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1. Nothing to Be Frightened Of (Vintage)
2. Arthur & George
3. Flaubert's Parrot
4. A History of the World in 10 1/2
5. Before She Met Me
6. Love, Etc
7. The Lemon Table
8. Something to Declare: Essays on
9. England, England
10. The Pedant in the Kitchen
11. The Porcupine (First edition)
12. Cross Channel
13. Talking It Over
14. Arthur & George
15. Love, etc.
16. Staring at the Sun
17. Metroland
18. Conversations with Julian Barnes
19. Understanding Julian Barnes (Understanding
20. Language, History, and Metanarrative

1. Nothing to Be Frightened Of (Vintage)
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 256 Pages (2009-10-06)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$6.98
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0307389987
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

A memoir on mortality as only Julian Barnes can write it, one that touches on faith and science and family as well as a rich array of exemplary figures who over the centuries have confronted the same questions he now poses about the most basic fact of life: its inevitable extinction.If the fear of death is “the most rational thing in the world,” how does one contend with it?An atheist at twenty and an agnostic at sixty, Barnes looks into the various arguments for, against, and with God, and at his own bloodline, which has become, following his parents’ death, another realm of mystery.

Deadly serious, masterfully playful, and surprisingly hilarious, Nothing to Be Frightened Of is a riveting display of how this supremely gifted writer goes about his business and a highly personal tour of the human condition and what might follow the final diagnosis. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (28)

3-0 out of 5 stars Not That Interesting
Except for some short stories I was impressed with I haven't read much Barnes, but I plan to read some of his novels.
I gave this "memoir" three stars because Barnes wrote it, not because I liked it, neither did I find it much worth the trouble. He does say some startling things but the work itself is like diving for pearls in a murky sea.
If you knew anything about the writers Barnes refers to throughout that would be better. I don't know enough about them, haven't read them and wasn't generally interested in his expertise in shaping them to his theme, which he doesn't always do. So there's a lot of stuff in here that I could do without.
His wit often falls flat, more like cynicism, and I wish he had found some reason to love his parents more, even if he didn't like them. Another failing, maybe in the author, is that I don't feel any passion. Either for life or for death. I don't know if this is the bland, maybe bitter fruit of his education or just his personality. And like my review, there's a lot of discontinuity and jumping around in the book to make it more like a buffet with a good number of things to eat that you don't like than eating off the menu and having a satisfying full course dinner.
I thought about reading it again, surely its better than this, but I'm not so sure I will because he didn't hold enough cards the first time around to convince me that its worth another try.

5-0 out of 5 stars A free manthinks of nothing more than Death
Julian Barnes is a bit old - fashioned. He has written a book about the fear of dying without considering the possibility 'Death' too is just another contingency which technological human beings will be able to invent themselves out of. In short in this work the work of people like Aubrey de Grey who believe life will one day be extended indefinitely, or Ray Kurzweil who believes the intelligences which will replace us will not be organic passers from the world.
Instead Barnes takes what is given all the evidence we have a not unreasonable position , that each and every human being dies. This is the 'nothing' to be frightened of, the nothing of our not being. Barnes tells us that since childhood not a day has passed without his thinking about his own mortality. And now that he has hit sixty there is no diminishing of his concern about the subject.
But the book does not focus exclusively on his attitude towards death. In fact what is extremely interesting is what he tells us about others attitude Death, both those of his own family and those writers like Montaigne, Philip Larkin, Jules Renaud, Goethe.
Barnes writes beautifully and surveys brilliantly the opinions of a wide variety of writers and thinkers on the subject of Death. As one who does not believe in God but 'misses Him' the paradoxical quality of much of this thought is apparent.
I found the most interesting parts of the book to be his considerations of the attitudes of famous others to Death. Thus he notes for instance Goethe's seeming disdain for Death as he struggled to pursue his own independent way of life. Barnes considers the work of Dr. Sherwin Nuland whose pioneering research told a general audience just how horrible Death often is.
All in all this is a very fine book although it does not my mind explore religious 'answers' to Death in a sufficient way. Nor does it consider fully enough the way for many belief in God is the only final meaningful answer to Death. For the religious believer there is a kind of defiance, "Death where is thy sting? Death where is thy victory?' which I suppose those who believe only in our complete disappearance with Death cannot have.

4-0 out of 5 stars Safety in Numbers?
The success or failure of a memoir really depends upon one thing: its ability to transcend the personal and to speak to the universal. For this alone, "Nothing to Be Frightened Of" would score highest marks. Barnes' book is a poignant and humorous mediation on mortality, and in particular upon his inability to come to terms with it. Barnes has read the poets; he's read the psychoanalysts; he's read theologians and philosophers, and still he remains implacable.

Oddly enough, the book is neither morbid nor cynical nor depressing. That is to say, while the tone necessarily reflects some of the author's own dread, that anxiety is never transferred to the reader. I remember feeling a sense of suffocation when reading Kubler-Ross and Irvin D. Yalom, to say nothing of Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" or Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture," the latter two representing a sure-fire way to exercise the old tear ducts. Barnes' book doesn't do that to you; instead, he manages to be both intimate and critically distant enough that one actually feels safe contemplating the end with him.

The jokes help too.

Not that we are ever laughing at death. Death is no laughing matter. But how we confront death sometimes is. To that end, the reported exchanges between Julian and his brother (the philosopher Jonathan Barnes) are more than just comic relief; they set the mood while providing the framework of the book, which juxtaposes the thoughts and exchanges of other thinkers, to include famous writers, classical composers and various other pundits---and not just the usual suspects. Those cited are the (primarily) French authors--Jules Renard, Alphonse Daudet, Flaubert, Montaigne--so important to the author himself. At times passages are repeated, but always within a unique context, much like free-association.

Ultimately, Barnes never does find consolation, but he inadvertently offers it. Or at least I found consolation. For while we may all die alone and without answers, it helps to know that so many of us ask the same questions, have the same fears. And while I was pleased that the questioning ended when it did, Barnes' memoir is moving, intelligent, eloquent and (dare I say it?) ... fun.

3-0 out of 5 stars Readable but shallow.
The good news is that the urbane Mr. Barnes knows his way around the English langauge.Sentence after sentence falls pleasantly on the mind's ear.

The bad news is that his theme -- that he doesn't really believe in God but misses Him anyhow -- is, as his brother describes it, "soppy."And irritating, coming from the comfort and safety of secular Britain.Let Mr. Barnes spend a month in Iran, or among West Bank settlers, or, better yet, let him come to our American Bible Belt and hang out at a megachurch, and see how much he still pines for Santa God and the Big Rock Candy Heaven.Also, there is something evasive about his talk of fearing death as nonbeing, as extinction, while not examing the sordid horror of dying itself.By comparison, mere nothingness seems a paper tiger.For a more trenchant meditation on the loss of faith I would recommend Stevie Smith's poem "How Do You See the Holy Spirit of God?"That said, the book offers entertaining glimpses into the author's personal life, and he's agreeable company, so if you don't set your expectations too high you may well enjoy it.

1-0 out of 5 stars Could not even finish
I am in a book club.And we choose this book for last month's read.We all agreed, we hated this book.The writing did not flow well, and it was very random.The "story" (if you can even call it that) jumped around a lot and made it difficult to follow.I am not sure how this book managed to get such good reviews.I read a lot, and even if I am not enjoying the book, I rarely do not finish.This book, just got added to that very short list. ... Read more

2. Arthur & George
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 464 Pages (2007-01-09)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$4.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1400097037
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
As boys, George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, living in shabby genteel Edinburgh, find themselves in a vast and complex world at the heart of the British Empire. Years later—one struggling with his identity in a world hostile to his ancestry, the other creating the world’s most famous detective while in love with a woman who is not his wife–their fates become inextricably connected.

In Arthur &George, Julian Barnes explores the grand tapestry of late-Victorian Britain to create his most intriguing and engrossing novel yet.Amazon.com Review
A real tour de force from masterful author Julian Barnes is Arthur & George, which was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker Prize.Late-Victorian Britain is brought to vivid life in the true story of the intersection of two lives: one an internationally famous author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the other, an obscure country lawyer, George Edalji, son of a Parsi Midlands vicar and a Scottish mother. They start out very differently.Arthur pursues a career in medicine before he discovers that he is really a writer; George, on his way to becoming a lawyer--near-sighted, timid and friendless--is victimized by locals because he is easy to scapegoat--a half-Indian in lily-white Great Wyrley.

The victimization of George takes the form of nasty letters, the theft of a school key, and finally, the accusation that he has mutilated animals.Meanwhile, Arthur is becoming more and more famous for creating Sherlock Holmes, whom he tries to kill off once and is forced to resurrect because of his fans' outcry.He marries, fathers two children and then, when his wife is invalided by consumption, falls madly in love for the first time with Jean Leckie.

The novel's style is smoothly revelatory.We slowly come to realize that George is half-Indian, that Arthur is the famous Doyle, that the woman he loves, chastely,is not his wife and, sadly, that George will not prevail over the forces ranged against him.

When George, desperate to resume his law career after imprisonment, sends Arthur the sad chronicle of his history, Arthur sees immediately that he could not be guilty and sets out to clear his name.This case of George's lifts Arthur from the slough of despond into which he has sunk after his wife, Touie, dies.He is guilt-ridden, constantly wondering if he was attentive enough, if she could possibly have known about Jean.Realizing the immense injustice George has suffered, he is shaken out of lethargy and, in Holmesian fashion, sets out to solve the case.

Julian Barnes is a gifted writer of enormous accomplishment.This novel is thoroughly engrossing, filled with Barnes's trademark themes of identity and love, longing and loss, and ultimately, an examination of man's inhumanity to man. --Valerie Ryan ... Read more

Customer Reviews (99)

4-0 out of 5 stars Different
Arthur and George is a true, yet fictionalized, account of a man wrongfully imprisioned for maiming horses.Arthur turns out to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who takes on the case of finding the real culprit.The story begins with the childhood of each character, and then focuses on George, a half breed Scott/Indian, subject of prejudice, referred to as "colored" and painted to be a "nerd" or misfit, then switches to Sir Arthur's life, until the two lives entertwine as he takes on the case.The story is a sad one in all respects.The voice is difficult to read at times because it is written in a British style with British terms and definitions, which helps support the characters' profiles, but offers a pitfall to those who are not familiar with that form of English.Some of the chapters are so long they seem to be a book by themselves.Tiring at times, it was still hard to put down for long.
Perhaps I was drawn into the story because my brother, also a nerd and autistic misfit, was also wrongfully imprisioned for a crime he did not commit by a sherrif who was prejudiced in nature and needed someone to pick on.Perhaps, if the ending is right, and Sir Arthur is still at work in the spiritual world of mediums and clairvoyance, he will take on my brother's case as well.(Please pray for "the mazeman".
You might also be interested in the novel Stars Shine After Dark, available in both paperback and Kindle.

5-0 out of 5 stars Clever and Meticulous
Having never read any works by Julian Barnes prior to this novel, I feel as though I have really shortchanged myself. "Arthur & George" is a semi-fictional account of the relationship that developed between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji, who was a victim of a miscarriage of justice, tabloid sensationalists and social prejudice. The novel begins by devoting short chapters to each man beginning with their respective childhood through adulthood - it lays down the foundation that helps the reader understand how divergent these two lives were until they finally cross paths. The two men could not have been more different in personality and circumstance. Sir Conan Doyle was a robust, athletic, imaginative and intelligent man who found love twice and became famous for his Sherlock Holmes detective novels.George Edalji, on the other hand, was introverted, constrained, somewhat naive, and although intelligent, he was not clever or witty - he became a relatively successful solicitor, and was hardly noticeable until wrongfully accused of mutilating livestock. The poor man was convicted and spends seven years in prison despite the lack of real evidence, all the while maintaining his innocence, and firmly believing in the system of law that had become his profession. It is after his release that their lives converge when George Edalji writes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle asking for his help to prove his innocence, solve the mysterious case and hopefully win a pardon. George's plight appeals to Sir Conan Doyle's sense of indignation and he uses his Sherlock Holmes fame to champion a cause célèbre.

The story of "Arthur and George" is a beautifully written narrative of the era (late 19th / early 20th Century) in which it is set. A somewhat silly comparison, but the overall tone reminded me of those lovely PBS series: "Upstairs Downstairs", "Brideshead Revisited", "Jewel in the Crown", and "Reilly Ace of Spies" - it is so evocative that the dialogue engages you with its textures and nuances - posh upper class and Brummie working class accents with "Rule, Britannia!" all the while playing in the background. I wanted George Edalji and Sir Conan Doyle to triumph over the inept police officers and shoddy investigation. I wanted the real culprit exposed and mystery solved. I wanted officials to finally admit their mistake and restore Mr. Edalji's good name and reputation. I wanted justice.

"Arthur & George" effectively raises questions about guilt and innocence, nationality and race, sensationalism and public opinion - the story based on a historical event is evidence that our society really has not changed much in one hundred years. I recommend the novel for its fascinating story and the incredible prose

5-0 out of 5 stars Alfred Hitchcock lives!
`Arthur and George' is a Victorian crime mystery, and a page-turner that continually feeds information and hints. It is interactive, just like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie:you are given clues so you can experience and think along with the characters.I was very impressed with how carefully it was written, how real the characters seemed, and the truly unusual story that developed.In fact, the story is so odd that it would almost have to be real! I'm not sure anyone would or could have thought-up a story like this one.

There's lots of color along the way, and some interesting insights into the times, very interesting period dialog, and a peak into one of the more interesting mystical beliefs of the day. The latter, by the way, is almost a back-drop for the story as it comes up time and again.

Be prepared to take your time with this one, do not dismiss any of the information you are given, and be prepared for a little more work than average for this genre.Dan Brown's `DaVinci Code' and `Angels and Demons', for example, are much easier to follow and much more action-packed, but also much less in the character development category.`Arthur and George' goes more at the pace of life, though you surely wouldn't want to experience everything the characters do.In short, you have to invest a little of yourself into the story.

I'm hesitant to give the plot away, so I'll just recommend it along with a little patience.If you like Hitchcock, I think you'll enjoy it.

