    Henry Gasko

  167. Zander Prinsloo 3 October 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Adrian’s mother left his family when he was young and his father had to take care of him. Adrian had a child with Sarah(Veronica’s mother) and the child turned out to have some problem which is unfortunately not stated. Could that not mean that Sarah was Adrian’s mother and after Adrian discovered that he had slept with his own mother, he killed himself?

  168. Alice L 7 October 2014 at 8:12 am

    The impact of the ending was, for me, not in how Tony reacted to the revelation that Veronica’s mother seduced Adrian and had his child but how tragic Veronica’s life had been. Throughout the book, I felt annoyance at Veronica–as did most readers–for her rude and cryptic behaviors. Suddenly, with the mystery revealed, her situation becomes poignantly sad–much more so than Tony’s.

  169. Alison 8 October 2014 at 11:16 pm

    I agree completely, also, why was Adrian’s son uncomfortable around Tony? Is it implied that he blamed Tony as well, even though we are given no reason to think he knew the details of his parentage, and if he is mentally impaired, would he have been able to understand them? There would have been no reason to show him Tony’s letter or mention Tony’s incredibly minor involvement in the whole proceedings, and even assuming that someone had, how could he possibly have recognised Tony? This book is so full of promise for over three quarters of its length, and then becomes a complete letdown at the end, by making neither moral nor logical sense, thus destroying most of what it set out to accomplish. It seems as though the author had some very good, well expressed ideas, particularly in relation to memory and the effects of time, but then couldn’t come up with anything more than a paper thin plot to carry these ideas. Such a frustrating waste of a novel which is very well written and appears at first to illuminate some truths of life. Surprised this won any awards.

    1. Alice L 4 November 2014 at 7:26 am

      Good points all.

  170. Aero 25 October 2014 at 10:56 pm

    I think it was a bit obvious to me that Veronica had sexual relationship with her father and brother, while both Tony had sexual relationship with Veronica’s mother.

  171. Aero 25 October 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Oh and Adrian’s son is uncomfortable around Tony because Adrian’s son is sleeping with Mary aka Veronica.

    Veronica is attracted to incest and she likes to choose men who are similar to her father or brother.

  172. Nele 11 November 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Why is the book called “the sense of an ending”?

    I don’t get it, when Tony sent the letter, did Adrian and Victoria read the letter? Or did only Adrian and his lover (mother of Victora) read it?
    And is this letter a big part of the cause why Adrian killed himself? Or is the cause: “I can’t take care of a baby”?

    Good book, but i have still so many questions…

  173. Nick 28 November 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I’ve just finished reading this book and for me it was the strangest experience. Somehow I had managed to forget that I had read it before – a couple of years ago, soon after it first came out. As I read (or rather re-read it) it began to feel more and more familiar and the memory of it came back in fragments. It seems to me that Barnes has achieved something quite extraordinary – he has created characters and plot that ebb and flow and shimmer in front of our eyes – we have a sense that we might grasp them, but they recede and fade, only to reappear in another form elsewhere. Tony is like all of us – weak, venal, lying to himself and to those around him – and also bravely struggling, but failing, to connect. I think I need to read it again in another couple of years.

  174. Mark Burgess 1 January 2015 at 12:48 am

    Thank you Andrew. Your analysis seems accurate to me. It, and the comments provoked, added to my enjoyment of a rewarding book. I also found this illuminating:
    I did not read all the comments above so perhaps someone has already compared this book with Sebastian Faulks’s “Engleby”. This architect from Macclesfield is not well read or educated in literary criticism but my personal observation is that a common, intriguing, theme of both novels is our unfolding understanding (or not) of the narrator.

  175. Rahul 2 January 2015 at 7:08 pm

    I think the probable answer to this might lie in the seemingly most important part of the diary which Veronica seemed to preserve and send to Tony. In that page Adrian writes the equations as –
    b=s-v x+ a1 & a2+v+a1xs
    (Sarah – Veronica X Adrian & Anthony+ veronica + sarah x adrian)
    then he proceeds to talk about how far can the link be established and or the limits of responsibility end.
    Maybe he was actually looking for excuses and killed himself not being able to bear the guilt.

    This also is highlighted by how Anthony keeps seeing his life for its ‘littleness’ and commends Adrian’s clarity of mind then again pops up the question about the probability of him being too clever after all… Basically he might have as easliy been the winner in life as the loser.. Adrian was pretty much the same as Robson notwithstanding all the different circumstances.. which again leads us to that history is an accumulation of ‘lies of the victor’ and the ‘self delusions of the losers’.. adding to this the inaccuracies that remain in documentation that are coupled by inaccuracies of memory.

    Veronica’s anger could be all in retrospect because she may have thought even Tony cheated on her with the mother when he wrote in the letter ‘Even her own mother warned me against her.. I’d check things out with Mum’ . Also, add to this the apportioning of blame which Adrian does to link Tony to the sequence of events.
    It might be a stretch but I think this is why the ‘blood money’ was bequeathed to Tony.. His share of the gulit, the apportioning of responsibility..

