The Sense of an Ending

by

Julian Barnes

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Anthony (Tony) Webster Character Analysis

The protagonist of The Sense of an Ending is also its narrator: sixty-something years old when he is telling his story, he also appears as an adolescent and young man as Tony returns to memories of forty years earlier. Tony is eager (and self-consciously so) to tell a certain story of his life, one in which he might appear in as positive a light as possible, and this complicates the ability to understand his character in any objective way. Throughout his life, Tony does retain certain qualities: he is wry and ironic, pleasant in company, and, as he dubs himself, “peaceable”—quick to deflate any situation in order to avoid confrontation. Though awkward around women early in adulthood, he has several intense relationships with women over the course of his life. While he admires and seeks their approval, he also has a tendency to objectify these women or to take advantage of their feelings for him in order to feel better about himself, all the while playing innocent. In some ways, Tony does come to terms with his more negative characteristics—his pettiness, his avoidance of feeling deeply or compassionately for other people, and so on—by the end of the novel, but in other ways he continues to see himself quite differently than how others, including the novel’s readers, might perceive him. However, the novel doesn’t condemn Tony’s behavior and character outright: instead, by portraying him as absolutely average, it suggests that even Tony’s cruelest behavior and greatest self-delusions are entirely ordinary.

Anthony (Tony) Webster Quotes in The Sense of an Ending

The The Sense of an Ending quotes below are all either spoken by Anthony (Tony) Webster or refer to Anthony (Tony) Webster. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory, Manipulation, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Sense of an Ending published in 2012.
One Quotes

But school is where it all began, so I need to return briefly to a few incidents that have grown into anecdotes, to some approximate memories which time has deformed into certainty.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

“I hate the way the English have of not being serious about being serious. I really hate it.”

Related Characters: Adrian Finn (speaker), Anthony (Tony) Webster, Jack Ford
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker)
Related Symbols: Severn Bore
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

But I think I have an instinct for survival, for self-preservation. Perhaps this is what Veronica called cowardice and I called being peaceable.

Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

I did, eventually, find myself thinking straight. That’s to say, understanding Adrian’s reasons, respecting them, and admiring him. He had a better mind and a more rigorous temperament than me; 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 reason to justify it. And call the result common sense.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker), Adrian Finn
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker), Old Joe Hunt
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:
Two Quotes

We live in time, it bounds us and defines us, and time is supposed to measure history, isn’t it? But if we can’t understand time, can’t grasp its mysteries of pace and progress, what chance do we have with history—even our own small, personal, largely undocumented piece of it?

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker)
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Why did I imagine Brother Jack had seen me coming and was having a bit of fun? Perhaps because in this country shadings of class resist time longer than differentials in age. The Fords had been posher than the Websters back then, and they were jolly well going to stay that way. Or was this mere paranoia on my part?

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker), Jack Ford
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

And for a moment, she almost looked enigmatic. But Margaret can’t do enigma, that first step to Woman of Mystery. If she’d wanted me to spend the money on a holiday for two, she’d have said so. Yes, I realise that’s exactly what she did say, but…

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker), Margaret
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker), Jack Ford
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker)
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and I had succeeded—and how pitiful that was.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker)
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

“The question of accumulation,” Adrian had written. […] Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure.

Related Characters: Adrian Finn (speaker), Anthony (Tony) Webster
Related Symbols: Adrian’s Diary
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory. So when this strange thing happened—when these new memories suddenly came upon me—it was as if, for that moment, time had been placed in reverse. As if, for that moment, the river ran upstream.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker)
Related Symbols: Severn Bore
Page Number: 133-134
Explanation and Analysis:

What had begun as a determination to obtain property bequeathed to me had morphed into something much larger, something which bore on the whole of my life, on time and memory. And desire. I thought—at some level of my being, I actually thought—that I could go back to the beginning and change things. That I could make the blood flow backwards.

Related Symbols: Severn Bore, Adrian’s Diary
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Remorse, etymologically, is the action of biting again: that’s what the feeling does to you. Imagine the strength of the bite when I reread my words. They seemed like some ancient curse I had forgotten even uttering. Of course I don’t—I didn’t—believe in curses. That’s to say, in words producing events. But the very action of naming something that subsequently happens—of wishing specific evil, and that evil coming to pass—this still has a shiver of the otherworldly about it.

Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

No, nothing to do with cleverness; and even less with moral courage. He didn’t grandly refuse an existential gift; he was afraid of the pram in the hall.

Related Characters: Anthony (Tony) Webster (speaker), Adrian Finn
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

I looked at the chain of responsibility. I saw my initial in there. I remembered that in my ugly letter I had urged Adrian to consult Veronica’s mother. I replayed the words that would forever haunt me. As would Adrian’s unfinished sentence, “So, for instance, if Tony…”

Related Symbols: Adrian’s Diary
Page Number: 162-163
Explanation and Analysis:
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Anthony (Tony) Webster Character Timeline in The Sense of an Ending

The timeline below shows where the character Anthony (Tony) Webster appears in The Sense of an Ending. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
One
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Tony Webster, the protagonist and narrator, begins his story by listing certain images he remembers: they... (full context)
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Tony muses on his difficulty in understanding how malleable time is, how easily it can be... (full context)
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Tony decides he must return to his school days as the place “it all began,” even... (full context)
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...after friend groups were decided and formed, though he would become the fourth member of Tony’s group of friends. Tony recalls his presence in the first day’s history class taught by... (full context)
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Old Joe Hunt asked if anyone could characterize the age of Henry the Eighth: Tony, Colin, and Alex all hoped they wouldn’t be called on. He chose a cautious dud... (full context)
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At the break, Tony introduced himself and said he was impressed by his line; Adrian said he was disappointed... (full context)
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...what ensues from the conflict between the erotic and the death principle. Dixon turned to Tony, who said he just thought the poem was about a barn owl. Tony reflects now... (full context)
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Adrian was slowly absorbed into Tony’s group, but without adopting their attitudes. He joined the responses in morning prayer while Alex... (full context)
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Tony reflects now that things were simpler in their central London school, without electronic devices or... (full context)
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Tony now recalls Colin complaining about his parents being “bastards”: Adrian ironically asked if they were... (full context)
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Tony remembers feeling like he was in a holding pen, waiting to be released into life,... (full context)
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At school, Tony and his friends were “book-hungry” and “sex-hungry,” convinced that all systems were corrupt and that... (full context)
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Tony returns to another memory: Old Joe Hunt asked the class to debate the origins of... (full context)
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Tony wonders if it was the revelation that Robson was having sex, more than anything, that... (full context)
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Tony remembers grilling Adrian about his parents’ divorce, the only remotely novelistic-seeming event in their lives.... (full context)
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Tony remembers the year’s final history lesson: Old Joe Hunt invited the students to draw some... (full context)
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...a participant’s own explanation always needs to be treated with a certain level of skepticism. Tony reflects that this exchange almost certainly went differently from the way he remembers it. (full context)
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Tony and his friends dispersed: Adrian won a scholarship to Cambridge, while Tony headed to Bristol... (full context)
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Tony’s life did “speed up”: after struggling to win girls without a “technique,” he met Veronica... (full context)
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Veronica owned a Black Box record player (Tony had a Dansette); she owned choral and lieder LPs and hated Tchaikovsky, whom Tony loved.... (full context)
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Tony explains that “going out” is different now: he’s recently heard about a daughter of a... (full context)
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...and touching over the clothes; other girls would accept mutual masturbation, still others “full sex.” Tony notes that this wasn’t religious prudery, since women like Veronica were at ease with their... (full context)
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Tony remembers heated moments, a woman’s hand restraining his wrist and saying “It doesn’t feel right.”... (full context)
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Tony recalls that his bookshelves were more successful than his records: he had more blue Pelicans... (full context)
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Veronica asked why Tony wore his watch inside out: since he couldn’t justify it, he stopped doing so. He... (full context)
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Tony recalls being invited to spend a weekend with Veronica’s family in Chislehurst, Kent. He brought... (full context)
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Veronica’s brother Jack was healthy, prone to laughter, and teasing with Veronica: to him Tony was the object of mild curiosity. Veronica’s mother was quieter and calmer, often disappearing into... (full context)
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Tony’s most vivid memory of the weekend is being so uneasy that he was constipated the... (full context)
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On Saturday, Tony descended for breakfast to find that everyone but Mrs. Ford had gone for a walk.... (full context)