5-0 out of 5 stars English justice system on trial
I knew before reading this book that the Arthur in the title is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.I assumed that he and George were friends, something like Sherlock Holmes and Watson.Wrong.Arthur's underwhelming ophthalmology practice affords him plenty of time to concoct detective novels, but elsewhere in England George Edalji is being prosecuted for a series of brutal crimes that he did not commit.George's father is a vicar from India, and George, an attorney himself, becomes the prime suspect, partly because of bigotry and partly because the police are just plain incompetent and need someone to blame.Did I mention that this is based on a true story?The first part of the book is a little slow, as the author sets the scene with background info on the two main characters, but then the pace starts to pick up.Arthur falls in love with a much younger woman, while his wife is slowly succumbing to tuberculosis.George's story is really the backbone of the book--his Kafkaesque trial, his time in prison, and the year after his release, in which Sir Arthur revitalizes his own life by helping clear George's name.In the background lies another important character--the English justice system.Apparently George's case helped bring about some significant improvements, including introduction of the Court of Appeals.Another side topic is the rise of spiritualism and Sir Arthur's involvement.I have mixed feelings about the séance at the end of the book, where a crowd of 10,000 is expected to rejoice at Arthur's having passed to the other side.However, the author's two sentences describing George's contemplation of joy are my favorite lines in the book, which beautifully sum up George's "stolid" life:

"In his childhood there was something called pleasure, usually accompanied by the adjectives guilty, furtive or illicit.The only pleasures allowed were those modified by the word simple."

5-0 out of 5 stars A true-crime story
This novel is based on a true story, which brought together the lives of two notable characters, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji. In a long but indispensable initial exposition, the author tells, in an alternate way, the lives of the two protagonists. Arthur is the son of a dipsomaniac man and an ultra-dominant mother, who becomes a doctor. Thanks to the very few patients he sees, and to the model of his mentor Joseph Bell, he creates the most famous detective in history, which catapults him into universal fame and to be Peer of the Kingdom.

George, the son of an Anglican priest of Indo-Parsi descent, is a shy, short-sighted, and solitary man who grows up convinced of the superiority of the virtues and rectitude of British culture, and who becomes a lawyer. But then he sees his life destroyed by an inifamous and inscrutable campaign of calumny which takes him to jail, unfairly of course. During his long struggle to regain his freedom and reputation, George recruits the aid of the famous writer.

Who, in his turn, has had an agitated life which then has to pass through a tough trial: his wife, Touie, who suffers from tuberculosis, has become an invalid, and with time Arthur has fallen in love with the young Jean Leckie. Their relationship is close but entirely Platonic until Touie's death. Durnig those years, the agnostic and rationalist Arthur has become involved with Spiritism, so fashionable back then, until turning into its Apostle. Both lives, each with its own travails and triales, become entangled in a very moving story.

Barnes, as usual, does a great job developing his characters, so different, so lovable each in his own terms. The prose is wonderfully evocative of the Victorian style, with a rich language, attention to detail, and full rounded scenery. Barnes is undoubtedly one of the best writers alive. ... Read more

3. Flaubert's Parrot
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 192 Pages (1990-11-27)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$7.36
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679731369
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

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A kind of detective story, relating a cranky amateur scholar's search for the truth about Gustave Flaubert, and the obsession of this detective whose life seems to oddly mirror those of Flaubert's characters.Amazon.com Review
Just what sort of book is Flaubert's Parrot, anyway? A literarybiography of 19th-century French novelist, radical, and intellectualimpresario Gustave Flaubert? A meditation on the uses and misuses oflanguage? A novel of obsession, denial, irritation, and underhandedconnivery? A thriller complete with disguises, sleuthing, mysteriousmeetings, and unknowing targets? An extended essay on the nature of fictionitself?

On the surface, at first, Julian Barnes's book is the tale of an elderly Englishdoctor's search for some intriguing details of Flaubert's life. GeoffreyBraithwaite seems to be involved in an attempt to establish whether aparticularly fine, lovely, and ancient stuffed parrot is in fact oneoriginally "borrowed by G. Flaubert from the Museum of Rouen and placed onhis worktable during the writing of Un coeur simple, where it iscalled Loulou, the parrot of Felicité, the principal character of thetale."

What begins as a droll and intriguing excursion into the minutiae ofFlaubert's life and intellect, along with an attempt to solve the smallpuzzle of the parrot--or rather parrots, for there are two competing forthe title of Gustave's avian confrere--soon devolves into something obscureand worrisome, the exploration of an arcane Braithwaite obsession that isperhaps even pathological. The first hint we have that all is not as itseems comes almost halfway into the book, when after a humorouslycantankerous account of the inadequacies of literary critics, Braithwaitecloses a chapter by saying, "Now do you understand why I hate critics? Icould try and describe to you the expression in my eyes at this moment; butthey are far too discoloured with rage." And from that point, things justget more and more curious, until they end in the most unexpected bang.

One passage perhaps best describes the overall effect of this extraordinarystory: "You can define a net in one of two ways, depending on your point ofview. Normally, you would say that it is a meshed instrument designed tocatch fish. But you could, with no great injury to logic, reverse the imageand define the net as a jocular lexicographer once did: he called it acollection of holes tied together with string." Julian Barnes demonstratesthat it is possible to catch quite an interesting fish no matter how youdefine the net. --Andrew Himes ... Read more

Customer Reviews (37)

5-0 out of 5 stars G Braithwaite: c'est moi!
Created from a jumble of non-narrative forms--from anecdote to glossary to literary criticism to timetable--Flaubert's Parrot is a showcase of postmodern fiction and its devices. What makes it so special and so rich is its central character, or rather the respect and sensitivity Julian Barnes brings to the creation of that character. In many ways, the pyrotechnical brilliance that shapes Flaubert's Parrot can be seen as an ingenious method of description created for the sole purpose of NOT belittling the novel's central character, Geoffrey Braithwaite. Much like Flaubert, Barnes champions the butt of jokes. But where Flaubert could only see unhappy endings, Barnes finds it in his heart to imagine Geoffrey Braithwaite a meaningful if eccentric survival. No cynicism, no surprise endings, just a firm and gentle belief that acceptance is a measured life's crucial virtue and a life story to prove it. I'm not so sure that I love Geoffrey Braithwaite after reading Flaubert's Parrot, but I adore Julian Barnes for taking his side. In doing so, he gently proposes that the interconnected narratives of life and art find ways to sustain each other in the humblest of circumstances and through the least auspicious among us.

2-0 out of 5 stars Barnes and Falubert
Flaubert's Parrot is a novel, but I will concern myself with its nonfictional aspects, for I'm afraid that this book has had greater popular appeal than any full-length biography of Flaubert. And for those who may take Barnes' book as a primary source for understanding the life of Flaubert, I give a warning. Barnes throws doubt on the possibility of any person truly knowing another,this being perhaps the deepest message of his book. But Barnes, in this process, obscures an aspect of Flaubert that towers above any other: that Flaubert was a priest of a cult of literature like few have been since and like no one before him.

Barnes is never categorical. He is witty, trivial, irreverent, and suggestive. But he does make a case against the image of Flaubert as the hermit of Croisset, hidden from the world, inaccessible in his study as he pored over books and manuscripts. Flaubert saw friends frequently. He traveled widely. In 1856, he took an apartment in Paris and enjoyed the social life of some of the highest nobility and of the most famous literary personages of the day. Barnes also makes a case for Flaubert being a more passionate and sensual man than had hitherto been believed.
But Flaubert's intense friendships were all extremely literary, and his travels were above all for literary inspiration. He was a sensuous man but his only long-lasting affair, with Louise Colette, shows a man devoted to books, not women. When Louise dared to do the forbidden--come to Flaubert's home at Croisset--he turned her out without hesitation into the pouring rain, and thus the affair ended.

Milton, Dante, Virgil all felt their poetry required divine inspiration, long years of preparation in study, long years of work to polish each line, to reconsider each phrase. But no one, before Flaubert, felt that prose fiction was worthy of such devotion. Flaubert spent six to seven years writing each of his novels, and these were years of long, daily work. The 300 pages of Madame Bovary were refined down form 4000 pages of notes and revisions. Flaubert read 1500 books and pamphlets in order to write Bouvard and Pecuchet, where he ridicules pompous erudition. Since Flaubert, we have had such worshipers of this cult as Henry James, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Franz Kafka. For all of these writers, Flaubert was an inspiration.

5-0 out of 5 stars A writer's obsession with another, over a hundred year's removed...
Julian Barnes has written an immensely witty, erudite novel, in a tongue-in-cheek style, concerning his obsession with one of the greatest French novelists, Gustave Flaubert, whose most famous book was "Emma Bovery."As Barnes indicates however, it was "A Sentimental Education" that Flaubert considered his magnum opus. The `structure' of Barnes' novel, which is certainly an exaggeration for such a free-wheeling style, centers around the true identity of the stuffed parrot that Flaubert supposedly had on his desk when he wrote "A Simple Heart." For reasons that did not seem to be particularly necessary, Barnes tells the story from the point of view of a widowed, retired doctor, Geoffrey Braithwaite, who is depicted to be 20 or so years older than Barnes, and who, among other aspects of his life, participated in the Normandy invasion. One chapter is a straight, 10-page, chronology of Flaubert's life. Another is entitled "Braithwaite's Dictionary of Accepted Ideas," going from A-Z, with an entry for each letter, concerning some aspect of Flaubert's life. Another chapter concerns the musings of Braithwaite on a cross-channel ferry, and the nuanced differences between the French and the English. Barnes even structures one chapter as a school examination paper, in which the "student," (i.e., the reader) is supposed to answer questions on Flaubert's life and works. Quite clearly, such a style did not work for many readers; however, it worked very well for me. I was particularly impressed by two chapters ofBarnes's, an imaginative description of the long-term affair between Flaubert and the much older Louise Colet, from her point of view, and the chapter entitled "A Pure Story," on Braithwaite, and his philandering wife.

Barnes' novel is short, at less than 200 pages, but so very rich in "take-aways." Early on, he asks fitting questions that the novel pursues: "Why does the writing make us chase the writer? Why can't we leave well enough alone? Why aren't the books enough? Flaubert wanted them to be..." Barnes metaphors are fresh and evocative: "Isn't the most reliable form of pleasure, Flaubert implies, the pleasure of anticipation? Who needs to burst into fulfillment's desolate attic?" Observations: "And yet sometimes I wonder if the wittiest, most resonant irony isn't just a well-brushed, well-educated coincidence." "The whole dream of democracy...is to raise the proletariat to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeoisie." And perhaps the ultimate observation, Barnes leaves it in French, and it purports to be about Braithwaite and his wife: "Les unions completes sont rares."

Literary references abound throughout. Flaubert was a friend with Georges Sand, and she supposedly said to him: "You bring them (the reader) desolation; I bring them consolation." In the "Dictionary" chapter, Flaubert is described as the "pontoon bridge linking Balzac to Joyce." Both Sartre and Nabokov pay more than their "passing respects" to Flaubert, and we even learn that the American writer, Willa Cather, discussed him with his niece, Caroline, when she was 84, in Aix-les-Baines, in 1930.

We also learn that Flaubert contracted syphilis during his stay in Egypt (it seems that most 19th century writers contracted this disease, at a time when the only treatment was slow-poisoning by consuming mercury, which turned Flaubert's saliva black.) In the "Dictionary," the Egyptian courtesan, Kuchuk Hanem, who gave him the disease, is defined, vis-à-vis, the Parisian poetess, Louise Colet: "Gustave had to choose sides between the Egyptian courtesan and the Parisian poetess - bedbugs, sandalwood oil, shaven pudenda, clitoridectomy and syphilis versus cleanliness, lyric poetry, comparative sexual fidelity and the rights of women. He found the issue finely balanced."Alas, such it the ying and yang of man.

And the parrot?Barnes uses the same technique, and returns to the subject at the end; as with so much that happened 150 years ago, it could have been this, or it could have been that, and we are left to pick the right one. Overall, Barnes has written an exquisite, insightful look into Flaubert, his times, his writing, and Barnes also looks at ourselves, and why we do what we do. Solid 5-stars.

3-0 out of 5 stars Stylish writing but it could have used some narrative.
The main narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, a retired Dr. and Flaubert buff, spends some time in France investigating the author of Madame Bovary. It start's off with Braithwaite spending alot of time wondering about Flaubert trivia, for example looking into what happened with the stuffed parrot Flaubert had for a time, viewing places Flaubert once lived in, etc. As the novel progresses it goes a little further afield with one chapter where Braithwaite talks about his own life, mostly relating to his wife (who has some parrallels with Madame Bovary), one chapter written as a retort by Louise Colet, Flaubert's paramour, and towards the end a mini Flaubert dictionary and a mock exam.

It's different. At just under 200 pages it's lean, compact. Barnes has a very nice prose style - elegant and detailed. (Maybe he learned a little something from Flaubert.) It was kind of interesting learning about Flaubert and the time he lived in.

It had no dramatic tension. I don't really care about Flaubert's parrot (or a lot of the other trivia) and I don't believe the narrator did either. It was a little too aloof.

SUMMARY - I'm not likely to reread this book, but I'd like to check out some other books by Barnes, if he's written something more conventional, less gimmicky.

1-0 out of 5 stars Like reading a term paper
My book club chose this book as a companion piece for Madame Bovary.The conceit appeared interesting -- a riff on Flaubert scholarship, but the wit was negligible.Most of it read like a parody (but unfunny) of term-paper research.The narrator/"scholar", also a doctor with an unfaithful wife (like Madame Bovary) seemed tacked on to a compendium of factoids. I would not recommend this to anyone but die-hard Flaubert nuts. ... Read more

4. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 320 Pages (1990-11-27)
list price: US$15.95 -- used & new: US$8.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679731377
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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This is, in short, a complete, unsettling, and frequently exhilarating vision of the world, starting with the voyage of Noah's ark and ending with a sneak preview of heaven! ... Read more

Customer Reviews (60)

3-0 out of 5 stars Maybe my brain has been ravaged by wood worm...
Imagine how Noah would have felt if after spending years building his ark in anticipation of the great rain that was to come, but instead got only two hours of a good soaking.I imagine he had kind of a disappointed "meh" feeling.That's how I felt after reading Barnes' A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters.

To be honest, I may have come into the book with some unrealistic expectations of my own doing.You see, I read History for the first time back when it was first published back in the early 1990s.And from that day until now I've always told people (and myself) that this was a very good book.

One of my reading goals for this year is to re-read some books I haven't read for a while.And having fond memories of History made it a natural selection (Darwinian reference = )) for this year's reading list.

What I discovered is that the last 20 years were not kind to History.I was pretty underwhelmed by the book.Some of the short stories were fun/interesting, to be sure - Noah's ark from the perspective of a stow-away, unanswered letters from a lover, and an interesting take on heaven.But as a total package, the collection was only so-so.I even reluctantly removed it from my Amazon Listmania Must Reads List - sad, but I can't really recommend this book anymore.

Now I'm concerned that some of my re-reads this year will flop as History did.I sure hope not.It's not fun to have a fond memory ripped from your heart and stomped flat.Maybe I should rethink this year's goal...