    What I think is that the author may have delibrately put it this way to show our interpretations of wins/losses and the inconsequentiality of it all.. Fall of the hero the seemingly inconsequential Tony.. History is unreliable, there were no winners and losers in the first place.. Lies and delusions only and whatever you make of it.. 🙂

  176. Ellen Colgan 22 January 2015 at 12:37 am

    I am still missing something: why did Adrian kill himself? Because Veronica’s mother got pregnant (a la Robson?) Or, the child was not “normal” therefore “illogical?”according to Adrian the father. The resulting son’s name was also Adrian? I really had a hard time w this novel.

  177. Anonymous 14 February 2015 at 3:03 am

    Well I’m about 2 years late, but here goes. I essentially agree with Walter.
    The book was a great read that really made you feel. Yet, I’m not sure of the real point of leaving so many plot points unsettled: why did Adrian commit suicide, who was the baby’s father and, frankly, who was the mother (it could have been Veronica; in her state she may have let her mother raise her), how did Sarah get the diary and why leave it and 500 pounds to Tony. There is plenty else to discuss without those unsettled plot points. One could argue that the plot really doesn’t hold together. The book could have used another 100 pages.
    I basically agree with Walter’s take.
    But let me add this. The real villain here is Tony. He’s a narcissist. He wasn’t in love with Veronica (although she was likely with him) and he had broken up with her, so why not let her date his friend? He wasn’t badly treated at all on the weekend trip to meet the parents; yet he whined about it. So she doesn’t like to dance? Big deal.
    But the worst thing he did was after he heard of Adrian’s suicide. He convened with his old high school buddies and engaged in adolescent philosophical gobbledygook. It was chilling – reminded me of Loeb and Leopold (on a different scale). Adrian was his friend. Why didn’t he reach out to Sarah? Even if he didn’t love her, lord knows she needed someone. His actions were awful.
    And, as many pointed out, he didn’t cause the suicide, he didn’t cause the birth of the baby (most likely) – yet he’s so self-centered, he thinks he deserves blame. As Walter said, low self-esteem.

  178. Shainon 14 February 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Sarah is both the mother of Adrian jr. and Adrian Sr.
    Adrian Sr. found this out and killed himself.

  179. Claudia 13 April 2015 at 10:54 pm

    Two phrases in the description of Sara Ford during Tony’s visit to are in my eyes giving interesting hints that I have not read in the comments above. Apologies if I overread anything.

    1) “She (Sara Ford) eased another egg on my plate, despite my not asking for it or wanting it.” – To me Sara Ford is clearly described in this scene as a women “dishing out” her sexuality and eggs as she pleases to a young man like Tony or Adrian. I don’t believe Tony slept with her and eliminated this part of the weekend from his version of the story. Therefore Sara Ford must have seduced Adrian and got pregnant – which gave Adrian guilt/shame/reason to kill himself and make “Thanatos” once again since Robson’s suicide win over “Eros” (something Adrian stated when Robson had died).

    2) “Mrs Ford was leaning against the porch, sunlight falling on a wisteria climbing the house above her head” – in Victorian times the plant “wisteria” was a symbol for a dangerous type of love, obsession, lethal kind of desire. I think Julian Barnes knew this and chose this plant on purpose to draw the goodbye-scenario where wisteria had climbed above Sara Ford’s head (desire above rational thought) and the sun put the spotlight on the “dangerous love” topic.

  180. jinny 14 April 2015 at 4:25 am

    Hi there,
    I read your review of the book and had some questions.
    Before i ask those my interpretation of the book is
    A1 is Anthony
    A2 is Adrian
    Sara had affairs with both
    Veronica was insecure in her youth as she seems to be abused in her childhood by the father which might have created a hatred in her mom’s mind (As a competitor )
    Veronica is not a virgin but was raped in her childhood hence she was shy with Anthony.
    She loves Anthony. From Adrian’s diary she realises that he had sexual escapades with her mom and that is so loathing that she burnt it.
    Adrian’s diary also gave her doubts about Anthony’s escapade with her mom.Sarah and Adrian might hv had the Adrian Jr. or Sarah passed off adrian Jr. as hers and Adrian’s baby to drive him to suicide but in actuality was Anthony’s and hence the payoff (blood money)
    Adrian’s diary might hv pointed in that direction and Veronica might hv tested Adrian Jr DNA only to be stung by the ultimate betrayal.Veronica’s hatred and comment you never understood you never will makes sense. He intreprets his story the way he wants to so wants us to think he saw adrian Jr resemblance to Adrian whereas he could have seen his own youth in him .
    What do you think of this version?
    From your version
    Why did he receive money?
    Why did Sara ford write the letter and talk about her motives are not clear and
    Sign yours Sara
    I liked your version too


