Fiction Addiction

Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Fiction Addiction: Introducing The Sense of an Ending

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Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending. Photo / Supplied
Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending. Photo / Supplied

It's the strangest method I've ever used to pick a book.

I couldn't find much to inspire me in this month's new-release novels, once Christine had snapped up Michael Ondaatje's promising The Cat's Table as her October feature read. So I turned to the bookies.

With the Man Booker Prize due to be announced in a couple of weeks, I figured I should really school up on the shortlist. But with not enough time left to read all six short-listed books (and have a life), I looked up a couple of betting websites.

As I write this, William Hill has The Sense of an Ending by English author Julian Barnes as the favourite (6/4), followed by Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch on 7/2.

Ladbrokes concurs, with The Sense of an Ending ahead on 13/8, though it has Jamrach's Menagerie tied with Snowdrops by AD Miller, both on 7/2.

(It's interesting that both sites categorise the Booker under "sports" on their websites.)

Now it should be said that the bookies don't necessarily read the shortlisted books. The William Hill bookmaker who has been calculating the odds on the Booker for a quarter of a century told the BBC that he uses critics' reviews as his primary yardstick.

As a method of guessing what's going on in the heads of the Booker judging panel, even the views of critics are notoriously unreliable. Though the bookies were spot on with their 2009 frontrunner, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, last year the award went to the least-favoured book on the shortlist, Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question.

And in 2005 another Barnes novel, Arthur & George, was odds-on favourite but lost to John Banville's The Sea.

However, as a method of choosing a book to read, it seems sound enough. I usually pick novels on the strength of reviews, so I was happy to go along with the bookies and choose the safe bet. Thus, The Sense of an Ending is my October feature read.

Once I'd chosen my book I figured I should probably find out what it was about. In my defence, it was only released in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago.

It's a slim novella - just 150 pages - about an ordinary 60-something man who receives a surprising letter that prompts him to re-explore certain events and relationships of his youth. But how reliable is his memory?

That doesn't sound like a particularly original concept for a novel but, going by the reviews, I guess the magic is in the execution.

The Independent called the book quietly mesmerising. "A slow burn, measured but suspenseful, this compact novel makes every slyly crafted sentence count."

On the Good Morning show, Kate de Goldi called it a wonderful novella. "It's small, it's tightly written. He's a wonderful writer: everything he does is deliberate; no word is misplaced."

I'll be reading and blogging about The Sense of an Ending throughout this month, so feel free to pick up a copy, read along and post your comments.

To enter our competition to win a copy of The Sense of an Ending and The Cat's Table, click here and tell us whether competitions such as the Booker influence your reading choices, and why/why not. Entries close next Friday, 14 October.

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