The Sense of an Ending, explained

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.

542 Comments

  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.

    Reply
    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…

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

        Andrew,

        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.

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

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

          Reply
      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…..

        Reply
        1. Leeann 17 June 2014 at 7:04 pm

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

          Reply
        2. Anonymous 12 January 2016 at 3:50 pm

          I agree completely with this view of the book.

          Reply
        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..

          Reply
        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.

          Reply
      3. Cat 11 June 2014 at 10:38 pm

        But why did she leave him 500 pounds?

        Reply
        1. Leeann 17 June 2014 at 7:05 pm

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

          Reply
        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

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
          2. Nicola 10 January 2015 at 6:45 pm

            Paid, losing, her fault.

            Thank you.

            Reply
        3. Rachael Ní Thomaís 28 April 2019 at 8:33 pm

          i think Adrian gave her money for abortion she didn’t use. so sarah passed it on to Tony

          Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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…

          Reply
        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.

          Reply
      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!

        Reply
      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!

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
        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.

          Reply
      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?

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

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

        Reply
    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.

      Reply
      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?

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
          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.

            Reply
            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.

              Reply
        2. Jac 27 December 2012 at 3:03 am

          Hi

          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?

          Reply
          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…

            Reply
          2. Dave 11 May 2014 at 2:36 am

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

            Reply
        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

          Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
        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!

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
        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.

          Reply
      3. nidzara 25 December 2012 at 6:15 pm

        Hi!
        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…

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
            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.

              Reply
        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.

          Reply
      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!

        Reply
      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.

        Reply
      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.

        Reply
      7. Anonymous 23 January 2015 at 2:18 am

        Best comment yet!

        Reply
    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).

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
      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.

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    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

      Reply
      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

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        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.

          Reply
    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…..

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      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.

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

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

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    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.

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    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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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?

      Reply
  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!

    Reply
    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 🙂

      Reply
  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!

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
      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.

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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!

          Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
      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?

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          1. Ann 19 October 2012 at 12:14 pm

            Hi,
            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?

            Reply
            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!

              Reply
          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.

            Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
      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?

        Reply
        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?

          Reply
          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!

            Reply
            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.

              Reply
              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?

                Reply
              2. Richard 8 May 2014 at 2:59 am

                Nonsense.

                Reply
              3. Anonymous 10 January 2015 at 11:30 pm

                This would explain the blood money comment

                Reply
    2. lindabelinda 7 October 2012 at 7:41 am

      this was my reading as well.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
      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

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
      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

        Reply
    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!)

      Reply
    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

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
      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 !

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

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

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

        “now”

        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.

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
          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.

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          3. anonymous 19 April 2015 at 8:35 pm

            Plus, there is the photograph.

            Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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?!

      Reply
  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..?

    Reply
    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…

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
  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”?

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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?

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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…

      Reply
      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.

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    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).

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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 🙂

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.”

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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…

      Reply
  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

    Reply
    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 🙂

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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).

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
      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.

        Reply
  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.
    cheers

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
    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 !)

      So

      Reply
  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!!)

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
      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?

        Reply
      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…

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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…

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
      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?

        Reply
  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,

    Sally

    Reply
    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…

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

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

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

              Reply
        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….

          Maybe…?

          Tanya

          Reply
  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.

    Best,
    Erlend

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
    2. Martine 29 October 2012 at 1:27 am

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

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.”

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
      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….

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
      1. Randy 20 August 2012 at 2:48 pm

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

        Reply
        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!

          Reply
          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.

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

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

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

    Andrew,

    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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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!

          Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  37. weqq 3 September 2012 at 11:42 am

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    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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…

          Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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? 🙂

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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 ;-))

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
            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.

              Reply
  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”.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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

        Reply
        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!

          Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
    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 🙂

      Reply
      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 🙂

        Reply
    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.

      Reply
  45. Hilla 15 September 2012 at 8:27 pm

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

    Reply
    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…

      Reply
      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)?

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

    Hi,
    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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
    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
      Bye
      Thanks Andrew for being attentive host.. 🙂

      Reply
      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….
        http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/675357-what-do-people-think-of-the-ending-spoiler-alert
        Matt’s interpretation (from the link) is pretty interesting….

        Reply
        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!

          Reply
      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 🙂

        Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
            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!

              Reply
  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).

    Reply
  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).

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
  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.

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

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

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
        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!

          Reply
      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!

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
            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!

              Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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!

            Reply
        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.

          Reply
          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.

            Reply
            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.

              Reply
        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.

          Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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?

        Reply
        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.

          Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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).

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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!

          Reply
    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…

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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…

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  67. Kent 8 November 2012 at 1:30 pm

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

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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?

      Reply
      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.

        Reply
        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! 🙂

          Reply
          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 ..”

            Reply
          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.

            Reply
            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!

              Reply
        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.)

          Reply
          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!!

            Reply
            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.

              Reply
              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.

                Reply
                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…

                  Reply