  181. Anthony Cianciolo 17 April 2015 at 7:57 am

    I quite agree with your reading of the ending and also that it is the least satisfying part of the novel. It feels as though Barnes was struggling to find an ending, and this was the best one he came up with. But it doesn’t feel in the pocket to me. Since Tony is generally considered to be an unreliable narrator, maybe Terry is also unreliable in telling Tony that Mary is Adrian’s sister. Or, perhaps that’s what Veronica told Terry. She didn’t want him to know she was giving up her son. This kind of speculation is exactly what this novel is filled with. Tony is constantly qualifying his own interpretations of people and incidents. The entire novel feels as if it’s written in the subjunctive mood of maybe and perhaps. Why Mrs. Ford left Tony Adrian’s diary is no more mysterious than why she left him 500 pounds. Separately, why did Margaret pick up the tab when she and Tony had lunch? Why did he let her? All this said, this is a deep and piercing novel with a wealth of worthwhile, thought-provoking insights. It feels like a much longer novel. And I’m about to start my second reading to more closely observe how Barnes put it altogether.

  182. Bryan Young 17 April 2015 at 8:19 am

    One thought about the money: could it have been an inducement to follow up? As if, maybe the diary won’t be enough, but surely he’ll come for the cash?

    1. Laurie 27 May 2015 at 7:18 pm

      My understanding is that the “blood money” comes from Adrian and it meant to leave to his supposedly biological son. The author tells us that $500 will not make any sense if the amount is chosen to be left as heritage in today’s eyes but will make a lot of sense if the $500 was left at Adrian’s death which was 40 or 50 years ago. I believe Sarah gives Tony the money not because he was Adrian’s close friend (as it mentioned in the book, Tony is not sure if he was Adrian’s best friend), but because Adrian intended to leave the money to his son but in fact, after Sarah, the birth mother’s death, Tony, the factual father of the son, should be entitled to take charge of the money and thus, the son.

      Veronica showed Tony about the son is her way of excusing the mother’s will and by doing so, she showed Tony the burnt part of Adrian’s diary – wondering if Tony…. There is no diary and it’s been burnt by Veronica.

      Adrian’s way of mentioning Brother Jack indicating his impression on Veronica. He hates the way Verionica or Brother Jack represents the seriousness about love/sex or death. Just as the Greek literature Adrian adores, he chosed the love/sex and death as his life’s ending. Sarah didn’t tell Adrian that he wasn’t the first one, for her, or for Veronica.

      Veronica wears a red glass ring on her wedding figure and talks about blood money because she is in love/hate with Adrian and in anger with Sarah, and Tony. She wishes Adrian would have married her but now she is only taking care of his child, the brother, for the rest of life.

      So, in a sense, Adrian is the one who used Veronica as a step/tradeoff for a fruitful or lust love with Sarah and eventually under the false impression that Sarah was pregnant with his child. So in order to fulfill his poetic philosophic choice of, control over life, he inevitably had to die.

      Tony is the initial start of the chain of event, with Adrain, with Veronica, with Sarah, and Sarah’s baby. So, the equations of what Adrian wrote in his diary continues, “what if Tony….”

  183. Bharath 26 April 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Andrew, I am glad I found your blog as after I finished reading the book, I had to ask myself what I had just read. There were so many loose ends – a few still remain….

    The sequence you have outlined is certainly plausible. But as some other comments have pointed out – why should Tony feel so guilty, why did he receive 500 pounds, and why should Sara name Adrian’s son also as Adrian, why does Adrian 2 refer to Veronica as Mary?

    The possibility of Tony being the father is as much possible as well. Maybe Sara named Tony’s son as Adrian to spite her daughter & Adrian. This took it’s toll on Adrian who felt his reputation sullied and commits suicide.

    Not satisfied the way the story left off…..too wide a range of possibilities……..

  184. Wyatt 21 May 2015 at 9:22 pm

    I don’t believe that Tony slept with Sarah. It’s simply not believable that he would have completely blocked out or forgotten what would have been the loss of his virginity to his girlfriend’s mother, when he was about 20 years old. There’s no reason it would have been a traumatic memory, and so he wouldn’t have needed to suppress it. His other memory lapses were reasonable and generally limited to minor details, though some with significant implications. The memory of “the same woman, later, making a secret horizontal gesture beneath a sunlit wisteria” on the last page, is actually not a new revelation (as some seem to suggest, of Tony now remembering Sarah making a lewd pass at him) – but the recalling of the good-bye scene at the end of the weekend visit. Instead of making a full wave good-bye, Sarah had just barely lifted her arm and made an unusual horizontal wave. It suggested a familiarity, yes, an unconventionality, yes, and prepared the way for the affair with Adrian, but did not mean that she had slept with Tony.