Bottom line...History is a nice hard rain but it isn't enough to float my ark.

5-0 out of 5 stars Just" Wow, Good."
No really, all I have to say is "Wow, good."If that has any real meaning to you you have to look at my previous essaysand reviews.Sorry. This is fantastic, and I'm without words.

5-0 out of 5 stars A world of its own
A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
Julian Barnes has said that his mother claimed she did not understand some of his books.This must be one she had in mind.It is brilliant, but in some respects difficult to fathom.I missed it when it was first published, but was led back to it by my appreciation of Barnes' recent memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of.

Start with the question of how to classify the "10½Chapters.""Short stories" seems mostly accurate, but there are unifying themes and references that tie many of the entries together.Nor is the volume entirely fiction, for it includes an essay on love, art criticism, and other interjected commentaries.It sits comfortably in no standard genre.

The book begins riotously with a woodworm's view of life on Noah's Ark.The narrator, one of seven stowaway representatives of Anobium domesticum, fills in lots of useful information not revealed in the Bible, such as what happened to the unicorn (Noah and his family ate him).In the final chapter (story) the narrator (a male human dreamer, not a woodworm this time) is in heaven passing several centuries into the future and can get anything he wants.In large part that entails eating good breakfasts three times per day, meeting many famous people, having frequent and varied sex, and playing golf - think of Nietzsche's "last man."Some hint of where this story leads is provided by the protagonist's concern that even though he has perfected his game he will never be able to reduce his golf score below 18.

In between we experience a modern Mediterranean ship hijacking, a trial in early sixteenth-century France, a contemporary sea adventure off Australia, an 1816 shipwreck, two expeditions to Mt. Ararat seeking signs of Noah's Ark (1840s and 1970s), Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany by ship in 1939, variations on Jonah and the whale, and a modern-day filmmaking project in the Amazon.Noah and the woodworms reappear in various roles across several of these stories and several involve escapes, often water voyages.

Few writers today are as satirically clever as Barnes and much of the "10½Chapters" is very funny.For instance, the chapter (story) on the early sixteenth century trial features our friends the woodworms again.They are the defendants, their offense having been that they ate into the wooden legs of the Bishop's throne at the local church, causing the Bishop to take a pratfall before the congregation.The punishment sought by the prosecution is excommunication of the woodworms.The defense lawyer is most adept.He argues, for instance, that his clients are not endowed with reason, that they did only what God made them for, that the true culprits must have been earlier generations since woodworms do not live very long, and so on, all a good send-up of the kinds of arguments lawyers still make today.

Yet Barnes has more serious purposes too.Among his themes are observations about how stories transform as they are retold through history, how untruths hold power, and how myths adjust over time so that they are not so much about something in the past as about what will happen in the future. Barnes plays on the sometimes narrow or indiscernible gap between fact and fiction.History is only what historians tell us, Barnes suggests, but even though objective truth is not fully attainable, we must believe that it is and take what we can get.At least I think that is what he would have told his mother, if asked.

5-0 out of 5 stars Required reading...
Barnes is, hands down, my favorite writer.Erudite, whip-crackingly funny, and deeply moving, A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters is an unconventional guide through the ages and a required read.And the most important chapter of all is the one in which Barnes reveals just a bit of himself; (parentheses).

1-0 out of 5 stars Cursing!
The stories are well told on this audiobook; we are a homeschooling family.Imagine my shock when I was in the next room as my son was listening to this in his room, and I hear the "f" word, not once, but used repeatedly in one of the stories on disc 6!I could not believe it.I do not need audiobooks suggesting this type of language to my son!I was shocked and replayed it, and there it was, repeatedly.Be warned. ... Read more

5. Before She Met Me
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 192 Pages (1992-10-27)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$5.90
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679736093
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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At the start of this fiendishly comic and suspenseful novel, a mild-mannered English academic chuckles as he watches his wife commit adultery. The action takes place she met him. But lines between film and reality, past and present become terrifyingly blurred in this sad and funny tour de force from the author of Flaubert's Parrot. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (18)

2-0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing, uninvolving and emotionally distant
A book with a great title and intriguing concept that does not live up to its promise.

'Before She Met Me' is fashioned around an interesting situation regarding the jealous obsessions that a certain type of man can fall into regarding his faithful partner's previous sexual relationships, real or imagined. This story could have been an absorbing study into jealousy and relationships, but when it's taken as a whole the plot arc and characters are unconvincing. The opening chapter was clever and drew me in, but in the end I felt flat and unengaged as a reader. It just feels lazy, like Julian Barnes had a good idea for a book but couldn't be bothered with doing the work or background prep.

The cast of characters are caricatures devoid of complexity. The protagonist Graham is completely unlikeable and his best friend, Jack, unbelievable -- an excessive and indulgent piece of characterisation. The only character I had some fellow feeling for was Ann, Graham's wife. The other two women characters are clumsy plot devices with no substance: Graham's ex-wife Barbara is just a distant cliché and Jack's wife a cardboard cut-out place holder. Although I felt a mild intellectual and emotive interest in Graham's predicament it was difficult to work up any sympathy for this boring, uninspiring, obsessive cartoon of a man. If anything, I felt increasing annoyance and intolerance for his increasingly stupid and selfish behaviour, which becomes increasingly less plausible and more disproportionate to its causes. Barnes, for a professional novelist, does not seem to have a good grasp of emotive and motivating factors in this particular novel, as Graham's 'deterioration' is presented in an unedifying and dubious succession of incidents. Worse, there is no rewarding culmination for those readers who persevere to the end. Instead we are faced with a resolution that is unsatisfying and lazy.

Overall, as other reviewers have noted, the story has trouble with maintaining plausibility -- it almost reads more like a writing exercise than a novel. The main characters are bores, and the attempts by the author at incorporating some psychology are clumsy and amateurish. I did quite enjoy one later chapter, as a bounded situation sketch, where Graham and Ann host a party at their house. But unfortunately much of the novel was clinical and distant, which left me cold and empty.

This was my first book by Barnes and I had been looking forward to it. But upon reading I found the prose and the story indulgent, unengaging and tiresome. It took a struggle to finish even though it is quite short. Part of me feels that the major problems faced by this book are that it hasn't aged well and is just dated. But another part feels that maybe this book has always faced this problem. It's not that old, but the use of language and the way the characters relate seem older than it's publication date of 1982. It must have felt even a little out of touch to contemporary readers back then. It's more like Graham is a forty year old in 1952 England rather than a 40 year old in 1982 England.

Unfortunately, although most other reviewers on this page have noted that 'Before She Met Me' is an exception and not a good representation of Barnes' otherwise good work, I won't be rushing out to read another.

4-0 out of 5 stars Obsession
Julian Barnes must be one of the most various of English novelists writing today. FLAUBERT'S PARROT is virtually a piece of literary history in novel form. A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10½ CHAPTERS is just that, a very peculiar history starting with Eden and moving on from there. ARTHUR AND GEORGE is a linked biography of two contrasting but real figures from the late 19th century. Each of these uses a totally different narrative form, and none is exactly what you would call a normal novel. By contrast, BEFORE SHE MET ME is closer to conventional fiction in containing made-up characters and having a beginning, middle, and end. It is a kind of Bluebeard story in reverse, in which it is now the husband who becomes jealous of his wife's former lovers.

Graham Hendrick is an academic historian, used to uncovering the relics of the past and teasing out their meaning; in this case, however, his training leads him only into trouble. While caught in a stale marriage, he falls for a younger woman called Ann, and divorces his wife in order to marry her. Ann is open and devoted, and Graham discovers new life under her influence. But he has had little experience other than with his first wife, and finds it hard to accept that Ann has had a much more varied romantic life (and a perfectly usual one for 1980; in exploring the attitude of different generations towards sex, the book is in some ways an extension of Ian McEwan's ON CHESIL BEACH, twenty years on). For a short time, Ann had a career as a B-movie actress; Graham happens to catch one of her films, and begins to wonder about her liaisons, onscreen and off. As he persists with his misapplication of the historical method to Ann's past, Graham's interest becomes an obsession, and eventually spills over into speculation about her present, leading to the dramatic climax with which the book ends.

I cannot say that the ending feels entirely right, but this is a book where the journey is much more important than the destination. Along the way, Barnes offers marvelous insights about divorce and the dynamics of marriage, in and out of the bedroom. There is a lot of genuine love, even among the craziness. Parts of the book are hilariously funny, especially the characterization of Graham's friend Jack Lupton, a philandering novelist of the back-to-the-soil school, who has developed farting to a fine art. And there are quite brilliant passages such as this, where Graham is looking through Ann's bookshelves and comes upon some maps: "All of Ann's maps had been put away as if they'd been interrupted in mid-use. This made them more personal and, Graham suddenly realized, more threatening to him. A map, for him, once folded back into its proper order, lost its user's stamp: it could be lent or given away without touching on any feelings of attachment. Looking at Ann's awkwardly squashed maps with their overruled creases was like seeing a clock stopped at a certain significant time; or -- and worse, he realized -- like reading her diary. Some of the maps (Paris, Salzburg, Madrid) had biro marks on them: crosses, circles, street numbers. The sudden particularities of a life previous to him." This is at once an historian's insight and a novelist's. In another situation, such discoveries would add to the attraction of the other -- but under the irrational but relentless grip of jealousy, they lead only to disaster.

1-0 out of 5 stars i have read almost all of barnes
and this is a vicious, silly, revolting book with an
obsession over sexual jealousy that will make you
reel.julian barnes has written three decent
books:"talking it over," "love, etc." and the
solid short story collection "cross channel."
the rest are worthless--he's an effete francophile
(horrors!) and a teabag milquetoast.William Boyd
is the only really formidable English novelist these
days.sad.don't get this or anything by salman rushdie.

2-0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas, but not so interesting of a book
The topic of exploring the sexual jealousy of a man regarding his wife's past lovers is, in my opinion, a largely unexplored aspect of life in litereature.For those who found it unrealistic, let your imagination run wild the next time your lover discusses his or her past relationships.

Unfortunately, the way it was encountered here was so over the top that it became so absurd that it seemed to parody itself.Some people may have found this funny, but I would argue that it undermined the value of undertaking reading the book;it would be hard to say that this is 'humor writing' or to even call this a funny book.

That said, I agree with many people here in regards to the characters. All of them, seemed to be not only unlikeable but also unconvincing.They have no comlexity to them what-so-ever.They are all one sided caricatures:the shrewish wife, the crude writer, the subservient and loyal wife, and the obsessed man.All their characterization could be summed up with one adjective, and that's obviously not good.

And the end, well, we've all seen it.It was an easy way out.The jealousy remained. Alternatives were never truly explored (unless you include 'wanking').And so the most hackneyed ending in the history of literature was tagged on at the end of the book.The ____ of the main character.

If you are to read Barnes, please read Flaubert's Parrot or The History of the World...They are both wonderful and it would sad if reading this would stop anyone from reading them.

5-0 out of 5 stars Brightning Work
A look at the heart of jealousy - how it can rise from improbable circumstances to become a gripping nightmare world. One of Barnes' better books, nice balance of the comic and horrific. ... Read more

6. Love, Etc
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 240 Pages (2001-06)
list price: US$16.50 -- used & new: US$7.34
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0330484184
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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There used to be two sides to every story. Now there are three...In "Talking It Over", Gillian and Stuart were married until Oliver - witty, feckless Oliver - stole Gillian away. In "Love, etc", Jillian Barnes revisits the three of them, using the same intimate technique of allowing the characters to speak directly to the reader, to whisper their secrets, to argue for their version of the truth. Darker and deeper than its predecessor, "Love, etc" is a compelling exploration of contemporary love and its betrayals. 'The triange of deeply believable characters and the story of betrayal and revenge are so engrossing that you almost fail to notice the usual Barnesian fusillade of wit and brilliance' - John Carey, "Sunday Times". 'The real wonder of this book is its apparent simplicity, its apparent slowness, the exactness and delicacy of its observations, the absolute fitness of the form for the story. Of its kind - and i still dont dare to say what kind that might be - it's perfect' - Susannah Herbert, "Daily Telegraph". 'This wonderfully entertaining novel...A work as skilled and satisfying as this can be nothing other than affirming: Barnes' delicate balance between laughter and despair lifts his entertainment into art' - Erica Wagner, "The Times". ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars REVERSION
This is now the fourth novel I've read from Julian Barnes, shortly after I had decided that three was enough. There is no doubt about it, Barnes is quite exceptionally gifted, as a novelist, as a writer and as a virtuoso with the English language. What tends to get up my nose is the self-admiring sense that I get from him. He is a bit of a smartyboots not to say a cleverclogs, and there is always a distinct feeling of exhibitionism about his manner.

This book is a sequel to his Talking It Over. The main characters are the same, and the formula is the same. The story is entirely told by the characters in their own personae. In particular the ineffectual Oliver is still at it as before, chattering his gilded futile chatter, and I can't escape the impression that Mr Barnes was unable to resist the temptation to show us again just how adept he is in capturing the idiom. As well as an acute ear, Barnes has an acute and observant eye for how people behave and how they think and feel, and I find the characterisation extremely convincing, both within this story just taken by itself and in how the actors have changed and developed over the ten years that have intervened since Talking It Over. The blurb on the back cover describes Love, etc as `darker and deeper than its predecessor', but I don't think I really agree. Certainly some of the motivations and the some of the incidents in Love, Etc are not very pretty or nice, but the same could have been said about Talking It Over, and the author's preening self-preoccupation actually does a great deal to lighten any darkness in the story here. It is very readable and involving, I found, and if anything even better than the story that provides its starting-off point. In particular the ending, with Stuart and Gillian each wondering whether the other `loves' them has a great ring of truth about it for me. What exactly might it be, this `loving', and how exactly would they tell? The heir to the British throne famously distressed his young bride many years ago by talking in public about `falling in love, whatever that is'. That may have been crass, it may have been inept, but surely it made sense.

To get the best out of Love, Etc I'd say that you really need to have read Talking It Over first. That will introduce the characters to you and explain in proper depth what happened ten years and more earlier and where they are all coming from in this new episode. Neither book is long, and this particular edition makes this book look bigger than it is with its large print. What fills me with mixed feelings is the ending here, with some distinctly important and dangerous issues left unresolved, and the main characters in different ways in peril of the ruination of their lives. It is all crying out for a further sequel, and I'm not sure how I look forward to the prospect of that, although foreboding is definitely a strong element in what I feel. I hope he doesn't do it, because something tells me strongly that if he does it will be a sequel too far. However if he does turn out such a sequel I'm pretty sure that I for one will be reading it.

