An Ode to 11 Thought-Provoking Life Quotes from Julian Barnes’ The Sense of An Ending

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The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes is a slow burner. It is the first time I took to a Booker Prize winner, enjoying it thoroughly from start to finish without my interest wavering or feeling unnecessarily overwhelmed. It was not grim at all, and that took me by surprise, for I was expecting a story as gloomy as the title. I was hooked to the mystifying story arc and character sketches. Even more amusing was how the characters spoke – sometimes comical, sometimes pessimistic, sometimes a bit aggravating (as intended).

Several instances and dialogues in the book offer a different perspective on life and its various eccentricities. I have listed some of my favorite lines below.

“History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

“He was too clever. If you’re that clever, you can argue yourself into anything. You just leave common sense behind.”

“He thought logically and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: we make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense.”

“Some Englishman once said that marriage is a long, dull meal with the pudding served first.”

“History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”

“There were some women who aren’t at all mysterious but are only made so by men’s inability to understand them.”

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves, when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

“But time … how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time … give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.”

“The question of accumulation – you put money on a horse, it wins, and your winnings go one to the next horse in the next race, and so on. Your winnings accumulate. But do your losses? Not at the racetrack – there, you just lose your original stake. But in life? Perhaps here, different rules apply. You bet on a relationship, it fails; you go on to the next relationship, it fails too: and maybe what you lose is not two simple minus sums but the multiple of what you staked. That’s what it feels like, anyway. Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure.”

“Because just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“I had a friend who trained as a lawyer, then became disenchanted and never practised. He told me that the one benefit of those wasted years was that he no longer feared either the law or lawyers. And something like that happens more generally, doesn’t it? The more you learn, the less you fear. ‘Learn’ not in the sense of academic study, but in the practical understanding of life.”