    I agree with the interpretation in Andrew’s post. My sense of the ending is that Adrian had an affair with Sarah, who he impregnated, after which he committed suicide. The betrayal by a parent, of cheating with his or her child’s lover, must be one of the most terrible betrayals in this world. For Veronica, this betrayal was compounded by the birth of Adrian 2, who would have been a constant reminder of what her mother and Adrian had done. Based on her ring, she seems to have blamed primarily her mother and not Adrian (which seems to be common when people are cheated upon), but she would have had enough anger burning inside her to look for other places to lay blame too, such as Tony’s vitriol-filled letter that proved to be prophetic. Even if Tony could never have foreseen any of it, the simple clairvoyance with which the letter layed out Veronica’s future misery was in itself a serious crime. That it may have actually contributed to the events of that misery, at least in the mind of Veronica, was unforgivable.

    A lot of people are asking, why the $500? I think it was in part because Sarah felt responsible for the death of Adrian (“blood money”), and in part to pique Tony’s interest in obtaining the diary. Could Sarah have thought it might lead to a reconcilation between Tony and Veronica?

    1. Anonymous 9 August 2015 at 4:29 am


      Adrian Sr is the father of Adrian Jr:
      Tony sees the resemblance.
      Adrian Jr is named after Adrian Sr.
      Sarah could only have the diary and defend Adrian’s happiness at the end because they were intimate.
      Tony’s letter prompts Adrian to connect with Sarah’s mom -without Sarah-.
      Tony is genuinely surprised when he gets the bequest letter, and apart from Sarah’s over-familiarity that weekend, there is zero to suggest anything else between them. That over-familiarity only foreshadows an inappropriate relationship with some future boyfriend of Veronica (I.e. Adrian)

      Engaging in adultery with one’s girlfriend’s mother, and conceiving a child with her could certainly be a cause for suicide for an ethically sensitive person. Also note that Veronica’s father subsequently drank himself to death, presumably because of this episode.

      Tony loved and was loved by both Veronica and Adrian much more than he lets on:
      He bizarrely suppresses the memory of her presence at the emotional experience at Severn bore.
      He suppresses the memory of his hateful letter, the writing of which is extremely out-of-character, and implies an intensity of feeling towards them that he tries to hide.
      He suppresses the memory of the sexual intensity of his relationship with Veronica.
      He conceals only this relationship entirely from his wife until the end.
      Though he insecurely compares his relationship with Adrian and the others, we see that Adrian talks a lot about Tony to Sarah, his lover. Tony believes that everyone venerates Adrian just as he does, but there is no proof of that.

      Besides his poverty of spirit, this is the major unreliability of the narrator. There is very little case to suppose any larger omission from his point of view.

  185. confusedreader 14 June 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing all your thoughts but I am still not sure I know more now than before…!

    While reading the book I keept thinking:
    What makes Adrian so great?
    It is mainly in Tony’s description – he wants to us to believe that Adrian was some kind of genius.
    He was, of course, different from his school friends and had his very own way of thinking.
    Adrian was more intelligent than them which cannot be very difficult…
    (Tony admits that he keeps books but never reads them and everything he has to tell does not show big signs of intelligence. He only succeeeds in his exam and manages to keep up a marriage for some years and partly raises a child which seems to be alright. That’s it. No ambitions. I have the impression that Barnes presents him as a kind of average person.)
    Anyway I did not understand why Adrian’s reaction to Robson’s suicide and his own decision to commit suicide makes him look clever or might underline his intelligence.
    He was taking “the easy way out”.

  186. Eric Fry 29 July 2015 at 7:16 pm

    If Veronica knows that her mother sleeps with her boyfriends (and possibly slept with Tony), then Tony’s comment directing Adrian to Sarah would take on a great deal more significance to Veronica as a measure of Tony’s malice.

  187. Dianne 30 July 2015 at 11:48 am

    Adrian and Tony are ultimately the same person. Adrian`s suicide represents the death of Tony`s childhood. That period of time when he had all the answers, before he met Veronica and her family.

  188. M W Foley 14 August 2015 at 10:24 pm

    Thank you so much for explaining the ending. This is the first time in my life that I didn’t understand the end of a novel and I was so annoyed and perplexed.I read this book in one sitting.It started brilliantly and kept me hooked throughout. As a result, the ending was, for me, hugely disappointing.

  189. thekeel 24 August 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Has anyone ever posed the very real possibility that it was indeed Veronica’s baby, she wasn’t sure whether Tony or Adrian was the father, and the family decided to adopt the story that the baby was Sarah’s to cover up the unwed pregnancy, thus making Veronica the baby’s “sister” in the eyes of the world? This kind of ruse was pretty common with teen pregnancies in that era. I find this more realistic than the mother sleeping with both of Veronica’s boyfriends. (Except if she did, then that might explain the $500 as guilt money.) However, the younger Adrian being Tony’s son would explain why he cringes when he sees Tony in the pub. On some level he knows.