4-0 out of 5 stars Creatively daring.
In this inventive and unconventional narrative, Barnes turns the old fiction-writing maxim, "Don't tell about something, recreate it," on its head, choosing not to recreate anything at all. Instead, his three main characters address the reader in soliloquies, each telling his version of events that have happened in the past and leaving it up to the reader to decide what really happened.

Stuart, stodgy and predictable, was briefly married to Gillian before dashing Oliver stole her away. Ten years have passed, Stuart has remarried, divorced, become financially successful in the U.S., and returned to England. Oliver and Gillian are still married, the parents of two daughters. As their lives once again intertwine, many of the old tensions revive, along with some new tensions, the result of the characters' changes in ten years.

Barnes's characters are vivid, and their speeches to the audience are both dramatic and real. One can easily see how the various characters would interpret events differently, and that aspect of the book is fun to read. There are numerous disadvantages to Barnes's approach, however. The characters are independent of the reader, isolated not only from the reader but from each other, and they feel like actors on a stage who have not invited anyone in to share their lives. The reader's role becomes that of an observer or a judge, deciding not only what happened but what will happen in the future. Readers looking for an unusual narrative will find this book fascinating and carefully constructed, though perhaps a bit slow.Mary Whipple
... Read more

7. The Lemon Table
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 256 Pages (2005-04-05)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$6.42
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1400076501
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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In his widely acclaimed new collection of stories, Julian Barnes addresses what is perhaps the most poignant aspect of the human condition: growing old.

The characters in The Lemon Table are facing the ends of their lives–some with bitter regret, others with resignation, and others still with defiant rage. Their circumstances are just as varied as their responses. In 19th-century Sweden, three brief conversations provide the basis for a lifetime of longing. In today’s England, a retired army major heads into the city for his regimental dinner–and his annual appointment with a professional lady named Babs. Somewhere nearby, a devoted wife calms (or perhaps torments) her ailing husband by reading him recipes.
In stories brimming with life and our desire to hang on to it one way or another, Barnes proves himself by turns wise, funny, clever, and profound–a writer of astonishing powers of empathy and invention. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (21)

4-0 out of 5 stars Cheer up! The end is near...
In this collection of short stories, age, aging and departing are considered from different angles, centred on individuals of a certain, mature, age, healthy or coping with physical or mental illness, and set against a wide range of geographical and cultural backgrounds.Creating expressive mini-portraits of his characters and their "dearest and nearest", Julian Barnes explores the deep and sometimes conflicting emotions of regret and defiance, love and nostalgia, past and present happiness, new, rekindled or now only in the mind of the central figure.Exquisitely crafted, and most of them sprinkled with a good portion of irony and humour, the stories will capture the readers attention, and very likely, given their diversity, one or the other will speak especially strongly.

Among the eleven stories, three were my definite favourites. "The Story of Mats Indridason", set in a different era in a remote part of Sweden, touches on the long standing romantic feelings of two individuals who each were waiting for the other to declare themselves. Eventually, reality will force a less than happyresolution. Another, also a very gentle story of long lasting love, is "Revival", set in Russia. It has all the ingredients of a deeply romantic Russian novel in miniature."Vigilance" on the other hand is one of the highly ironic stories that captures a man who, after many years of sharing the pleasures of listening to live concerts with his partner, now has to be by himself. Annoyed, he becomes increasingly irritated by the distracting noise by others around him and reacts with force... Barnes captures the character and the atmosphere with great skill and a large dose of irony.The last story, "Silence" has a very different touch and stands apart for me. A composer has stopped writing - seeing the ultimate aim of music to become silence. While being constantly pestered by his colleagues and admirers to complete his eighth symphony, he withdraws to watching the cranes fly by... This is a much more reflective, philosophical story that touches on aging in a much different way from most of the other stories.

Other than in two, the weakest stories in my estimation, the central characters are male and the women mostly play a supporting or nagging role (the wives) or are the object of desires past or that have remained in the emotional present.Barnes lightens up the mood by adding ironic twists or the odd comeuppances to the psychological ups and downs he evokes in his aging characters, all affected with the symptoms of a nearing end. Several stories have been inspired by historical figures, such as Turgenev or Sibelius. The references are subtle and not necessary to enjoy these particular stories.

And what about the title? According to one of the stories, a lemon represents death in Chinese and often a lemon was placed in the hand of a recently departed.[Friederike Knabe]

4-0 out of 5 stars Old folkery
I have read a few Barnes books in the past. I remember that I enjoyed them, but I can't remember anything else about them. Is that a verdict? I think so. It appears to me that the man writes clever, literary, thoughtful things about the world and about life and after you have consumed them you forget them. Like a good desert. A pleasant phase, but not the main thing. Advantage Barnes: he is not fattening! (Of course I also know people who eat the main course only to acquire the right to a desert...)

This short story collection is mainly about aging, about time passing, about our approach to time. It is a typical Barnes. Enjoyable and unsubstantial. Are we as young as we feel or as old as we look? Barnes is in his mid 60s, so the main theme of this book must be dear to him.

We get a story about the `history' of hairdressing: 3 stages in a male career from a barber's client as a child (afraid of it), to a hairdresser's as a student (despising the `dresser'), to a hair salon's as a husband and father (despised by the stylist). Nice. So what?

We get a bigger one, built on the `true story' of the corpse in the mine of Falun, Sweden, which showed up as a well maintained young man's mummy 50 years after the man disappeared, and was viewed and identified by his bride of old, who had been faithfully waiting for him. (Sebald readers may be familiar with a German writer Johann Peter Hebel, who wrote masterful short prose in the 19th century, and who told the mummy story already; I am sure there must also be versions in Swedish and elsewhere. There is also a tale by E.T.A.Hoffmann, but he just uses the main motive for decoration of something else. ) The tale serves as a vehicle for a story about delayed and failed lovein Sweden in the 19th century.

We get 2 old ladies in Seattle, meeting regularly and hating each other, reminiscing over and lying about their husbands.
We get a retired army man in England making his annual trip to town for the regimental dinner and his visit to the professional `girl' friend.
We get the end of the friendship of 2 old geezers in France in the 18th century when one has an affair with the illegitimate daughter of the other.
We get an aging gay music lover who becomes a concert noise vigilante after his partner stops having sex with him.
We get a nurse who reads to her husband and former boss, who is afflicted with Alzheimer. She reads him cookbooks and sometimes he has joyful reactions. Most of the time his reactions are mean and vulgar and hurtful.
We get a strong story about a breaking up of a couple in their 80s.
We get a Swedish composer who loses the battle against age and doesn't talk to his wife any more. (He wrote a piece for bassoon once, but there were only 2 bassoonists in the country.)

We get an aging Turgenev in a platonic (?) love affair with a young actress. (We see things, partly, through the `old' man's - he is 60! - eyes; what to make then of this thought: should he suggest to her that she take the railway equivalent of the red-eye? In 1880! That kind of sloppy writing is actually annoying.) `As in his life, so in his writing love did not work.' Need to check if that is a proper summary on Turgenev. (Is he worth revisiting?)

There is only one story in this collection of 11 that I love unconditionally. It consists of the letters of a woman in her 80s, written during the 1980s, to a novelist called Barnes, about his book Flaubert's Parrot and other subjects. She considers herself the only non deaf and non mad inmate in her old age home.

5-0 out of 5 stars Sidelong Glances in Retrospect
One of the things I most enjoy about Julian Barnes is his variety. Each of his books questions the conventional idea of a novel, and each does so in a different way. So I open this collection of eleven short stories expecting an intriguing range of subject and technique, united by a humanity that Barnes has never yet failed to provide. I was not disappointed. This book is as wonderfully written as it is pleasant to hold in the hand, in this beautiful Vintage paperback edition. The range of subjects is indeed large, with scenes of contemporary London alternating with historical stories set in France, Sweden, or Russia. Although all the stories are about twenty pages long, some take place in a single hour, others span a lifetime. They are linked by the common theme of aging, but this should not be a deterrent; few are sad, but rather wry, tender, surprising, or even hysterically funny. Barnes' range of emotion is as great as his range of style.

The stories are technically varied, too. In some, the narrator speaks entirely in the first person: "A Short History of Hairdressing," the first story, opens in the voice of a fearful young schoolboy; "Hygiene" replays the mental check-list of a retired soldier still locked in army lingo. Others seem written by a dispassionate historian -- or not so dispassionate, as when the biographer of Turgenev narrating "The Revival" starts re-examining conventional phrases of 19th-century courtesy in 21st-century four-letter terms. Or the objective and subjective can be mixed, as in "The Things You Know," where the conversation between two widows sharing a hotel breakfast is intercut with their very different thoughts. Another story, "Knowing French," is told entirely through correspondence. People who know Barnes from his extraordinary quasi-novels such as A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10½ CHAPTERS or FLAUBERT'S PARROT will be exhilarated, not surprised; people who enjoy these stories will be encouraged to try the novels.

My favorite contemporary short-story writer up to now has been William Trevor -- at his best, I think, in AFTER RAIN. The wisdom with which he looks back on the wicked world as an older man has always had something profoundly consoling, and Barnes shares this quality. But the two writers approach their subjects from quite different angles. Trevor is the more straightforward, telling a story straight on in sequence. Barnes stalks his subjects from the side, often ostensibly writing about something quite different, striking his real target only tangentially. We see glimpses of a romantic life-history among the barbershop visits in "Hairdressing"; the old major's annual visit to a London prostitute in "Hygiene" reveals only his love for his wife; an older man's diatribe about concert behavior in "Vigilance" turns out to be about the dislocation of a gay relationship. Sidelong glances in retrospect.

Barnes' wonderful tangentiality is shown nowhere more clearly than in my favorite of these tales, "The Story of Mats Israelson." The irony is that the title story -- about a real copper miner in Falun, Sweden, killed in a accident in 1677, whose petrified body turned up 40 years later -- is never properly recounted at all. The non-telling of the story becomes only one of many things that do not take place between one upright citizen and the wife of another in a small town in 19th-century Sweden, whether through propriety, shyness, or circumstance. Yet for the rest of their lives, as they continue in their marriages, they each nurse the pain of the unconsummated attraction. Barnes, who loves Flaubert, here writes a beautiful antithesis to MADAME BOVARY -- one where the adultery does NOT take place, its poignant absence distilling a lingering essence of what might have been.

The collection ends with an elderly Scandinavian composer watching a flock of cranes disappear into the distance. "I watched until my eyes blurred; I listened until I could hear nothing more, and silence resumed." The full irony may be lost on readers who do not identify the composer as Jean Sibelius, whose own music had passed into silence some thirty years before. But it remains a touching image of that last transition.

5-0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Voiced
Melancholy, ironic, sometimes ambiguous, these beautifully voiced stories tackle literature's two big themes -- sex and death -- from the point of view of the old.

5-0 out of 5 stars THE LEMON TABLE Is Full of Golden Apples
These eleven short stories by Julian Barnes all have one thing in common. They are peopled with characters near the end of their lives and facing death. Some are meek and mild; some do foolish things; others do not go gentle into that good night; one may be the victim of spousal abuse; one has dementia. Another has no qualms about committing adultery, having engaged in an out-of-town affair for twenty-three years although he can no longer "ring the gong three times" in one afternoon. One character keeps engaged in life by complaining about and to the noisemakers at classical concerts, but only after his partner stopped going to performances with him. One man and woman love each other for twenty-three years but, through misunderstanding and the inability to voice their feelings, sadly, their love is never consummated.

Barnes can get as much said about a character into twenty pages or so as any writer I have read. He is the master of beautiful concise description and phrases. One couple "had more time and they got less done." Another couple perhaps may grow old together and "rely, over time, on the hardening of the heart." One character's life can be summed up in "one long cowardly adventure." There are nuggets like these everywhere in every story. They so appeal to the intellect but also go straight to the heart.

One such story, which I read twice, is "Knowing French," as perfect a short story as I remember. The story unfolds through a series of letters written by Sylvia Winstanley to a writer named Julian Barnes. Sylvia, when the correspondence begins in 1986, is a new arrival at an "Old Folkery," her putdown for a retirement home inhabited by the "deaf" and the "mad." She ran across Barnes' name when she decided, in an effort to remain alive and alert, to read through all the fiction in the local library beginning with authors whose names start with "A" and discovered in the "B" fiction FLAUBERT'S PARROT. You will love Sylvia as she wraps herself around your heart. She moves into the retirement home by jumping before she was pushed and before she started scalding herself with Ovaltine. Visiting other like-establishments she is discouraged when she observes "obedient biddies sitting in cheap armchairs while the Box blares at them like Mussolini." Finally, having spent the last two years or so visiting a mother with dementia in a nursing home and all too aware of institutional food, I was undone by Sylvia's craving a croissant and dreaming of apricots. Suicide in her words is vulgar. The main reason for dying is that people expect it of people Sylvia's age. The main reason not to, she has never done what other people wanted her to do.

Now that's a woman you can tip your hat to, preposition or no preposition at the end of a sentence.

... Read more

8. Something to Declare: Essays on France and French Culture
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 320 Pages (2003-09-09)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$6.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1400030870
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
Anyone who loves France (or just feels strongly about it), or has succumbed to the spell of Julian Barnes’s previous books, will be enraptured by this collection of essays on the country and its culture.

Barnes’s appreciation extends from France’s vanishing peasantry to its hyper-literate pop singers, from the gleeful iconoclasm of nouvelle vague cinema to the orgy of drugs and suffering that is the Tour de France. Above all, Barnes is an unparalleled connoisseur of French writing and writers.Here are the prolific and priapic Simenon, Baudelaire, Sand and Sartre, and several dazzling excursions on the prickly genius of Flaubert.Lively yet discriminating in its enthusiasm, seemingly infinite in its range of reference, and written in prose as stylish as haute couture, Something to Declare is an unadulterated joy. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

4-0 out of 5 stars Personal Francophilia
Julian Barnes is probably the British writer most associated with French influence over his literature. Most of his novels are influenced by France in one way or another, especially his acclaimed 1984 masterpiece, Flaubert's Parrot.

In the introduction to these essays, Barnes traces his personal affiliation with France. From nervous childhood holidays with his parents, to his immersion in French language and culture while studying Languages at Oxford, ending with a 1997 trip across the Channel to deliver the ashes of his parents. He cheerfully admits a bias towards French culture over his native Anglo-Saxon and this fact permeates the essays here.

The first part of the book features a range of essays on obscure French singers, the film director Francois Truffaut, Elizabeth David's cookery writing and, best of all, a lenghty piece on drug taking in the Tour de France.

In the second half of the book, the emphasis shifts to Flaubert, Barnes's self professed literary idol. The essays span the full range of Flaubert's life and his associations: his biographers, his mistresses, his relationship with other writers and film versions of Madame Bovary. Flaubert was given extensive fictional treatment in 'Flaubert's Parrot' and these pieces perhaps read like a reworking of the research notes for that novel.

