After her death, Veronica Ford’s mother, Mrs. Sarah Ford, leaves Tony two documents—a letter and Adrian’s diary—as well as five hundred pounds. Tony had only met Sarah Ford once before, at a rather uncomfortable weekend he spent with Veronica at her parents’ home, and is mystified by this bequest—especially once it turns out that Veronica is refusing to hand over the diary.
The novel is to a certain extent structured around Tony’s attempt to gain access to this diary. Tony believes that reading the diary will allow him to understand why Mrs. Ford left it to him, and what he doesn’t remember or didn’t understand about his long-ago relationship to Veronica: in addition, he imagines it might serve as “corroboration” for his own innocence, allowing him to undo vague feelings of guilt or responsibility for the way he treated Veronica in the past.
The diary is just the kind of physical evidence that Adrian himself cites in history class at school, as a straightforward means of understanding history. By reading the diaries of historical figures, historians can understand motivations, causes, and effects of long-ago events. His own diary thus represents this ideal of historical evidence—but it also symbolizes the complexities and even impossibility, according to Barnes, of ever seizing the past as it actually was. In part this is because Veronica burns the diary—or at least that’s what she tells Tony—thus underlining how such pieces of evidence are fragile and potentially ephemeral. But even the fragment of the diary that Tony does read, a single page, is a mystery itself: it will take the rest of the novel for Tony to have any idea what it meant. Things are complicated even further by the fact that the diary is one person’s account of what happened—and it’s an account that’s necessarily biased, both because it’s one person’s view, and because Adrian, at least, carefully planned his suicide and thus knew that his diary would be read as evidence. Diaries may well give some kind of glimpse into the past, but that glimpse, the novel suggests, will always be a partial, biased, and even deceptive one.
Adrian’s Diary Quotes in The Sense of an Ending
“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.
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.
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…”