  190. thekeel 24 August 2015 at 3:37 pm

    re-posting to subscribe to all comments

  191. Nuriddeen Knight 3 September 2015 at 2:52 am

    Thank you for this! Somehow I got the ending, understood but had to reread again and again and kept saying ‘huh?’ I honestly felt agree because I didn’t get it but it feels nice to know that was indeed it. Though I also loved the book I must say I was disappointed at not reading any of Adrian’s diary at least a part of it -was his suicide really about the mom and the baby? I suppose it was but I would’ve like to know more about his emotional state. I was incredibly frustrated with Veronica’s character until I realized -you want some people are just the most annoying people you’ll ever meet and there is no explanation, why should there be? I don’t think the author has a duty to give us one. So I like it and at the very least we can certainly say it was an unexpected ending.

  192. Ellen 8 September 2015 at 3:20 pm

    In a way, I think that I understand why Veronica was so keen to blame Tony for his actions and deign responsibility on him for her life’s suffering. He is more or less a scapegoat in this situation and one that put the ball rolling, so to speak, by sending Adrian and Veronica that vile letter. He is not directly responsible, but for Veronica, who has been subject to so much trauma in her life, he is the easiest to blame. She doesn’t want to think badly of her love, Adrian, who cheated on her. And she doesn’t want her lasting memories of her mother to be negative, because Adrian impregnated her. So, she reverts all of her hatred and suffering back onto Tony, whom she was’t quite fond of anyway, but has recently reappeared back into her life.

  193. Chris Winchester 19 September 2015 at 9:10 am

    I really enjoyed the discussions about The Sense of an Ending. There is so much good commentary and here is my response.

    First a question. Who is Tony writing the book for? Himself (not his ex or daughter, from whom he is somewhat distanced). The text describes his thought process and musings – if he’d written it for someone else, he would have gone back and rewritten Part 1 once he’d re-evaluated his past in Part 2.

    This means that his inaccuracies are unintentional. He wants to be a reliable narrator but realises the impossibility of being one. The book is more about memory than just storytelling. As the debate about history being “the lies of the victors” or “the self-delusions of the defeated” makes clear, the way we remember things is dependent on the perceived outcome.

    What Julian Barnes demonstrates so well in the shift from Part 1 to Part 2 is Tony’s re-evaluation of whether he was the victim or in fact others were. When he sees the possibility of a positive outcome with Veronica, positive memories of his time with her are genuinely reawoken. Suddenly, his memories of feeling rejected by Veronica in front of her family (“will he do?”) were displaced by memories of her signalling the physicality of their relationship to her family (seeing him to bed).

    We polish memories like stones, and construct them into a story that explains where we have ended up. When we perceive we are ending up somewhere different, we need a different story, constructed from different memories.

    As commented elsewhere, Tony’s negativity and lack of openness to Veronica’s love brought the relationship to an end. Her relationship with Adrian may have been to get back at him. We’ll never know. What is interesting is how Tony’s memories of that intense period in his life changes depending on ‘now’ – history is read backwards, not forwards.

  194. Anonymous 28 September 2015 at 1:35 am

    will someone , anyone please tell me who was mary???

    1. Peter 21 January 2016 at 8:48 am

      Veronica Mary Elizabeth Ford.

  195. sapna d 11 October 2015 at 12:59 pm

    My interpretation ..

    Tony did not sleep with Sara. Maybe she was genuinely nice to him. But yeah certain aspects of her behavior were slightly off – which leads to confusion in the readers minds till the very end.

    Adrian sleeps with Sara – but was Sara really the evil seductress mother that everyone pins her to be? Adrian had mother issues to start with anyway thanks to his absentee mother. So you cant blame him for getting attracted to Sara over the damaged daughter. As Sara puts in the letter – Adrian’s last days were happy.

    Veronica’s character in the second half is not very well explained – though some of her resentment can be attributed to her denial by the men she loved. Tony breaks up with her after sleeping with her. Adrian sleeps with her mother instead.

    In the end .. i do agree, the story ironic to its title did miss the sense of an ending 🙁

    Tony was not responsible for Adrian’s suicide in anyway but his final existential conclusion equating his long safe life vs Adrian’s short life is fantastic !

    The nuances of language and some brilliant insights of life perfectly captured 🙂

  196. Lsam 1 November 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Super late. Just read. But I was thinking that maybe Tony did rape Veronica? Would explain Veronica’s behavior.

  197. captain mission 22 November 2015 at 11:42 pm

    for me the clue is in the philosophical premise of the whole book, ‘history is the lies of the winners’ vs ‘the self delusions of the defeated’
    tony was self delusional, denying to himself and us about what occurred between him and veronica’s mother. the same thing occurs between adrian and veronica’s mother yet adrian never denies it, being the philosophical voice of clarity.
    i’m very grateful for this page andrew, it’s the first time where i a have read a novel and felt somewhat unclear about what happened between these characters and have drawn my own conclusion after much contemplation.