Unlike most wannabe British continentals who think that to become au fait with European Culture one just has to eat at The River Cafe and take the occasional jaunt to Paris or Rome, Barnes has clearly read many pages of French literature and watched many metres of film. His depth and range of knowledge is impressive and the style is (as with all Barnes's writings) erudite, crisp and piercingly intelligent.

1-0 out of 5 stars Not What the Title Promises, and Often Excruciating
The title of this book, as you can see, is "Something To Declare: Essays on France and French Culture." The blurbs on the back of my trade paperback version enthusiastically support this title. However, only a quarter of the pages of this book are devoted to adiscussion of "France and French culture." The rest are spent on the very specific topics of particular French artists and authors, most particularly Flaubert and things related to Flaubert. Given that artists and authors often make a point of setting themselves apart from their cultural milieu (especially most if not all of the ones Barnes writes about) and are often, at a minimum, a bit out of touch with the reality of the world around them, writings on these folks can hardly be deemed to reflect "French culture," as promised by the title. Barnes is, of course, perfectly entitled to publish a book composed of these elements; however, it would be nice if the title and blurbs made it clearer that that is what he is doing, for those of us poor unenlightened souls who do not go into a swoon every time we see or hear the name Flaubert -- for those of us who, in fact, would be perfectly happy for the rest of our lives if we could avoid anything more than infrequent passing references to Flaubert. Simply put, the title does not fairly represent the major part of what is in the book. If you are looking for a book on France and French culture, you can do much, much better with your reading time and money. Moreover, the essays that are not general in nature assume an intimate, detailed knowledge of Flaubert and his writing. If you do not have such an intimate, ready-at-your-fingertips, working knowledge, you will often not know what Barnes is referring to and will consequently have no hope of understanding the point he is trying to make, even if you hang in there and read the whole thing, as I did. These essays are intended for an audience of initiates;reading them in a book like this that purports to address a much more general topic will just leave you feeling like an outsider to the club. Oh, and it will be even worse for you if you fail to hold the belief that "Madame Bovary" is worth intense worship as one of the greatest things to ever have come along, both before and after the advent of sliced bread.

4-0 out of 5 stars A wonderful collection of pieces
Barnes's collection falls into two halves. The first is a collection of pieces that might be said to have a French theme: a review and appreciation of Edith Wharton's account of a car journey taken through France, a piece of French songsters of the sixties, a very entertaining look at the perils of the Tour de France. The second half is nearly all given over to Flaubert, Barnes's obsession. The essays on the great writer are fascinating, especially those centered around his correspondence. Barnes's love for the writer and the man is contagious. I had no great enthusiasm for Flaubert, despite having loved Barnes's 'Flaubert's Parrot', but since reading this book I have read 'Madame Bovary' with a great deal of pleasure and have begun looking into the correspondence. All the essays are scrupulously and stylishly written and are worth reading for the prose alone.

2-0 out of 5 stars It's not about France
"Something to Declare" is a clever title for a book about travel abroad; but, beyond its opening pages, that's not what this book is about. "Essays on France" is an equally misleading subtitle, for the book's erudite essays (beyond the opening chapter) are not on France but on a narrow selection of French writers and related movers and shakers, and one fictional character: Madame Bovary. After a fast-paced, dazzling opening sequence, hilariously describing the teen-aged Barnes' first encounters across the English Channel, we slow down to pick through some highlights in the lives of some of the top French authors, poets, filmmakers and other cultural icons, eventually easing to a crawl through exhaustive detail regarding the author's main interest, Flaubert and his world. If Madame Bovary is your cup of tea, you may enjoy steeping yourself further in Barnes. For me it was just too much. ... Read more

9. England, England
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 288 Pages (2000-04-11)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$6.91
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375705503
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Booker Prize Finalist

"Wickedly funny." --The New York Times

Imagine an England where all the pubs are quaint,where the Windsors behave themselves (mostly), where the cliffs of Dover are actually white, and where Robin Hood and his merry men really are merry.This is precisely what visionary tycoon, Sir Jack Pitman, seeks to accomplish on the Isle of Wight, a "destination" where tourists can find replicas of Big Ben (half size), Princess Di's grave, and even Harrod's (conveniently located inside the tower of London).

Martha Cochrane, hired as one ofSir Jack's resident "no-people," ably assists him in realizing his dream.But when this land of make-believe gradually gets horribly and hilariously out of hand, Martha develops her own vision of the perfect England.Julian Barnes delights us with a novel that is at once a philosophical inquiry, a burst of mischief, and a moving elegy about authenticity and nationality.

Amazon.com Review
Imagine being able to visit England--all of England--in a single weekend.Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall, Harrods,Manchester United Football Club, the Tower of London, and even the RoyalFamily all within easy distance of the each other, accessible, and, best ofall, each one living up to an idealized version of itself. This fantasyBritain is the very real (and some would say very cynical) vision of SirJack Pitman, a monumentally egomaniacal mogul with a more than passingresemblance to modern-day buccaneers Sir Rupert Murdoch or Robert Maxwell: "'We are not talking theme park,' he began. 'We are not talking heritagecentre. We are not talking Disneyland, World's Fair, Festival of Britain,Legoland or Parc Asterix.'" No indeed; Sir Jack proposes nothing less thanto offer "the thing itself," a re-creation of everything that adds up toEngland in the hearts and minds of tourists looking for an"authentic" experience. But where to locate such an enterprise? As Sir Jackpoints out,

England, as the mighty William and many others have observed, is an island.Therefore, if we are serious, if we are seeking to offer the thingitself, we in turn must go in search of a precious whatsit set in asilver doodah.
Soon the perfect whatsit is found: the Isle of Wight; and a small army ofSir Jack's forces are sent to lay siege to it. Swept up in the mayhem areMartha Cochrane, a thirtysomething consultant teetering on the verge ofembittered middle age, and Paul Harrison, a younger man looking for ananchor in the world.The two first find each other, then trip over askeleton in Sir Jack's closet that might prove useful to their careers butdisastrous to their relationship. In the course of constructing this madpackage-tour dystopia, Julian Barnes has a terrific time skeweringpostmodernism, the British, the press, the government, celebrity, and bigbusiness. At the same time his very funny novel offers a provocativemeditation on the nature of identity, both individual and national, as thelines between the replica and the thing itself begin to blur.Readers of Barnes have learned to expect the unexpected, and once again hemore than lives up to the promise in England, England. But then,that was only to be expected. --Alix Wilber ... Read more

Customer Reviews (39)

3-0 out of 5 stars A Charming Piece
Is it a cynical exercise in how a country can lose it's own identity, or a love letter to a culture that's left imperialist trappings behind?Or more of a wicked satire of the theme park mentality that infects museums and park?Either way, it's a fun novel with enjoyable characters.Not the weightiest work int he world but still quite fun.

2-0 out of 5 stars Not his best
Julian Barnes is at his best in describing "real" people. He has an extraordinary ability to bring his characters to life with perceptive, richly imagined detail -- as, for instance, in Arthur and George, a gripping tale which is probably the best of his books that I've read. In England, England, there are no "real" people, only caricatures -- with the possible exception of Martha Cochrane, with whom the book begins and ends. It's a commentary on the crass commercialism of modern "civilized" life, with a little modern French philosophizing thrown in and satirized upon - semiotics and all that. The characters are there mostly as the butt of this satire. The world in which we see them is a caricature of our crassly commercial world, and deliberately absurd. Because it's so very far removed from reality, it didn't engage me at all.

Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that this was actually nominated for the Booker. One day, someone will probably write a really good novel about the schizophrenic beast that is modern England, but this isn't it.

I'm a big fan of JB, but if you're going to pick one, don't pick this. Instead, try Flaubert's Parrot or Arthur & George

4-0 out of 5 stars The Real Thing?
This was the perfect book for me to read just after one of my occasional visits back to my native Britain, motoring through villages of Elizabethan black and white, where Jacobean pubs serve surprisingly good Thai lunches. The paradox is that everything either seems too good to be true, or has changed in some significant way (not to say that the Thai lunches are not an infinite improvement on what I remember of typically indifferent pub fare). Julian Barnes' brilliant 1998 comedy examines the very concept of authenticity. Sir Jack Pitman, a larger-than-life tycoon of dubious origins, takes over the Isle of Wight, a 148-square-mile island off the South coast of Britain, and crams it with replicas or recreations of all the top attractions that visitors associate with England as a whole. He declares it a separate country with its own parliament (the King of England has been imported, and is under contract), and soon "England, England" prospers while its disowned parent, "Old England" or "Anglia," declines.

The theme park idea is an easy target, but Barnes goes much further. He questions whether even the original ideas -- quaint English villages, the coffee-houses and taprooms of Dr. Johnson's London, or the plucky heroics of the "Few" at the Battle of Britain -- are themselves any more than perpetuations of some constructed reality, or legend based loosely on fact. The thought has personal implications too. The opening line of the book, "What's your first memory?", a question asked of the sort-of-heroine Martha Cochrane, proves to be unanswerable. She is looking for love, but is love any more than the reach towards some lost ideal, and the perfect amatory encounter merely the unattainable embodiment of myth? But whether political or personal, dealing with boardroom skulduggery or secret sexual peccadillos, nothing that Barnes writes is less than brilliant. Fanciful though its premise may be, this is a witty and intelligent book from start to finish.

And yet I give it only four stars; why? For one thing, I fear it may not travel; you may need to be British to appreciate the numerous references and sort through the many layers of irony. More importantly, despite setting Martha up as a relatively sympathetic character, she is never fully realized as a person to care about, and those around her (even her colleague and lover) even less so. So the human thread that I personally look for in a novel is not as strong as it might be. But then Julian Barnes seldom gives his readers what they expect in a novel; each one of his books breaks new ground. Anybody who can write novels with titles such as FLAUBERT'S PARROT and A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10½ CHAPTERS is unlikely to serve up the same old stuff. The closest comparisons, in terms of political imagination, are back with Swift and Defoe, both of whom had the same ability to make you think and laugh at the same time.

3-0 out of 5 stars A great idea .....
I was looking forward to reading `England, England'. The premise, discussed in detail by other reviewers, is fascinating, as are some of the characters. However, I agree with those who feel that the finished product didn't fulfil the original promise.Partly, I think this is because the idea of reconstructing an idealised England is more interesting, at least for me, than the central characters and relationships that take over the story. I wasn't particularly interested in the relationship between Martha and Paul, and would have liked more of the Historian and his research.

Once the England theme park is established, the novel suddenly becomes light, amusing, and fun. The enjoyment is heightened by an amusing cast of minor characters, including Dr Johnson, Queen Denise, Lady Godiva and understudy, Robin Hood, and his band of merry men (and women). The welcome change of tone is short-lived, and strangely at odds with the rest of the book.

Having said that, I quite like Julian Barnes as an author and can recommend giving some of his other works a read. This book isn't bad; more a promise unfulfilled.

4-0 out of 5 stars Fictional Satire at its Best
I wish I were older and/or had better knowledge concerning England. Everything I know at this point consists of the scant details spoon-fed to me in high school and a history survey in college. But even with this limited knowledge, Julian Barnes' England, England is a wonderful satire, one that even such as myself was able to enjoy.

The novel tells the story of the strangely brilliant Sir Jack Pitman, who builds an island "England, England," which is a small miniaturized version of England that attracts tourists from all over the world. Packed within a few square miles are scaled down versions of all that the rest of the world views as inherently "English." From Robin Hood and Buckingham Palace, to pubs and Princess Di's tombstone, the small tourist attraction professes to include everything a tourist would want to see in England but in a quarter of the time.

Much of the novel is told through the eyes of Martha Cochrane, a middle-aged woman with the kind of outsider's point of view that is both strange and comforting once it's thrown into this plan to create Pitman's dream island. Her views on sex, relationships, and just about everything is told, along with the rest of the novel, in the type of dry humor much of the world has come to associate with the British. I found myself laughing as Barnes described some of the historical possibilities including Robin and his Merry Men being a group of homosexuals and other such reinterpretations.

Though I found this novel wonderful, I can see a lot of people not liking it. Barnes' prose is dense and makes it impossible to skim. And many parts of the novel include really elaborate descriptions, which for some may seem over-elaborate and possibly boring. But, if you're a fan of old English literature like Dickens or of dry British humor, you will certainly enjoy this book. I did.

Some Quotes:

"Why did love seem to come with a subversive edge of boredom attached, tenderness with irritation?"

"What if I suggested that England's function in the world was to act as an emblem of decline, a moral and economic scarecrow?"

"Dr. Johnson had put it better, of course: they had lost that tenderness of look, and that benevolence of mind."

... Read more

10. The Pedant in the Kitchen
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 136 Pages (2004-05-13)
list price: US$16.50 -- used & new: US$6.42
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1843542404
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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The Pedant's ambition is simple. He wants to cook tasty, nutritious food; he wants not to poison his friends; and he wants to expand, slowly and with pleasure, his culinary repertoire. A stern critic of himself and others, he knows he is never going to invent his own recipes (although he might, in a burst of enthusiasm, increase the quantity of a favourite ingredient). Rather, he is a recipe-bound follower of the instructions of others. It is in his interrogations of these recipes, and of those who create them, that the Pedant's true pedantry emerges. How big, exactly, is a 'lump'? Is a 'slug' larger than a 'gout'? When does a 'drizzle' become a downpour? And what is the difference between slicing and chopping? This book is a witty and practical account of Julian Barnes' search for gastronomic precision. It is a quest that leaves him seduced by Jane Grigson, infuriated by Nigel Slater, and reassured by Mrs Beeton's Victorian virtues. The Pedant in the Kitchen is perfect comfort for anyone who has ever been defeated by a cookbook and is something that none of Julian Barnes' legion of admirers will want to miss. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (5)

5-0 out of 5 stars Deliciously entertaining
I really enjoyed reading this book --funny and entertaining - read the entire book in one sitting - couldn't put it down.I chuckled and chuckled.

5-0 out of 5 stars Courage For Wannabe Cooks
This is a delightful hands-on demystification of how to cook well by cooking simply. It's especially worthwhile for recipe slaves like me who fear departing from what's on the printed page. Barnes strikes a blow for freedom, for simplicity, and for adventure in the kitchen. I've given the book to friends who, like me, enjoy cooking but are often daunted by the prospect.

4-0 out of 5 stars A satisfying and complex morsel
Barnes wasn't joking when he entitled this book with the word 'pedant' in it to describe his obsession with things culinary. This text is littered with illustrations of just how particular he is, not just about cooking, but also about accuracy, both in the details of recipes and what impressions he draws from other's works or opinions and how they affect him.

