I felt super clever while reading this book when I tweeted “I’m getting the sense there is no ending to The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.” A common complaint of literary fiction is that it has no plot or it goes nowhere. So I can say with some conviction that Barnes or someone at his publisher was asking for it when they put that name on the cover.
Don’t get me wrong. I love literary fiction, but it’s hard to defend the genre when I have the same complaint about a book.
One thing that makes literary fiction work for me is a likeable character. I don’t mean a nice character. Likeable characters come in many forms-good to bad and all over in between. I’ve liked characters who were goody two shoes (Hermione Granger, anyone?) and I’ve liked characters who were downright evil. But Barnes’ main character and narrator, Tony Webster, was just so unlikeable. He’s a whiny, uninteresting retired divorcee who’s just come in contact with his college flame for the first time since their breakup. I spent 150 pages listening to a man complain about a girlfriend from 40 or so years ago. Not fun.
Writing 5 out of 5 stars
Barnes’ strength lies in his ability to craft beautiful language, which plays really well in literary fiction.
Storytelling 2 out of 5 stars
Storytelling was one of the weak points of this book. There wasn’t much of a story to tell.
Character Development 2 out of 5 stars
Barnes’ characters weren’t likeable in any way. They seemed flat and a bit stunted. One could argue that Tony’s apparent stunted emotional growth was part of his character, but it just didn’t seem like it. Why, after so long, was he still so stunted?
Plot Structure 2 out of 5 stars
OK. There was a minor plot here, but the structure wasn’t appealing to me.
Cultural Impact 3 out of 5 stars
This was a relatively popular book, but I don’t think there will be much of a cultural impact beyond that.
Total 2.8 out of 5 stars
Have you read The Sense of an Ending? What did you think? Am I being too harsh?