  198. Anna 30 November 2015 at 4:18 pm

    There’s so much disturbed and disturbing water in Tony’s memories, not to mention the shiny wrist, and those infuriating ?handcut” chips…

    Perhaps, perhaps – Tony came back early from his trip to America and arranged to visit Adrian, then murdered him by drowning him in the bath, and made it look like suicide by cutting Adrian’s wrists post mortem. In which case, Adrian’s ?suicide” note may actually have been his attempt to come to a moral decision about terminating Sarah’s pregnancy, and not a philosophical enquiry about taking his own life at all. (But then Tony repurposed this note at the scene of the crime.)

    Perhaps, perhaps – Sarah knew from reading Adrian’s diary that Tony was the last person to visit him before he died. She must then have decided to keep her handicapped baby in memory of Adrian. But for some reason she doesn’t appear to have suspected Tony as Adrian’s murderer. (Unless her senile mistake of putting the ?T’ in the fridge is a metaphor. Or perhaps that was Veronica’s lie and a secret message for what she wanted to do to Tony?)

    And perhaps, perhaps – it wasn’t until Veronica put the rage-fuelled letter from Tony together with the final entries in Adrian’s diary that she finally realised, after her mother’s death – and to her horror – what Tony must have done. But at the time of his death Adrian was with Veronica’s mother and not Veronica at all. (And would that knowledge have been enough to deflect Tony’s murderous rage?)

    Perhaps, perhaps – the sense of an ending is in fact Tony’s sense that time (and Veronica) has found him out at last.

    This is a wonderful book: a twisted autobiography from a guilty man attempting to exonerate himself with a web(ster) of lies, but the truth keeps leaking out in unsettling non sequiturs, odd allusions and metaphors, leaving the reader feeling as uneasy as the guilty man himself.

    All the criticisms of the unbelievable, unsatisfying elements in this story are justified of course, but then this is Tony’s sociopathic, guilty, lying (his-)story we are reading, and not a whodunnit from Dan Kavanagh.

    And, to be honest, I don’t think Tony wants us to get it at all.

  199. AB 31 January 2016 at 3:10 pm

    Is it the case that no one has written any further comments since May 2014? Well, if there are still readers interested I will share my thoughts. I appreciated the structure and wisdom and poetry of this novel but I can’t appreciate the need for the twisted plot ending. Barnes expresses something important when he talks about “learning the new emotions that time brings”, and the fact that “as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration… as to what you are or have been”. I think this profound and true. He uses the word coroboration 10 ten times in the novel. So this is a novel about corroboration. The word comes from the Latin roburare and the root word robus which means strength like our word robust. God give me strength. I think it is true for our sense of self. We need lifelong friends to help us “stick to the plot”, to remain ourselves. I think this truth is less profound when it is presented as part of the mystery of who-slept-with-who and who-fathered-this-child. I think those old fashioned dramatic elements are not interesting anymore. Who cares who slept with who? That theme is part of the ancient business of marriage, legitimacy, inheritance of property. People are no longer thrilled by those plot elements. We want to know what it is to be a human being, not who will inherit the estate. We need strength to survive as individuals and to build and maintain intimacy. In earlier times we needed strength as in acreage, soldiers, weapons, treasure. (We still need these things but they are not the subject of the highest literary art.)

  200. Riya 27 March 2016 at 4:30 pm

    It’s a puzzling ending because it almost too simple. I think I needed your validation with the fact that it was all that there was to the novel.
    Personally I think Veronica was as obnoxious as she persists to be through out the novel is mostly because that’s her personality. How the book at one point says ‘What if we don’t develop characters overtime?’
    The book is perfect for all those philosophers out there, it’s somehow enlightening that no matter how deeply we think of every aspect of life, it’s actually quite a simple thing.
    Or maybe the book was just something that was philosophically self-evident.

  201. Hank 5 June 2016 at 8:22 pm

    After reading a lot of these comments, I can agree that the book is quite engrossing. I wanted to find out what was in the diary, I wanted to find out who all those strange characters at the end were. But there seem to be so many puzzlements, like why the 500 pounds, why “blood money”, who, indeed is the father of the second Adrian…it is a little less than final, there isn’t quite the sense of an ending, maybe Tony finally “got it”, but I didn’t, quite.
    I identified with many of the described memory failings that come with advancing years (I’m in my late sixties, as is the narrator), like trying to remember the name of this or that film actor. It is almost like one puts in a request for the information and it comes back later, maybe an hour, maybe a day later…if it comes back.

  202. Jan 5 August 2016 at 4:32 am

    I just finished “A Sense of an Ending” What a masterful novel. I haven’t been so captivated and thoroughly engaged with a story since Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance.” Mr. Barnes has crafted a meditation on life in our later years and how our memories are not a record of events but a single perspective that serves to shore up our personal story and identity. Your essay above confirmed my understanding of the end of the book. I’d like to add my thoughts to your reader’s comments. Tony often felt/thought that life happened to him; that he had not made anything happen in his life. Taking responsibility for the lives of his friends may have been his way of making something happen.

