The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes


Of course, there were other sorts of literature –theoretical, self-referential, lachrymosely autobiographical –but they were just dry wanks.

History is the lies of the victors. It is also the self-delusions of the defeated.

‘History is a raw onion sandwich, sir.’
‘For what reason?’
‘It just repeats, sir. It burps. We’ve seen it again and again this year. Same old story, same old oscillation between tyranny and rebellion, war and peace, prosperity and impoverishment.’

“There’s nothing wrong with being a genius who can fascinate the young. Rather, there’s something wrong with the young who can’t be fascinated by a genius.”

“If you’re that clever you can argue yourself into anything.”

That single word ‘pregnant’ seemed to hover like chalk-dust.

This was an exchange heard in front of many a breathy gas fire, counterpointed by many a whistling kettle. And there was no arguing against ‘feelings’, because women were experts in them, men coarse beginners. So ‘It doesn’t feel right’ had far more persuasive force and irrefutability than any appeal to church doctrine or a mother’s advice.

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

‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.’

Perhaps because in this country shadings of class resist time longer than differentials in age.

She sees only what’s gone, I see only what’s stayed the same.

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 brain doesn’t like being typecast.

“What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him. Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realised? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid his bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? One whose self-rebukes never really inflicted pain?”


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