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When the others returned, the air of interrogation seemed to dissipate, though Tony was paranoid that they’d just become tired of him. Still, Veronica became more affectionate with... (full context)
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Jack didn’t show up to say goodbye when Tony left. He remembers Mrs. Ford leaning against the porch, waving not with a raised palm... (full context)
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A week later, Tony recalls, Veronica came to London so she could meet his friends. They wandered around the... (full context)
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Veronica asked for a picture to be taken with Tony’s friends in Trafalgar Square. Forty years on, Tony examines this photo again to look for... (full context)
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After Veronica left, Tony asked his friends what they thought. Adrian said he’d heard of Jack and knew of... (full context)
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Veronica and Tony dated through their second year. Little by little she allowed him more sexual privileges, though... (full context)
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Today, Tony considers this the beginning of the end of their relationship, but wonders if he remembers... (full context)
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Tony reflects that he has few other memories from Bristol other than work and Veronica. One... (full context)
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Tony shifts topics suddenly: after Veronica and he broke up, he shares, she slept with him.... (full context)
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The next time they met, Veronica called Tony a “selfish bastard.” First, she said his flippant decision practically made the sex rape, then... (full context)
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Veronica responded sarcastically, until Tony asked if she slept with him to get him back. When she didn’t answer, he... (full context)
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Bristol was large enough that they didn’t run into each other too much: each time, Tony became apprehensive that Veronica would make him feel guilty, but she never spoke to him.... (full context)
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...was Veronica’s mother, who said she was sorry to hear they’d broken up and hoped Tony would find someone more suitable. The letter didn’t imply that Tony was a jerk: indeed,... (full context)
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Back at Bristol for his final year, Tony focused on his schoolwork, determined to get a 2:1, if not a first. He recalls... (full context)
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Tony asks himself what his logic should be, how his story should continue. Six months later,... (full context)
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Tony felt angry and bitter at this ethical posturing, the idea that Adrian would stop having... (full context)
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Tony notes that he has an instinct for survival and self-preservation, perhaps what Veronica had meant... (full context)
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Finally Tony followed up with an actual letter and, as far as he can now remember, said... (full context)
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Wondering what he had meant by “damaged,” Tony now thinks back on his weekend in Chislehurst: he knew there’d been more at stake... (full context)
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A lifetime later, though, Tony still isn’t positive what he meant by “damaged.” He recalls that his mother-in-law once observed,... (full context)
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Tony admits that this is self-justifying prattle, that he was probably just a typical callow man,... (full context)
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Tony never heard back from Adrian, and began to lose touch with Colin and Alex too.... (full context)
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In the U.S., Tony met an American girl named Annie, who wore plaid shirts and was friendly. They were... (full context)
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When Tony got home, his mother cooked him dinner, then gave him his mail. At the top... (full context)
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Tony returned in his mind to the innocent discussions after Robson’s suicide, when it was evident... (full context)
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Alex and Tony discussed how Adrian killed himself: he cut his wrists in the bath during a weekend... (full context)
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...Alex said that he couldn’t decide whether the suicide was impressive or a terrible waste. Tony wondered if there was an implicit criticism of everyone else in it, including the two... (full context)
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...time he saw Adrian, he’d said he was in love. Silently calling Veronica a bitch, Tony decided that Veronica was the one woman a man could fall in love with and... (full context)
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Back home, Tony conveyed some of the conversation to his mother. Tony’s mother said that Adrian was too... (full context)
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Finally, Tony came around to understanding and admiring Adrian’s reasons, his logical reasoning—so different than the knee-jerk... (full context)
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One year later, Colin, Alex, and Tony met up for a reunion, going over old memories—turning past into anecdote already. They recalled,... (full context)
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Tony began work in arts administration; he met a coworker, Margaret, married her, and had a... (full context)
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Tony had a few subsequent affairs: it always felt right to tell Margaret about them, though... (full context)
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Now Tony is retired. He has a few drinking friends, some platonic female friends; he volunteers running... (full context)
Two
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Tony reflects that when you’re young, you expect certain difficulties of old age: being lonely and... (full context)