  203. Mark 19 August 2016 at 12:05 am


    Page numbers refer to the paperback edition of the book. This only covers the university years. The book was published in 2011 that as the events in Book 2. So I chose 1970-73 ACADEMIC YEARS AT BRISTOL UNIVERISTY, which are about 40 years earlier. On Page 70: “Then, one evening I sat down and tried to reconstruct that humiliating weekend in Chislehurst some forty year previously.”Classes start in September and finish in May. Easter Vacation dates would vary slightly in any given year. Many programs in the U.K. and Continental Europe award bachelor’s degrees after three years.


    • September 1970: Tony starts year one. At some point he meets Veronica Mary Elizabeth Ford (Page 22), probably second half of year, say February 1971. Clue is Book 2, after learning of Sarah’s will, Page 70: “I was someone who had gone out with the daughter of Mrs. Sarah Ford (deceased) for a period of about a year…”.
    • March – April 1971 – Easter Vacation: “One weekend in the vacation, I was invited to meet her family.” (Page 28). I think the clue for this date is on Page 32: “…sunlight falling on a wisteria climbing the house above her head.” This would imply that the wisteria was blooming and springtime. Tony and Veronica dating about 3 months.
    • Mid April 1971: Page 29: “A week or so later, Veronica came up to town so I could introduce her to my gang from school.” So, within a week or two of each other, Veronica has met Adrian and Tony has met Sarah.

    • September 1971 – May 1972: Page 36: “Veronica and I continued going out together, all through our second year.” Tony and Veronica break up, but have sex, and then “occasionally to half-run into one another.” (Page 42). So date of breakup is earliest May 1972 – also the earliest that Veronica and Adrian stated dating. Now about 13 months since Veronica met Adrian and Tony met Sarah. Tony and Veronica total dating time is about 16 months – about a year.
    • Mid June 1972: Summer vacation begins. Page 42: “In the second week of the summer vacation a letter arrived with a Chislehurst postmark.” This letter was from Sarah: “sorry to hear we (Tony & Veronica) had broken up.” Now about 14 months since Veronica met Adrian and Tony met Sarah. Veronica and Adrian dating as long as 1 month. CONCLUSION 1: Tony cannot be the father of Sarah’s baby.

    • September 1972: Page 43: “I went back to Bristol for my final year.” Now about 17 months since Veronica met Adrian and Tony met Sarah. Veronica and Adrian dating as long as 4 months.
    • January 1973: “About half way through my final year, I got a letter from Adrian.” (Page 43-44). This letter states that Adrian and Veronica “were already going out together.” Tony sends a quick unambiguous postcard. Now about 21 months since Veronica met Adrian and Tony met Sarah. Veronica and Adrian dating as long as 8 months.
    • June 1973: “I stayed on for a few weeks after finishing my exams…” (Page 46). “When, at last, I replied to it properly…”. Tony sent the vindictive letter. Now about 26 months since Veronica met Adrian and Tony met Sarah. Veronica and Adrian dating as long as 13 months.
    • July 1973 – December 1973: “I took myself off to the States and roamed around for six months.” (Page 49). When Tony returns, he learns Adrian has killed himself. Tony meets with his friend Alex, and Tony asks Alex the last time he saw Adrian, Alex says; “About three months before he died.” & “…he (Adrian) told me he was in love.” (Page 55). Adrian’s death would be September 1973 at the earliest to December 1973 at the latest. CONCLUSION 2: If Adrian killed himself after the baby was born, that means Sarah was impregnated by Adrian between January 1973 and March 1973.

  204. Doudi 29 October 2016 at 4:06 am

    why did you devide the novel into 2 part. Might that have an explanation?

  205. Munish Kumar 29 October 2016 at 12:56 pm

    So why he committed suicide….?? What made him think that ,sleeping with your girlfriend mother is insane ..??

  206. Nell 3 November 2016 at 5:49 am

    Definitely an indication of father-Veronica involvement of some sort. The father tells V she has a rival in her mother and that he, the father has a rival for V, in Tony.

    And here’s something to give you a laugh. My mind apparently was working overtime to make sense of the ending becasue, a couple/few weeks later, I was convinced that there had been a scene in the book that is not actually there. I thought, at first that this scene must have been in another book I was reading at the time, but never found it. Perhaps dreamed it in my sleep. At any rate, the scene is detailed and specific to our plot: During the visit to V’s family, on the morning he spent w Sarah, Tony tagged after her on a visit to a nursing home where her brother was close to death. The brother was named (you guessed it?) Adrian. Let’s call him AdrianO. And AdrianO (and Sarah), were related to AdrianI (AdrianO’s son, if I remember this phantom scene correctly), but AdrianI did not know it, till after Adrian2 (his and V’s son) was born. And that was the trigger for his suicide. Amen, brothers and sisters!

