The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes
Explanations of What Really Happened?
Warning: Do not read further until you have completely finished reading The Sense of an Ending.
Here are my harebrained deductions of what really occurred among the puzzles and mysteries of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes:
- The big revelation that Tony finally comes to understand at the end of the book is that Adrian and Sara had an affair leading to a pregnancy which resulted in the birth of Adrian junior. In addition, the baby ended up being mentally challenged. Of course, the risks of a problem pregnancy were much higher with the mother, Sara, being in her mid to late 40s.
- With the revelation of the affair between Adrian and Sara, some of the other puzzle pieces dropped into place for Tony including what the letters stand for in the mathematical equations that Adrian created in his diary. Tony doesn’t like math equations so he may not have even analyzed the equations too closely but as an engineer, I had to jump right into analyzing Adrian’s equations. Here are the two equations (If they don't display correctly in your browser, please refer to the equations in the novel):
Where:Based on Adrian’s descriptions of how he is representing relationships, the first equation doesn’t seem to quite work right but the second equation makes perfect sense. I would translate the second equation as: Tony had a reasonably good relationship with Veronica. Then Adrian became involved in the same kind of relationship with Veronica. Then Adrian and Sara formed a passionate relationship resulting in a baby. The multiplication symbol represents either a relationship of lust or simply a positive relationship which had progressed to the intimate stage. It is clearly stronger than the relationship between Adrian and Veronica which was represented as being about the same strength as Tony’s original relationship with Veronica. On the other hand, if Adrian had been completely in love with Sara, one would think he would have placed the combination + and x symbol between him and Sara like he did on the first equation. The first equation is either a first attempt at using pure mathematical logic that didn’t quite work or else it should be interpreted within the context of the second equation. To my mind, this equation would be translated as: The baby resulted from Sara having a negative relationship with her daughter Veronica so that Sara seduced her daughter’s boyfriend even though Veronica and Adrian were in the middle of a true love relationship. Perhaps both equations are true. Veronica and Adrian were seriously in love but Sara managed to seduce Adrian and Adrian enjoyed his relationship with Sara even though he also still loved Veronica.
= Tony (Anthony)
- At the end of the book, Tony feels even more guilt about sending his hateful letter to Adrian as he imagines that his letter could have practically driven Adrian into the arms of Veronica’s mother setting off the chain of events that lead to Adrian’s suicide. You might think that Tony is being overly hard on himself because who would take a letter of passionate anger so seriously? However, there are some reasons to think that the letter could have really had a significant impact. First, Tony wrote a quick card to Adrian when he received Adrian’s letter and didn’t write his really nasty letter until weeks later after he had a lot of time to think it over so Adrian may have thought that the letter was not just written in a time of extreme emotion. We know that Tony just delayed thinking about the situation because of his busy academics of the time and then when he started to write the letter, he was overcome with emotions but Adrian may have thought Tony had written his second letter after long thought. Second, Tony clearly portrayed Veronica as unstable or “damaged” and portrayed Veronica’s mother as someone who Adrian should trust and seek out for advice on his relationship with Veronica. On the other hand, it seems obvious that even if Tony had never written his letter, Adrian may still have been seduced by Veronica’s mother. But, if he had not had doubts about Veronica generated by Tony’s letter, he may have been less susceptible to overtures from her mother.
- Tony still doesn’t understand Veronica. She tells him, “You just don’t get it, do you? You never did, and you never will.” I know not everyone will agree with me but I think it’s clear that Veronica was truly in love with Tony. However, Veronica relied almost solely on indirect communication which just didn’t work with Tony. When she ends up having sex with Tony for the first time (after their break-up) she was making a last desperate attempt to communicate her love for him. However, all Tony thinks, due to his general paranoia, is that she is manipulating him again or just playing with his emotions.
- During Tony’s only weekend with Veronica’s family, Veronica’s mother was making a pass at him. The major question that Tony still can’t understand about that weekend is why Veronica told her family that Tony wanted to sleep in and then go for a walk with her father and brother leaving Tony alone with her mother. My theory is that in actuality, Veronica’s mother told her family to go for a walk so that she could talk with Tony alone about his intentions towards her daughter and she told Tony that Veronica said he wanted to sleep in so that he wouldn’t be uncomfortable being all alone with her. Of course, the real reason Veronica’s mother wanted to have time alone with Tony was to make a pass at him or to plant seeds of doubt within Tony about Veronica in order to sabotage his relationship with her daughter.
- Veronica’s mother does not have a healthy relationship with her daughter. She is either jealous of her daughter or resents her daughter and either consciously or unconsciously wants to hurt her emotionally. It’s not all that uncommon for a mother to resent her daughter or to be overly competitive with her. When a daughter matures into a woman and has all the advantages of youthful beauty, a mother can’t avoid facing the fact that she herself is aging and her own beauty is on the decline. While most women would be happy for their daughter to be found beautiful, others could become subject to extreme jealousy. They could also be subject to insecurity if they think that their daughter might be stealing all the affection of their husband. I think Sara, either consciously or unconsciously wants to sabotage Veronica’s relationship and she wants to prove she is still a desirable woman with the ability to attract a younger man. This explains her strange remark out of the blue to Tony, "Don't let Veronica get away with too much" and explains her extra friendliness to Tony. And of course this also explains her affair with Adrian.
- If Tony had not broken up with Veronica and had instead become engaged, the relationship still wouldn’t have worked because their communication styles were simply too different unless Veronica could somehow change her communication style to using a very direct approach most of the time. The other possibility is that Tony would have ended up having an affair with Sara. Obviously, he was favorably impressed with her based on his single weekend experience as he thinks to himself when driving away, “I rather wished I’d talked to her more.” Even if Tony did have an affair with Veronica’s mother, the results probably would have been much different than what happened with Adrian. Tony would have most likely been very careful to use contraceptives due to his consistently “safe” lifestyle and even if Sara did somehow get pregnant, there is no indication that Tony as a man of inaction would even consider committing suicide.
- The one mystery I can’t explain to my own satisfaction is what exactly is that “horizontal gesture at waist level” that Veronica’s mother makes towards Tony? Is it some kind of coy English style wave? Is it a signal that she is available? If any women who understand the English ways have a good explanation, please let me know via the feedback page.
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