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. Also feel free to check out other opinions in the reviews on Amazon.

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.

559 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. Paul Brownsey 11 May 2020 at 10:08 am

          Exactly. And it was described as “blood money”. What does that mean in context?

          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.

        Reply
    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

        Reply
        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…..

      Reply
      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.

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

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

          Reply
    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.

      Reply
    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.

            Reply
          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.

        Reply
    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