  207. Parag 25 November 2016 at 5:58 am

    See. You know why tony was left with the money?

  208. Hector Bunt 31 January 2017 at 8:15 am

    Hector Bunt
    A fascinating tale.However for readers who prefer a story to have a good beginning ,middle an end , this one may have proved to be irritating and unsatisfying. Maybe the answer to this puzzle is to understand what might have been the writer’s intention.A story with no absolutely conclusive ending is much more likely to remain in the memory of its readers than one with a complete narrative where all the ends are neatly tied up. I think this concept is known as ‘God’s Trick’. In The Magus, John Fowles uses this device to create a sense of mystery and intrigue. He makes the point that to maintain a never ending interest in you must never tell the story but must keep people guessing.
    I look forward to the forthcoming film which doubtless will provoke even more theories about what was going through Tony’s mind as he recapitulated his life. – or even more interesting what was in Julian Barnes’s mind when he put pen to paper.

  209. Kathy 9 February 2017 at 12:14 pm

    I read the book in anticipation of the movie coming out soon. I kept thinking sporadically throughout the book, ‘I think I may have read this!’, which is quite ironic seeing a theme of the novel is memory! I’d just like to question: how does Tony’s relationship with his wife and daughter fill us in on his flaws? He’s not the best friend, dad, grandfather or lover someone could have. His persistent, annoying behaviour in trying to get the diary or persuade Veronica to meet, give us a glimpse of his selfish streak. To me Veronica’s sustained anger and the payment of the 500 pounds are really frustrating aspects of the story, and make you question your understanding. Was I paying enough attention to the subtext? Really liked the book and perhaps will need to go for a third reading!

  210. Victor Cris Silva 17 February 2017 at 9:45 pm

    Someone reacted that Tony had an affair with Sarah based on that situation in the kitchen (eggs on the bin). I say no, because if that is the case , why would Tony wank on the attic? Therefore I agree that A Jr,is Adrian’s. About V’s attitude, it is for these reasons: disappointment for Adrian, shame to the family and hatred to Tony. I am solved with the explanation above thank you so much, I nearly don’t get it too 🙂 , but how about the husband of Sarah? His reactions and effect to the pregnancy and birth of A Jr? That is intriguing.

  211. Steve 20 March 2017 at 6:24 pm

    I recently saw the movie. Have not read the book. Could Jack have been the father of his brother? I say this because of two things he says in the movie. 1) Tells Anthony that he notices him finding his mother attractive. 2) Says regarding the lamb for dinner that he likes a bit of rare beef.

  212. Mike Pod 20 March 2017 at 9:52 pm

    “Half brother” would have been helpful.

  213. Desiree 21 March 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Hi Andrew,

    I read Barne’s novel last month and it’s my favourite read of the year so far. Initially, I took Tony’s insight to be true, but after reading through forum discussions I too agreed that Veronica’s behaviour is too hostile to be reasonable, if Tony’s version were really the case. I’ve written a detailed analysis of the story, supporting the theory that Tony is in fact Adrian Jr.’s father– not Adrian. A fundamental point in the book is that Tony is an unreliable narrator who misses obvious signs or otherwise misinterprets them, to tragic consequences. Hopefully it adds to the discussion, whether or not you guys agree with it! Cheers.

  214. Reese 22 March 2017 at 5:29 am

    It may be that the commenters are too young to know how things were handled in the 50s and 60s. It was common for young unwed pregnant women to hide pregnancies – go away to “the country” or simply stay home and not go to school or out and about at all until the baby is born. Sometimes mothers of these unwed pregnant women agree to pretend the baby is theirs so that there is no legitimacy issue for the child and no stigma for the birth mother. I see this as another possibility for the story – that Veronica is indeed Adrian2’s mother.

  215. Rita 29 March 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Just to talk about the plot. No one seems to put a lot of credibility into throwing away the broken egg. What is we put forth the idea that victoria is frigid or that Victoria knows not to get pregnant ( so pulls away from actual intercourse) because the family secret is genetic defect, probably carried by the mother. As best we know, Jack does not marry either, does he? And he goes far away, after being the monitor of the family secrets for years. This seems a bit better than the slight hint that Victoria and the Father have an incestuous relationship, as suggested by Tony from the back seat of the car on the ride home from the train station.

    In a freakishly dysfunctional family Victoria goes out to pimp for her mother and the :secret” of the women is watched over by the men, father and brother, both of whom have that superior smile as though they protect and know what is going on with their women.

    If we buy that Victoria is frigid, then she doesn’t sleep with Adrian either. But Adrian, who is not the self-absorbed coward that is Tony, deals with his sexual needs with the mother instead of wacking in the wash basin. The 500 pounds is either Tony’s prize for being able to resist her charms, or it is his consolation prize from a very warped woman.

    While thinking about all of that: What’s the meaning of the Google Earth search for a house that is not there? Is all of the visit just Tony’s fantasy?