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Tony thinks about how for young people, everyone older than a certain age looks older, eventually... (full context)
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Tony gets along well with Susie, though he reflects that younger people no longer feel the... (full context)
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Tony thinks of a friend who has a son in a punk rock band: she’d mentioned... (full context)
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Tony now describes a letter he received in a long white envelope, from a legal firm:... (full context)
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Tony, besides, has successfully put the pain Veronica caused him out of his mind: he never... (full context)
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Tony opens the first document to read a letter from Mrs. Ford. She says she thinks... (full context)
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Tony reflects that Margaret used to say men were attracted to one type of woman or... (full context)
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Tony has been influenced by Margaret’s clear edges over the years: rather than patiently beginning a... (full context)
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Tony reflects that the less time remains in one’s life, the less one wants to waste... (full context)
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Tony admits that when he first met Margaret, he’d pretended Annie was his first real girlfriend:... (full context)
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On the phone with T.J. Gunnell, the lawyer advises Tony not to doggedly pursue Veronica’s “theft” of the diary—the police wouldn’t be eager to pursue... (full context)
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Mrs. Marriott takes two weeks to give Tony Jack Ford’s email; Veronica has declined to have her contact details passed along. Tony sends... (full context)
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Tony meets Margaret for lunch. He thinks how nice she looks, and how he notices what’s... (full context)
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After a series of questions, Margaret asks wryly what the “long-divorced” Tony would do if the presumably unmarried Veronica were to walk into the café at that... (full context)
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Tony realizes that he wants the diary so badly because it might be evidence, or “corroboration”:... (full context)
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...week, Jack sends Veronica’s email along with a cheery note about blue skies in Sydney. Tony is surprised and grateful: he tries to return to the few things he remembers about... (full context)
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Tony recalls that Veronica’s father drove a Humber Super Snipe—a strange name, it strikes him. He’s... (full context)
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Tony writes to Veronica and receives a one-line reply: “Blood money?” He can’t understand it, other... (full context)
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Tony notes that Veronica seems confused by his dogged but tranquil approach. His precedent is the... (full context)
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Finally, Tony receives a letter from Mrs. Marriott containing what she calls a “fragment” of Adrian’s diary,... (full context)
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Tony is first struck by how admirable Adrian still seems, how intense his rational argumentation still... (full context)
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Tony finds himself comparing his life to Adrian’s: he wonders, thinking of a certain poet, if... (full context)
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Tony recognizes that he does find comfort in his own stubbornness, however. He keeps sending jovial,... (full context)
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Tony instantly recognizes Veronica by her posture as he approaches the middle of the bridge the... (full context)
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Veronica looks somewhat shabby, in Tony’s eyes. Her hair is the same length it was 40 years earlier, though gray now,... (full context)
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Tony remembers thinking, when he was young, about all the adventures that would await him, how... (full context)
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Tony waits a day and a half before opening Veronica’s envelope, knowing she’d expect him to... (full context)
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Tony sits down with a glass of wine to read what’s in the envelope. It’s a... (full context)
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...the text, is addressed to Adrian but also to Veronica, whom he calls the “Bitch.” Tony says he hopes that the two of them will end up mutually damaging each other,... (full context)
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Tony keeps drinking whisky and rereading the letter. Unable to refute its authenticity, he can only... (full context)
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The next day, Tony keeps thinking about himself, Adrian, and Veronica, and about how much more hurtful people can... (full context)
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Tony then thinks about Adrian again, about how compared to Adrian he’d always been a “muddler,”... (full context)
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Tony keeps wondering: why Veronica had his letter, why she’d bothered to answer his email if... (full context)
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Tony reflects again on his relationship with Susie, with whom he gets on “fine.” He remembers... (full context)
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Tony wonders if character develops over time: perhaps it’s like intelligence, but peaks a little later,... (full context)
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Tony thinks back to Adrian’s diary and what he had written about “accumulation”: life is not... (full context)
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Tony envies the clarity of Adrian’s life: in your twenties, he reflects, you have much greater... (full context)
