Tony is an engaging enough narrator. His confessional candour puts the reader in the uncomfortable role of accomplice. Because his story is delivered openly, with enough detail to create an impression of veracity, we accept the truth in his narrative — he clearly believes himself. We go along with him as he takes us through the nostalgia of teen years, the tender pain of first love and first rejection, and loss. He comes across as victim and we buy it. So when Tony gets his "blood money" as Veronica calls it, and a diary that Veronica refuses to hand over, the revelations cause the reader cognitive dissonance that aligns with the fictional dissonance that Tony experiences. It's a kind of shock of recognition. This subtlety is handled extremely well by Barnes, leading us slowly from innocence to guilt.
The writing remains taut and powered throughout, without a single unnecessary word or frill. However, there are quiet moments of reflection and grace that are pure poetry, such as Tony's witnessing of the Severn Bore surge wave:
"I don't think I can properly convey the effect that moment had on me. It wasn't like a tornado or an earthquake (not that I'd witnessed either) — nature being violent and destructive, putting us in our place. It was more unsettling because it looked and felt quietly wrong, as if some small lever of the universe had been pressed, and here, just for these minutes, nature was reversed and time with it. And to see this phenomenon after dark made it the more mysterious, the more other-worldly." (36)
The Sense of an Ending is a beautifully crafted exploration of a character arc that happens too late to affect change. The motion from clever smugness to painful self-awareness is flawless. The absolute control of Barnes' prose coupled with the philosophical power of his meditations has resulted in a book that's as dense and powerful as it is readable.