"Of course, this still leaves you faced with preparing 'an excellent dinner' for 'those one is fond of'.Again, listen to Pomaine: `For successful dinner there should never be more than eight people.One should prepare only one good dish.'These are his italics, not mine.Don't they make the heart lift?" (p117)

Barnes injects humour into his preoccupation with food preparation and consumption: its ingredients, how they are sourced, their preparation, their origins and any quirky historical fact associated that might add piquancy.

In this book Julian Barnes excels at two things:

1. Unearthing interesting and slightly obscure facts about people, vegetables and the mundane experiences of maintaining a kitchen.

"But then there is the other drawer - the one where items of sporadic usefulness live, the one where everything is tangled up and furtive, into which you insert a tentative hand, not knowing where sharp edges lurk.When did I last empty it?Ten years ago?" (p121-122)

2. Analysing ideas and reflecting wittily on things other than food.

"We might as well suggest that current American military zeal is a consequence of that nation's love of fast food - in which case, an infantryman's widow would probably have a lawsuit against the nearest burger outlet.And if anyone is tempted to believe in an automatic link between protein and aggression, don't forget that Hitler was a vegetarian." (p133-134)

Barnes is an idealist and experiences angst in his desire to reach perfection in the kitchen.Gladly he recognises this and employs self-deprecation, along with sprinkles of culinary history to make this a small but satisfying dish to digest.One small quibble, there are no references to the texts he refers to.It seemed rather ironic after all Barnes' plaints about cooks not revealing all the tricks of their trade in their cookbooks, that he should leave the detail of the sources he refers to out.

3-0 out of 5 stars Can't be too careful
Julian Barnes, most well known for his elegant novels dissecting the core human issues: love, death, the role of memory, the perils of desire has a parallel alternative career as a fine essayist. He started out as a journalist, before turning to fiction full time, but still keeps up the shorter form and does it very well. His Letters From London excellently investigate a number of issues roiling around in the early 1990s period in Britain, and this collection takes a wry look at a narrower theme:the travails of the amateur cook.

Barnes turned to cooking relatively late the day. The kitchen only became a location of tense pleasure in his 30s. He is a cook very much in the strict adherence to the recipe line, worrying exactly how large is a 'medium' onion, and what is a 'glug' of olive oil? So not the Jamie Oliver throw it all in and mash it about heartily school. In many respects, this sharp precision parallels his writing style. Neat, light and elegantly balanced. He refuses to cook a squirrel 'you're just a rat with PR' on the grounds that it, well, looks rather like a dead squirrel and indulges in a minor diatribe against Nigel Slater for a recipe of pork chop that doesn't seem to fit in the frying pan. (This essay earned Barnes more letters of complaint than his polemic against the Iraq war, such are the priorities of the British middle classes).

His erstwhile love of France is also there, with an interesting disquisition on the French distaste for root vegetables and a mention of long time food goddess Elizabeth David. The writing, while always witty and stylish, never quite reaches the high essayistic heights Barnes is capable of. The format - popular column in the Guardian newspaper - probably shoehorned each piece into a fairly predictable audience remit. Nevertheless, a fine book to be enjoyed by Barnesophiles and foodies alike.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Pedant in the Kitchen
Originally written as columns for the Guardian, this collection of foodie essays is by turns hilarious and instructive, as in how many hangman's nooses (one to five) to ascribe to a meal that is going bad fast while hungry guests are whooping it up in the living room, and how the relationship between professional and domestic cook is similar to a first-time sexual encounter ("No, I won't do that"). On every page I found something that made me holler "Comrade!" I have so been everywhere this guy has been in the kitchen. ... Read more

11. The Porcupine (First edition)
by Julian Barnes
 Paperback: Pages (1992)
-- used & new: US$23.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B000OPFX1W
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12. Cross Channel
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 224 Pages (1997-02-11)
list price: US$13.00 -- used & new: US$1.96
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 067976755X
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
In his first collection of short stories, Barnes explores the narrow body of water containing the vast sea of prejudice and misapprehension which lies between England and France with acuity humor, and compassion. For whether Barnes's English characters come to France as conquerors or hostages, laborers, athletes, or aesthetes, what they discover, alongside rich food and barbarous sexual and religious practices, is their own ineradicable Englishness. The ten stories that make up Cross Channel introduce us to a plethora of intriguing, original, and sometimes ill-fated characters. Elegantly conceived and seductively written, Cross Channel is further evidence of Barnes's wizardry.

"Barnes is a witty, playful and ironic writer at the top of his form...Cross Channel is in the best sense an artful book."--San Francisco Chronicle

"Fluently written, finely observed...delicately patterned."--New York Times ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

3-0 out of 5 stars coda to Braithwhaite's ruminations on France and life
The Brits abroad often bring to mind images of endomorphic, bawling, sunburned men drunkenly marauding in the south of Spain, or perhaps at an England football away match. Not, of course, in the hands of Julian Barnes, who strictly demarcates his fiction between the crass and vulgar (his pulp 'Duffy' detective novels under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh) and his more regular literary output which often focuses on questions of France, and its relationship with Barnes's native Britain.

Barnes is a phenomenally cultured Francophile (for a manifestation of this, check out his essay collection 'Something to Declare') and his prose at its best is playful, witty and detailed. Barnes, the linguist, and former lexicographer and law student has a keen eye for the curious details of life. He can spin fictional gold out of a simple engraving on a stone, or a bottle of wine, or an elegant account of Medieval Religious persecution. This he did to great effect in his 1984 novel, Flaubert's Parrot, which is one of the most elegant and playful novels ever written, and to lesser, but still successful effect, in his 1989 big canvas novel 'A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters'.

Cross Channel takes the themes developed in these two novels - love, history, art, food, persecution, memory - and adds to them a sort of coda in the form of ten elegant, formally sophisticated stories. It should be said at the outset that Cross Channel is not as accomplished a book as the previous novels mentioned, but is still worth reading as form of the most elegant type of travel literature.

All of the stories feature British (and Irish) people in France. The first, and maybe best story, Interference concerns an elderly English composer who wants his wife to hear his final compositional masterpiece on the radio but can't get decent reception unless everyone else in their isolated French village is silent. Junction is a fairly flat story telling the story of the Paris - Rouen railway, partially built by British navies. Experiment is a tongue in cheek pastiche of surrealism: a young man tries to unravel the story of his lumpen, heavy drinking uncle's participation in a sexual experiment with Andre Breton and pals. Melon is another fairly disappointing story which revolves around an aristocratic man's unawareness of the origins of his food, and a cricket match around the time of the French Revolution. Evermore is a cracker, a poignant story about an elderly woman who makes annual pilgrimages to northern France where her son was killed in the First World War. It is a quiet, reflective piece on the difficulties of maintaining memory over the years, with the ghost of Kipling lingering beneath the surface.

Gnossiene is a short piece that doesn't quite come off about a man travelling to a literary conference to a destination that seems to be a hoax. Barnes here has fun, based on his own experiences being interviewed by literary critics in France, with contrasting the French and Anglo Saxon mindsets 'so Monsieur Clements, le mythe et la realite?'. Dragons takes us back a while (there is great historical sweep in these stories) to a time when ignorance, superstition and religious persecution ruled in Medieval France. Brambilla brings us back to modern themes with some riffs on the Tour de France - including the tale of the drug raddled cyclist who offered his girlfriend's urine as a sample: 'the good news is you're clean. The bad news is you're pregnant'. Hermitage is a quintessential Barnes tale of women and wine set in the late 19th Century - two English spinsters buy a vineyard in France and set about creating their own version of an idyll copied a century later by middle class Brits: 'Idling glances proposed a different life: in a timbered Normandy farmhouse, a trim Burgundy manoir, a backwater chateau of the Berry.'

The final story, Tunnel, stretches the timescale into the future (sometime soon after 2009 I think we are meant to surmise judging by the vintage of wine drunk in that story). Barnes seems to be fond of setting his stories in the near future - he used the same trick in 'Staring at the Sun, published in 1985 but the time frame for the end of that novel soon approaching). Perhaps he plans to read over these stories in his old age and see how they have stood the test of time. The narrator of Tunnel is an elderly English novelist (Barnes himself perhaps?) who reflects on ageing and France on a Eurostar trip from London to Paris. Here's a passage from that story which could only come from the pen of Julian Barnes:

'He turned away form himself and began to speculate about his immediate neighbours. To his right were three fellows in suits plus a chap in a striped blazer; opposite him an elderly woman. Elderly: that's to say, about the same age as himself. He said the word again, slid it around his mouth. He'd never much cared for it - there was something slimy and ingratiating about its use - and now that he was himself what the word denoted, he liked it even less. Young, middle-aged, elderly, old, dead; this was how life was conjugated. (No, life was a noun, so this was how life declined. Yes, that was better in any case, life declined. A third sense there too: life refused, life not fully grasped. 'I see now that I have always been afraid of life,' Flaubert had once conceded. Was this true of all writers? And was it, in any case, a necessary truth: in order to be a writer, you needed in some sense to decline life?'...

5-0 out of 5 stars This Time 10, Not 10.5�
Mr. Julian Barnes wrote his History of the world in 10 and one half chapters. In this collection of short stories he decided to be a bit more conventional, and confine his 10 stories to only 10 chapters. It is here the similarity stops, for while this Author is not the only writer to have published shorter versions of their written thoughts, just like his novels they are special, unique, and share place with only a few peers.

The commonality here is not as apparent as in his "History Of The World", or other collections that carry a continuous thread. There is the consistency of the experiences of the English and the French, and the events they share, memorialize, desecrate, and impose upon one another. The most interesting manner by which these stories are linked is literally explained in the final sentence. It is not a clumsy device, but a bit of insight typical of Mr. Barnes.

While a given story may not encompass a great swath of time, when taken as an assemblage the reader tours the Centuries ranging from the 17th to the 21st. And while not heavy handed, he manages to bring together the farthest stretches of time in his stories to common points. They are often subtle, other times less so, but always inventive. Two aspects I enjoyed were the use of "The Dragons", and the part wine played in this writing.

Many of the stories are lighter, highlighting relationships, shared positive experience, and success. Mr. Barnes brings balance to this anthology by also exposing the darker sides of man's history, as well as his attributes. We watch Religious fervor visited with a cruelness that is painfully unique to the religiously persecuted, one person's vision of a time when sacrifice will not longer be remembered much less honored, and the events that the future does unfold.

Memories play a variety of roles even when uttered by the same individual. The reader can decide if the recalled thoughts are revisionary, romanticized, or outright fabrication. But whichever category you choose you will be greatly entertained.

5-0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet stories about English people in France
The "Channel" in Cross Channel is the English Channel. The common theme in thismasterful collection of short stories, is the experience of British people who have crossed the Channel and spent sometime in France. The time, social and cultural extraction of this people are quite diverse, as are the reasons for their being in France. From the old lady who goes to France every year to remember a loved one killed in WWI and who sees WWII as a threat to the memory of those killed in the First War, to the young man who gets involvedwith French Surrealists in astrange sexual experiment, to the experiences of British workers building sections of the French railway system... all these stories are alive and lively. And they have one more thing in common: they are wonderful! Nobody like Julian Barnes to keep the reader's interest high all the time; he develops each story in such as a way that even the mundane is thrilling and will lead -perhaps- to the unexpected. !The style is impeccable, and Barnes uses a lot of true events as base for the fiction in the stories, so along with their intrinsic beauty, the reader will also learn some interesting historical facts. I don't know if it was Barnes' intention in writing "Cross Channel" to make us realize that as different national psyches England and France appear to have, they also have a lot more in common (the human and emotional factor he so vividly portrays). And, although you may not be particularly interested in comprehending British-French relations, there is afeeling of universality in them that comes through very palpably. These are not superficial stories. They are very charged emotionally, they are sad and funny, tragic and mundane, and in the process they will stir the reader's emotions. If anybody has any doubts about Julian Barnes being one of the most gifted contemporary writers,reading "Cross Channel" will do a lot to dispel them. I highly reco! mmend this book. ... Read more

13. Talking It Over
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 288 Pages (1992-10-27)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$4.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0679736875
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
In this powerfully affecting Flaubert's Parrot gives readers a brilliant take on the deceptions that make up the quivering substrata of erotic love. "An interplay of serious thought and dazzling wit. . . . It's moving, it's funny, it's frightening . . . fiction at its best."--New York Times Book Review. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (22)

3-0 out of 5 stars Innovative Format
It is hard to get used to the conversational format of this book, particularly as one character "talks" much more than the others with allusions to all sorts of literary, historical, and theatrical subjects.It does draw you in after a while, and it is a satisfying read, with an ending which leaves lots of room for conjecture.

2-0 out of 5 stars And over and over and over...
This is a book where a simple story of a love triangle is made more interesting by allowing the reader to view it from the perspectives of everyone involved (or everyone even remotely associated with the main three characters). However, the book seems to lack momentum may be because the unfolding of events is delayed when characters take their turns to talk about them.

3-0 out of 5 stars A classic triangle
Julian Barnes's Talking It Over is told from the perspectives of three first-person narrators: Stuart, who is pedantic and slightly nerdy; the reserved, conflicted, and lovely Gillian; and Oliver, a flamboyant show-off in love with his own cleverness. Stuart marries Gillian, Oliver is their best friend who tags along with them all the time, and I'm willing to bet that you guess what happens next.

The plot is conventional, the characters never quite escape their stereotypical roles, yet somehow the book succeeds. Don't get me wrong; it's not Great Literature, nor is it Barnes's best work, but it's an engaging read nonetheless. Barnes does a good job of playing his three narrators against each other, and despite the fact that they never quite rise above their types, he eventually manages to show us the humanity that lies beneath the type. There are some nice lines and a few very well-written scenes. I like the way Barnes captures the feeling that exists between Gillian and Oliver as they sit in her attic studio day after day, and I love the moment when Gillian sees the secret flower petal on the shelf and swallows it--such a wonderfully subtle way of letting us know that she's crossed a line within herself, before she even knows it.

The book lost steam a bit towards the end.It seems that Barnes is better when is writing is fueled by the crackling sexual tension that exists in the first half of the narrative; once the tension is resolved, the story seems to go astray.

It was a compelling read, and very quick, but anyone seeking Barnes best work would be better of with A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.

2-0 out of 5 stars Fails structurally - and a rip of of Amis
For a start, for readers of Martin Amis's success, Barnes' novel seems like such an obvious rip off that it is hard to believe it wasn't intentional. The central tenets of Amis's novel - one successful dilletante male, the other hard working and mundane, a woman who doesn't say much, characters speak directly to the reader - are all followed in Talking it Over.