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Tony reflects that there’s lot to be said for the spontaneity and immediacy of email: he... (full context)
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Tony thinks about how Jack’s contempt is still biting to him, forty years on. He wonders... (full context)
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Tony wonders if there might be a cure for the pain of remorse after all—if it... (full context)
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Tony looks back at the Trafalgar Square photo and wonders if he should track down Alex... (full context)
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Tony notes that he doesn’t want to blame Margaret, but that she’d left him with no... (full context)
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...are various ways to deal with the regular failings of memory that come with age, Tony thinks. Once in a while, though, his brain surprises him. Suddenly, long-buried details from the... (full context)
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A few nights later, Tony calls Veronica and suggests they meet again, promising he doesn’t want to talk about her... (full context)
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Tony arrives to find Veronica there already, reading a Stefan Zweig novel: he cracks a joke... (full context)
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Tony asks how her last forty years have gone, but Veronica tells him to go first.... (full context)
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The next week is a quiet one. Tony knows Margaret won’t call if he doesn’t. He’s been feeling somewhat bad about her. He... (full context)
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Tony doesn’t want to press Veronica, but he hopes for a polite message saying it was... (full context)
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Tony’s new theory, though, is that memory survives on the same loops, drawing on the same... (full context)
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Tony emails Veronica again, apologizing for monopolizing the conversation and asking to meet again. After a... (full context)
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There is objective time, but also subjective—the kind worn on the inside of your wrist—Tony thinks, and the latter is measured with regard to memory. With the appearance of these... (full context)
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When Tony reaches the Tube station, he sees a familiar posture: Veronica turns and walks off, leaving... (full context)
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After a long silence, Tony asks Veronica what’s wrong with them, and then asks if they’re care-in-the-community. Veronica suddenly lets... (full context)
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...his hand. All four ambush her, and she smiles for the first time that day. Tony can’t hear what’s being said, until she says, “Soon,” which they all repeat. The “lopsided”... (full context)
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Back in the car, Tony says that they all seemed very pleased to see Veronica. He continues to ask questions,... (full context)
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Tony feels foolish and humiliated, especially after the hopefulness he’s recently felt, especially about the possibility... (full context)
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Tony’s next week is one of the loneliest in his life: he replays to himself Margaret’s... (full context)
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However, Tony repeats that he has an instinct for self-preservation. He rallies, deciding to return to his... (full context)
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Not long afterward, Tony is driving to North London, eventually finding himself in the street where he and Veronica... (full context)
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Eventually, Tony remembers overhearing that Friday is pub night. The following Friday he drives to the pub... (full context)
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Tony becomes a regular at the pub, working his way through the menu: he’s patient. One... (full context)
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Tony sits at the bar and looks at the menu; the black woman soon approaches him,... (full context)
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Tony had seen the truth in the man’s face, their eyes, color, and expression, “corroborated” by... (full context)
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Tony thinks of how he’d so recently been indulging in vague fantasies about Veronica even while... (full context)
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Tony has no one to tell this to: as Margaret said, he’s on his own, and... (full context)
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Tony wonders what he possibly knows of life: he’s lived so carefully, avoiding being hurt, paying... (full context)
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Tony writes an email to Veronica with the subject “Apology.” He doesn’t expect her to respond... (full context)
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Tony’s life continues. He recommends books to the sick and dying, volunteering at the hospital. He... (full context)
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Then, Tony receives an email from Veronica, which is almost the same as an earlier one: it... (full context)
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One evening, after a conversation with the barman where Tony tries and fails to order thinner “hand-cut chips” (which turn out not to be hand-cut... (full context)
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Terry asks if Tony minds him asking who he is: Tony replies that he was a friend of Adrian... (full context)
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Terry replies that what Tony is saying doesn’t make sense. First, Tony clarifies: he knows Adrian’s mother as Veronica, but... (full context)
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Later, at home, Tony “gets it all”: why Mrs. Ford had Adrian’s diary, why she said his last months... (full context)
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Toward the end of life, Tony realizes, one gets the chance to ask what else one might have done wrong. He... (full context)