The End of “The Sense of an Ending”
You can’t read this book without wanting to talk about the end. I was online looking at discussions and reviews in the middle of the night to make sure I’d worked it out just right.
Some may say that with his spare last few pages, Barnes does the reader no favors. After all, he never spells out in exact terms precisely what it all means. But it’s all there.
We have the revelation from the care worker that Adrian is Veronica’s brother. The knowledge that Sarah, Veronica’s mother, is also Adrian’s mother. We have his name, Adrian. The conclusion that young Adrian is the child of Sarah and older Adrian is unmistakable.
This was one of the times I wished I had a real copy of the book to flip through. But it didn’t take me long to locate a few important passages from the e-book.
Adrian’s strange formulas now suddenly make sense. b = s - vx + a1 or a2 + v + a1 x s = b. The first formula doesn’t involve Tony, and seems to imply little more than Sarah and Adrian together in Veronica’s absence. The second does bring Tony into the equation, which is certainly the more important of the two.
I’ve read people claim that Tony bears little to no responsibility for this outcome, but it’s clear that Adrian disagrees. Apparently the letter Tony sent that encourages Adrian to seek out Sarah must have struck some kind of chord.
It can also be difficult to reconcile Veronica’s behavior throughout the second half of the book. But I found her the character who suddenly made the most sense upon finishing. Veronica, who seems to Tony to be a manipulator, turns out to be if not victimized, then certainly betrayed by nearly everyone else.
Tony’s letter is horrific. I can’t imagine ever receiving such a thing from someone. No matter how you interpret Tony and Veronica’s breakup, the letter is beyond unjustified. It certainly hurt her.
Adrian’s eventual friendship with Sarah and the outcome of it are definitely betrayal of the highest order from a boyfriend. Surely sleeping with someone’s mother is even worse than sleeping with someone’s sister or friend.
Veronica’s strange relationship with her family that Tony notices remains something of a mystery. But she is betrayed terribly by her mother through Sarah’s relationship with Adrian.
And from all these betrayals comes the younger Adrian and older Adrian’s suicide. How does one move on from such a thing? Veronica is the most mistreated of all of them. It’s completely unknown how she and her mother interacted, but she’s clearly been involved in her brother’s life, which can’t be easy given the proximity to her mother. Her father dies soon after. She’s become alienated from her brother Jack. We don’t know what Veronica does for all the ensuing years, but I can’t imagine the hurt she feels. Especially if she has access to Adrian’s diary, which seems to implicate Tony for his role.
Just as Tony casts Veronica in a particular role, surely Veronica has cast Tony in light of all that happened. Their bad breakup, his venomous letter, Adrian’s death and the life she was left with. It would be quite easy to see Tony as a villain who carelessly set about this chain of events in a variety of ways. Clearly it’s a complicated view, which is probably why she insists Tony will never understand it.
I do wonder a little about what she means when she refers to “blood money.” There only interpretation I can see that makes sense is that Sarah pays Tony to compensate him for the loss of Adrian. (This definition of blood money is payment by the murderer to the victim’s kin.) There is so little to tell us about Sarah and Adrian’s relationship, but clearly there was more to it than sex. She says Adrian spoke highly of Tony. She says Adrian’s last months were happy (can this possibly be true or is this Sarah’s own version of events?). Perhaps she sees this payment as a way to wipe away her guilt and Tony as the only party remaining she can plausibly make it to. After all, how could she ever make it up to Veronica?
Mulling over all this, having to look back at Tony, Adrian, Veronica and Sarah and reevaluate them is Barnes’ whole point. Not just for Tony himself but for the reader. I found that my experience considering the novel after its abrupt ending was as fascinating as reading the book itself.
There are so many mysteries remaining. Why did Adrian kill himself? What was his relationship with Sarah? What has happened to Veronica for all these years that she seems so stuck in bitterness? How do the others view Tony? Going over them in light of our new, but still limited, evidence is fun. At least for me.
This book has been compared to On Chesil Beach and it’s a fair comparison. Similar themes. But note how Barnes is different. McEwan takes all the events, lays them out completely, shows you every angle, puts it right in your face. Barnes limits our perceptions, only gradually reveals information, and never fully explains anything. While both authors are interested in similar issues, they present it in such different ways. Still, they’d make a great pairing, wouldn’t they?
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