In addition, the structure of the book is weak. The narrative rests on the reader being drawn into Gillian first falling in love with Stuart (which you don't - how often does an attractive woman sign up for a dating agency then fall for a dull, needy, insecure man?) then Oliver (which is also unconvincing - he bungles the seduction, but she falls for him anyway). Barnes pads out this narrative with some interesting comment from the characters on love, life and sex, and some trademark humour, but pasting some wry social observation onto the page does not in itself make a good novel.

Actually, I found the sequel, Love etc. rather better, and far more convincingly done. You would have to read this novel as a stepping stone to that book, which picks up the lives of the characters after the cliffhanger at the end of Talking it Over.

5-0 out of 5 stars Dear Reader
Steady nerdish Stuart and his best friend, flamboyant loser Oliver, are both in love with Gillian, who solves her dilemma by marrying both of them. It is set in 1980's London
It is told very cleverly (rather too cleverly) from the point of view of each of a cast of characters who write as if trying to get their own points of view across to the reader and analyze each others motives and criticize each other. Normally I dislike these fancy narrative devices (sometimes called post-modern, although you can trace them back to eighteenth century epistolary novels, andaddressing the "dear reader") but Barnes does this so well that I was captivated.
The style becomes too fancy when Oliver is the narrator. He is fond of elaborate witticisms and bits of French.The best narrators were Val and the girl in the flower shop.
Barnes wrote a sequel "Love Etc" ten years later, which is set ten years later in the characters' lives. It is even better.
... Read more

14. Arthur & George
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 112 Pages (2011-04-01)
list price: US$18.95 -- used & new: US$12.89
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 184842096X
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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The gripping story of the sensational, real-life case. In 1903, Birmingham solicitor George Edalji was found guilty of a crime and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. Desperate to prove his innocence, he recruited Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, to help solve his case and win him a pardon.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (7)

3-0 out of 5 stars Arthur and George
Arthur and George is a fictional recreation of the great injustice done to George Edalji, a half-Indian solicitor who is accused of slaughtering farm animals.George is tried, convicted and sent to jail, where he spends three years engaged in menial activities and reading books.When he is released, he begins a campaign to clear his name, which includes writing a letter to the famous Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world's most popular literary detective, Sherlock Holmes.Sir Arthur takes up the fight, throwing himself into the cause of clearing George's name.

Barnes is a skilled wordsmith.He carries the story along with ease, never saturating the text with flashy word choices or overly elaborate metaphors.The beginning of the novel, which is structured rather heavily around a series of disjointed chapters alternately titled 'Arthur' and 'George', focus on the upbringing and maturity of the two main characters.Barnes' writing serves these chapters well, as the quiet, mannered sentences ease us into what we expect will be a provoking, interesting and historically accurate portrayal of a forgotten period of Britain's past.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.There are early signs of difficulty in the novel as a whole.'Arthur' goes on to become Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a tremendously popular author for his time, and one whose main creation - Sherlock Holmes - has well and truly resonated in the mind of his readers and continues to resonate in our current period.And yet, his literary development is left largely alone, we are told he has published books and is gaining fame and success, but that is all.This leads us to believe that Arthur's life is a charmed one, one of little hardship or difficulty.

So be it.That is easy enough to swallow, if we are to believe that Arthur is the great saviour of George's life.But George, too, is unattractive.He is a quiet, withdrawn young man, but beyond that we know very little.There is never an extensive examination of his psyche, which would allow us to understand the person he is and sympathise with his eventual downfall.Instead, we learn very little about him, and come to agree with the police that he is odd, a queer fellow who is difficult to root for.

So we have, approaching 100 pages into the novel, an unsympathetic character about to be placed into a situation designed to tug at our heartstrings, and an equally unappealing main character about to rescue him and save the day.But, again, Barnes shies away from creating a sense of dramatic urgency by waxing eloquently over Arthur's wife's illness, and his subsequent affair with a much younger woman, Jean.Because Arthur is not a wholly sympathetic character, is it difficult to care much for his marital difficulties.Fortunately for Arthur, these difficulties are only those of time, as his wife seems fairly content to plod along with consumption until she passes away.

The major problem with the story that is being told is that it is not a story.It is a recreation of something that actually occurred, and as with most things in life, there are no neat endings or beginnings.But, because we are reading a novel, it is expected that there will be some semblance of dramatic impact, particularly when Barnes struggles his best to convey an upcoming major event or revelation for a character.George is eventually proclaimed innocent of wrong-doing, but it is a stale, grey sort of innocence - the government was not interested in justice so much as saving face.Were it a Hollywood style production, there would be a grand magnanimous display of righteous justice for all, but because we are dealing with actualities and not fantasy, there is nothing for the reader but dissatisfaction.

The novel is constructed around the artifice of Arthur and George actually having a relationship.They don't, they share nine months together, and even then, it is in a purely professional sense.Arthur is not overly affected by it, though George, perhaps to move the story to its inevitable conclusion, is.There are tantalising hints of a great story between two men who made an important step towards free and great justice for all, but these hints never materialise.We are left with a limping, struggling novel that is pulled ahead only by the confidence of Barnes' words, not the positive qualities of his protagonists.

5-0 out of 5 stars Arthur & George
I was lucky enough to be given an advanced reader's copy of Julian Barnes' latest novel by a friend of mine.And my interest was captured, completely, from page one.The story is a true one- George Edalji is charged with and convicted of the brutal maiming of farm animals in Staffordshire.He spends three years in jail, and then finds that it is impossible for him to pick up his former life with such a conviction over his head.He writes to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, hoping that the creator of such a fine detective as Sherlock Holmes can help prove his innocence.And thus begins their relationship together.

However, George Edalji and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle don't meet until more than halfway through the book, and even then, they only see each other about three times.

Barnes' genius, then, lies in the rest of the story.It is obvious from the beginning why this book was short-listed for the Booker Prize.Barnes develops his characters from childhood onwards.We learn about Edalji's horrible eyesight, his relationship with his parents and his sister Maud.We learn about Doyle's annoyance with Sherlock Holmes, his relationship with his mother, and his wife, and Jean Leckie.We learn about each of their quirks and traits.And after learning about these two separately, and drawing our own conclusions, Barnes allows the two characters to meet, and allows us to learn about their conclusions of each other.

We learn about racial prejudice (though Edalji refuses to believe he was racially profiled- he staunchly calls himself an Englishman).We learn about the legal system prevalent in England at the time, and how the court of appeals came to be.We learn about spiritualism and attend a seance.We see Doyle's guilt for being in love with a woman that is not his wife, and Edalji's hope that the justice system he so believes in will see his obvious innocence.We learn so much about two extraordinary men, and the people who touched their lives.All told in a masterful, immediate narrative tone that catches your interest and holds it for 400 pages.

This was my first book of the new year, and it is one that I already know will make it onto my list of Best Books of 2006, and probably onto the list of books that stays with you long after you finish reading them.Highly, highly recommended.

2-0 out of 5 stars Bland all the way
As with all Julian Barnes's novels, the writing is crisp, intelligent and beautifully paced. Also present is Barnes's particular fondness for looking at real life texts and putting a fictional squint on them to convey a fascinating story or set of ideas. However, whereas in books such as Flaubert's Parrot and A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters approach the past from oblique angles - a biography of Flaubert created from quirky fragments of the man's life, history recreated from a woodworm's viewpoint - Arthur and George displays none of this creative quirkiness. What you get is a plodding, carefully told detective story about a young Parsee man, George Edalji, who is wrongly accused of a series of animal mutilations in a sleepy Staffordshire village. Arthur Conan Doyle, the world famous author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, hears of his case and rushes in to ensure justice is done. The novel is padded out with nice but ultimately boring vignettes into the life of Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji. Barnes has obviously done extensive research into the life of Conan Doyle and the Great Wyrley outrages, but loving and painstaking hours spent creating what you feel is a convincing portrayal of a real life character does not guarantee that you are producing a figure of great fictional merit. There are long digressions into Conan Doyle's anxieties with his mistress Jean Touie and his growing love of the occult, adn long streams of dialogue that serve merely structural, not dramatic effect. It is not one of Barnes's greatest efforts. It was raptuously received by the critics in Britain, and made the Booker Prize shortlist but it failed to impress the judges. For really original and stylistically dazzling fiction, I would look elsewhere.

4-0 out of 5 stars Predictably Unpredictable
Having completed the works of many an author chronologically, I have always admired successive maturity amidst those promissory. Julian Barnes is an exception. Each of his novels is an experimentation with the limits to which the definitions of 'fiction' and 'novel' can be stretched. From the uncanny literary critic that he was in 'Flaubert's Parrot', to the ambitious scale of 'A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters' - time and again, his works have defied classification and 'Arthur and George' is no exception.

A thoroughly researched, intensely moving and earnestly brilliant novel, Barnes takes us through the distinct early lives of one of the most famous novelist who ever lived and an aspiring young lawyer, whose father is a Parisee; then slowly and eerily brings forth the inexcusable racial prejudices highly prevalent in England those days; intertwines the lives of these two men, and richly illustrates how their lives are permanently altered thereafter.

Barnes is very subtle as he assiduously changes his narrative in each of the four parts of the novels, and is undoubtedly clever in hijacking the reader into the minds of the character. You cannot but sympathise with Edalji (Ay-dl-jee); you will be proud of Sir Arthur, you'll feel sorry for Touie, and understand the position of the lovely Jean. He'll even leave you feel intelligent some times, when the novel takes on the form of one of Holmes' adventure - for example, Sharp initially tells George, 'you're not the right sort', a phrase which is often repeated in the abusive letters (which are authentic, by the way) he receives.

It takes an extraordinary writer to turn a historical account into a novel, where the characters are sculptured with delicate care, that at the end of the intense ride, one finds his novel complete. Except Barnes chose to include the fourth and rather unnecessary part of the novel, which neither informs much about the characters whom we come to love by the end of the third part nor adds much to the strength of the narrative. The reader is bewildered at the irrationality of the distinction that is supposed to exist between the rational and the spiritual - Barnes concludes on neither side, as usual, he is predictably unpredictable in leaving an open question.

Being the extremely readable, lucid historical fiction that it is and having been exquisitely packaged, it certainly demands a wide readership, and certainly deserved its Booker nomination.

4-0 out of 5 stars Injustice undone
George Edalji grows up as the son of a Parsee church minister and a Scottish mother in rural 19th century England. After school he becomes a solicitor and starts a modest practice of his own in Birmingham. Every morning he takes the train from his parent's house to his work and every evening he walks for a little over an hour, before doing some more work and turning in early. He feels utterly English, but most people see only his brown skin and consider him an outsider. When he starts to receive threatening letters and strange objects (dead birds, an unknown key) he considers it a prank, but when he reports it to the police they turn the whole story upside down and claim that he writes the threats himself. When somebody starts mutilating horses the police even claims that George has done this, arrests him after which he is convicted to 7 years in prison. After 3 years he is released without explanation, but he cannot resume his work as solicitor unless he is rehabilitated.

In parallel to this story there is the story of Arthur Conan Doyle, the "inventor" of Sherlock Holmes: an energetic man, good at sports, with a full social and family life and more or less the opposite of George. When Arthur's first wife dies of TB, he finally has the chance to marry his long-term best friend, but somehow he becomes depressed. Until he learns of the case of George Edalji. He decides to investigate the case himself, kicks some behinds and finally manages to get George at least partially rehabilitated. And in the meantime he regains his sanity and is capable to pick up his life

The amazing thing is that this is actually a true story: George Edalji was the "English Dreyfuss" and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did take an interest in his case. It is amazing to read how prejudice governed all the actions of the police, how a slightly strange, but perfectly harmless individual with a firm belief in English law and justice was completely wronged and ended up spending part of his life in prison on some ridiculous charges. I wondered whether George has Asperger syndrome (a form of autism): his reactions are certainly strangely flat and withdrawn, he does not really seem to understand social interactions and regularity is extremely important for him.

The fact that it never becomes really clear "who did it" is unsatisfying, but life can be unsatisfactory and since this story is based on facts rather than fiction, that's the way it is. All in all a very thorough piece of work and research by Julian Barnes. ... Read more

15. Love, etc.
by Julian Barnes
Kindle Edition: 240 Pages (2007-12-18)
list price: US$12.00
Asin: B000XUAEBW
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Julian Barnes continues to reinvigorate the novel with his pyrotechnic verbal skill and playful manipulation of plot and character. In Love, etc. he uses all the surprising, sophisticated ingredients of a delightful farce to create a tragicomedy of human frailties and needs.

After spending a decade in America as a successful businessman, Stuart returns to London and decides to look up his ex-wife Gillian.Their relationship had ended years before when Stuart’s witty, feckless, former best friend Oliver stole her away.But now Stuart finds that the intervening years have left Oliver’s artistic ambitions in ruins and his relationship with Gillian on less than solid footing. When Stuart begins to suspect that he may be able to undo the results of their betrayal, he resolves to act. Written as an intimate series of crosscutting monologues that allow each character to whisper their secrets and interpretations directly to the reader, Love, etc. is an unsettling examination of confessional culture and a profound refection on the power of perspective.

From the Trade Paperback edition.Amazon.com Review
Oliver, Stuart, and Gillian have been friends and lovers. But it's been 10 years since this backbiting trio, which Julian Barnes first introduced inTalking It Over,last met--and a lot has changed. For starters, Oliver has married Gillian,and Stuart, his erstwhile best friend, hates him for it. Not just becauseStuart was once married to Gillian, but because he still loves her and hasnever ceased to regard himself as her savior. Under the guise of repairingold friendships--"all blood under the bridge"--this mild-mannered thirdwheel insinuates himself into the couple's life by offering advice, providing support, and even giving Oliver a job. Once he's maneuvered his nemesis into a crippling depression, Stuart unveils his master plan.

In Love, Etc. Barnes adopts the same technique he used in theearlier installment, allowing his characters to speak their innermostthoughts and secrets directly to the reader--and just about everybody gets somegood lines. (Oliver: "Yes, everything went swimmingly, which is a verypeculiar adverb to apply to a social event, considering how most humanbeings swim.") But the book is also a bewitchingly intimate excursion intobetrayal and jealousy. With painstaking detail, Barnes creates a vibrantportrait of a modern love triangle--as funny as it is cruel, as absurd asit is deep. Few contemporary writers can portray Middle England, with allits temptations, so darkly. --Matthew Baylis ... Read more

Customer Reviews (12)

5-0 out of 5 stars Love, etc by Julian Barnes - richly observed and moving too
It's hard to imagine a more perfect marriage of form and content than Love, etc, in which Julian Barnes continues the story of characters that came to life in Talking It Over. If, however, this marriage is fine, then equally the marriage of Gillian and Oliver is not. And neither, for that matter, was the previous one that temporarily joined Gillian and Stuart.

