A master of both the novel (Flaubert’s Parrot, Arthur and George) and the short story (The Lemon Table, Pulse), Julian Barnes may have found his perfect genre with the novella. His brief, conversational, and Man Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending (Random House, $23.95) is a moving meditation on time; it’s also a meticulously constructed work that repays immediate rereading, each incident and conversation gaining meaning and resonance when seen in terms of the whole story. That story focuses on Tony Webster, retired, yet suddenly swept up again in the events of some forty years before. As he recounts his youthful friendships and an early, fraught relationship with a woman who later took up with his best friend, Tony begins to question what happened and how well he really knew the people he was involved with—let alone himself. As he revises his memories, the novel becomes a deft, subtle study of the elusive effects of time. Tony’s stream of reminiscences is akin to a succession of photos of himself, some comforting, others shocking, that constantly show him as a new and different person, yet also, somehow, the same one.
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