Julian Barnes tells the story of this love triangle entirely in the first person. Gillian, Oliver and Stuart appear like talking heads on a screen to relate their own side of things. Since we left them at the end of Talking It Over, Stuart has moved to the States, where he has become a successful businessman and has found a new partner. Oliver, meanwhile, having won the hand of fair Gillian, has started his family but has fallen on hard times, an experience he seems to regard merely as a passing phase, except that it's clearly not a phase and neither does it pass. Re-enter Stuart, and thus the situation progresses.

Occasionally, especially when the principal actors mention them, minor characters appear to have their often substantial say. There is an ex, a new girlfriend, an occasional mother. Also, the children have their say, their naiveté as confused as it is innocent, their vagueness inherited, perhaps, from their personal environment.

And so a story unfolds. Oliver is as full of theatre and bravura as he was throughout Talking It Over, but now it rings more of a bluff, a screen erected for self-protection rather than an extrovert's sheen. Unemployment and illness seem to have exhausted him. Stuart, having made his fortune, is on an up and begins to reassert his desire to occupy the position he has always coveted, the space by Gillian's side.

There are surprises in store, surprises for the characters and for the reader. But what Julian Barnes communicates with such subtlety, skill and ease are the inconsistencies of human character, the incongruities of events, the contradictions and deceptions of behaviour, and the illusions these confusions create. These people all act primarily out of self-interest. But then who doesn't? That's the point. And thus the process takes all of us to places we have all been, but have often failed to notice or acknowledge, even if we have admitted and recognised our motives, which most of us have not. Love, etc is a brilliant book, brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed with a lightness of touch that leaves us wholly surprised when we encounter a fundamentally serious point. The plot? Who cares?

3-0 out of 5 stars (3.5): Solid, But Not Quite Fully Formed
I love Julian Barnes and believe he is one of the best writers producing fiction today (along with Coetzee, Murukami, and McEwan). With that in mind, I had very high hopes for this novel, and as much as I whipped through it and enjoyed it (I read it over the course of two evenings), I have to say that there's something missing. The premise is simple enough - guy marries girl, girl leave guy for best friend, time passes, but raw emotions do not. Now, Barnes chooses to write this in a series of interconnected monologues (see also Hornby's "A Long Way Down," a more successful version of this literary style, as well as portions of "King Lear") where characters are limited to what they can see, but in connecting all of their reflections, you get a wonderful picture not only of what is going on, but how the characters interact with one another and really misunderstand what is taking place around them. So on that level, in terms of its completeness of vision and its readability, the book is classic Barnes, but after thinking over my reading experience, I can't help but think that maybe the whole venture was not a complete success. If this were a writing exercise, it would be perfect in every way, but as a novel, I think it comes up short. There is something too staged and unbelievable about the situation and one of the motivations of one of the characters, Stuart, becomes so blatantly obvious that it takes away the subtlety that works so well through much of the novel. But with one of the three protagonists being too much of a cookie-cutter personality, and with the novel being all about voice, I couldn't help feel a little disappointed with the outcome. I would definitely tell Mr. Barnes to read Hornby's "A Long Way Down" to see a more successful and interesting version of what he seems to be trying to accomplish.

As an aside, the thoughts on love are quite comprehensive and interestingly put. Barnes covers the specturm in terms of the range of emotions people can feel for one another as masterfully as he has done in his other work.

4-0 out of 5 stars Souffle light style - dark matter
Love etc. is not one of Barnes's heavier novels - it has the tone of being whisked up as a quick and fairly easy second course after the original Talking it Over. I found it slightly better than the original. The original dynamic of the love triangle - Gillian marries the dull Stuart, then falls for his flamboyant friend Oliver was too unconvincing and insubstantial to make a good novel. The sequel is darker, the characters are grown up and there are more dimensions to the story which give it's quick, light tone something to get it's teeth into. The cuckolded Stuart has made a success of his business and a failure of his second marriage in America, he returns to meet Gillian and Oliver in London, whose lives have not taken off as they might have hoped. The results are not as predictable as you may imagine.

Like the original, it reminded me of a Nick Hornby saga of modern, urban, London love lives, a sort of spicy Hamstead novel, but it is cleverer than the standard works of this genre, and contains more of Barnes's characteristic playfulness with form (most notably a great part when Gillian addresses the reader directly about marital sex). The ending is the weakest part of the book - the various carefully constructed strands of the story become somewhat frayed and unresolved. It seems as if Barnes wants to keep his options open to continue the threads through to a third book, thus making the series a sort of periodic chronicle of English everyman life the way Updike's 'Rabbit' novels did in the US.

5-0 out of 5 stars Too clever?
Stuart is trying to seduce his ex-wife Gillian, now married to his ex-best friend Oliver. It's a sequel to "Talking It Over"(which I haven't read) but Oliver might well be the son of the protagonists of "Flaubert's Parrot."
It's told in the voices of multiple first person narrators. (This seems to be fashionable but could be a throwback to 18th and 19th century novels such as Collins's "The Moonstone.")
It's fully of dazzling witty insights about love and friendship and life. These are clever enough to keep you reading for their own sake, as well as carrying the plot along for the first half of the book. As the plot thickens, and as Oliver gets depressed, and Stuart becomes a more sinister figure, they clog the narrative more

5-0 out of 5 stars Real-time
This is a rather unique situation: ten years passed since "Talking It Over", ten years passed in the author's life, in our lives, in the lives of Gillian, Oliver and Stuart. It is not often that we see a sequel developing at normal real-time pace. Imagine "Star Wars, Episode II" being filmed (with the same actors) not just a couple of years after Episode I, but after, how many was that, I'm not really a fan, let's say twelve years.

And it looks awful. Really awful. I identified myself with Oliver pretty much while reading the first book; after all, he's smart, quick-witted, and loves long words such as "crepuscular" (I've noticed that Barnes is personally extremely fond of this word himself; there's rarely a novel which goes without this word). But look what life has done to him. And how Stuart matured and vintaged, if this is a valid word.

And worst of all, it is so bloody realistic. Can't any of us count several Olivers, bright and brilliant, with high hopes (both their own and imposed on them by others), and utterly devastated and reduced to near-nothingness by the age when one should be in one's creative prime?

This does not spur me into going for ecological trade, or banking, or whatever it is what Stuart is or was doing. But this novel is an earnest warning to all us Olivers out there. ... Read more

16. Staring at the Sun
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 208 Pages (1993-09-28)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$2.50
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Asin: 0679748202
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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A fighter pilot, high above the English Channel in 1941, watches the sun rise; he descends 10,000 feet and then, to his amazement, finds the sun beginning to rise again. With this haunting image Julian Barnes' novel begins. It charts the life of Jean Serjeant, from her beginnings as a naive, carefree country girl before the war through to her wry and trenchant old age in the year 2020. We follow her bruising experience in marriage, her questioning of male truths, her adventures in motherhood and in China; we learn the questions she asks of life and the often unsatisfactory answers it provides. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (7)

5-0 out of 5 stars DEJA VU
Whether it is actually possible for the pilot of a plane changing altitude rapidly during the dawn to see the sun rise twice I don't actually know, although it sounds very unlikely to me. However that is the theme with which this story starts and ends. The start and end are very neatly tied together, and so indeed are all the various strands of the plot. Clever and deft workmanship of this kind is what I have learned to expect by now after experiencing five novels by Julian Barnes, and it is the sort of thing that leaves me unable to make up my mind whether I like his work or not.

After at least the last two novels I vowed to myself that I would never read another page by him because he is such a clever-clogs, and good heavens does he know it. For all that, whenever my eye lights on something bearing his name I keep picking it up, because he is just so exceptionally talented. He is talented as a writer, as a novelist and as an essayist. You will find coherent and convincing portraiture in this book, hung around the 100-year life of Jean, but really no less persuasive in the depiction of Leslie, Gregory, Michael, Tommy Prosser, Rachel and even Olive. That would form a good basis for any novel, but until near the end of the book I kept wondering whether the plot-line was really a device to string together a series of essays by the ultra-intellectual Mr Barnes. The lengthy sequence on what it must be like to die in an airliner crash is a rather blatant intrusion on the general narrative, but being the craftsman he is Barnes can get away with even this as being related in a tenuous way to the overall theme.

The reason why he can do that is that he keeps it skilfully vague and uncertain what the overall theme actually is. Is it the life of Jean, or is it the philosophical ponderings on the nature of God and the afterlife with which the book concludes? You tell me and I'll tell you - I don't really know which it is meant to be, and I don't think I'm meant to know. The book was published in 1986, I see, and the predictions for 21st-century computing have not really worked out as Barnes seems to have expected, but I find no fault with him for that. Indeed it could still turn out Barnes's way, I suppose. If I have a criticism at all of the numerous intellectual extravaganzas it would actually be that the interactions between Gregory and the computer regarding God, death and the rest of it run a distinct risk of being platitudinous. By what token we human beings presume to believe that if there is a Creator of the cosmos He shares human sensibilities I don't know, but I suggest a reading of Olaf Stapledon's `Star Maker' as a salutary mental corrective for Barnes or anyone else inclined to this outlook.

However even if we focus on the strictly narrative thread it is excellent. Jean's story is clear, it is coherent and it is involving. If I had to defend the book against a charge of artificiality and over-ingenuity in the way the various sub-plots and sub-threads are linked and associated, I don't think I could do it. This is just Julian Barnes, that's the way he is, and we just have to take him or leave him as we feel inclined. In fact this book does not annoy me in the way Flaubert's Parrot did, and I suppose I am having to recognise that talent of this order doesn't grow on trees and that if I chose to ignore Barnes I would be missing out on something major.

4-0 out of 5 stars Lovely
I read this book whilst living in Berlin shortlly after the wall went down.Perhaps this time period influenced my views of the book, however, I loved it.(I am actually looking for a British copy at the moment) being such a long time ago, I do not remember a lot of specifics regarding the story, just the effects which it had on me.I do however remember the wonderful imagery of the pilot flying into the sun.Being a World War II scholar perhaps also has a lot to do with my feelings for the book.If you like Julian Barnes as a writer, you will like this novel, but it is not Flaubert's Parrot.If this is what you are expecting, you may be disappointed.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not Vintage Barnes
The first two thirds are the biography of an English woman who leads a drab monotonouslife. She has a brief friendship during World War II with a fighter pilot who has mildly mystical tendencies (a laAntoine de St Exupery) marries a policeman, leaves him and has a child.I suspected (having read Flaubert's Parrot) that Barnes was setting out to rival Flaubert's "Un Coeur Simple" by showing us that an account of a drab monotonous life could be interesting.She eventually acquires a little sophistication and money and does some traveling and becomes philosophical.The last section switchesinto science fiction by having her survive into a dystopic twenty-first century.
It lacked the bite and wit and penetrating insights of vintage Barnes. The futurology was unoriginal by science fiction standards - I don't think it would have made it into publication in Asimov's.- and the mysticism was run-of-the-mill.
Not up to Barnes's standard, but that's a very high standard.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not One of his Better Ones
I am a Julian Barnes fan and was rather disappointed at this early effort. His writing is as precise as ever and his wit is there. But somehow the story line following a naive woman protagonist from childhood to age 100 somehow never gets going. There are interesting side characters, true, but the heroine and her listless and lost son do not spark any empathy or understanding but mostly annoyance at their passiveness. The story does get better as it goes along, but it's not enough to rescue the book.

5-0 out of 5 stars Absolute Beauty
I could write a deeply analytical critique on the book, but frankly, I don't think it is necessary.Staring at the Sun speaks for itself.It is an essential book for the modern reader.Julian Barnes has the most profound and simply put insights on just about anything from the most abstruse to the most mundane of topics, especially in the most fundamental aspects of life: sex and death.Get it now! ... Read more

17. Metroland
by Julian Barnes
Paperback: 176 Pages (1992-10-27)
list price: US$11.95 -- used & new: US$3.86
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Asin: 0679736085
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Only the author of Flaubert's Parrot could give us a novel that is at once a note-perfect rendition of the angsts and attitudes of English adolescence, a giddy comedy of sexual awakening in the 1960s, and a portrait of the accommodations that some of us call "growing up" and others "selling out." "Barnes writes like a dream."--Village Voice Literary Supplement.Amazon.com Review
Sixteen-year-old suburbanite Chris Lloyd and his mate Toni spend theirfree time wishing they were French, making up stories about strangers,and pretending to be flâneurs. When they grow up they'd like to be "artists-in-residence at anudist colony." If youthful voyeurism figures heavily in their everydaylives, so, too, do the pleasures of analogy, metaphor, and deliberatemisprision. Sauntering into one store that dares to call itself MANSHOP, Toni demands: "One man and two small boys, please."

Julian Barnes could probably fill several books with these boys' clevermisadventures, but in his first novel he attempts something moredaring--the curve from youthful scorn to adult contentment. In 1968,when Chris goes off to Paris, he misses the May événementsbut manages, more importantly, to fall in love and learn the pleasuresof openness: "The key to Annick's candour was that there was no key. Itwas like the atom bomb: the secret is that there is no secret." Thefinal section finds Chris back in suburbia, married, with children and amortgage, and slowly accepting the surprise that happiness isn't boring."It's certainly ironic to be back in Metroland. As a boy, what would Ihave called it: le syphilis de l'âme, or something like that, Idare say. But isn't part of growing up being able to ride irony withoutbeing thrown?" Far from renouncing the joys of language, this novelwittily celebrates honest communication. --Kerry Fried ... Read more

Customer Reviews (13)

2-0 out of 5 stars Lacking in originality, wit and sharpness
This was the first of Julian Barnes's novels, but I came to it after reading a selection of his later essays in 'Letters from London' and the 'Pedant in the Kitchen' as well as his intellectual postmodern history novel 'A History of the World in Ten Chapters'.

The sharpness, wit and originality prevalent in the aforementioned works I found to be sadly lacking in Metroland. The story seemed to be implausible and trite. The narrator is Chris Lloyd, a sensitive teenager growing up in a part of suburban London served by the Metropolitan line - hence the book's title. With his friend Toni, he peruses the world with a mixture of cynicism, scorn, curiosity, cheekiness and boredom. In the middle third of the novel, Chris comes of age, finding the traditional intellectual shelter spots of Paris coming to his rescue as he loses his virginity to an attractive French girl and meets his future wife. The final third highlights Chris's maturity into the mellow contentment of middle age - a condition acidly mocked by Toni, who is still trying to remainin true to the bohemian, artistic ideals of their shared adolescence.

The coming of age theory is one that has been tackled by virtually every well known male novelist, usually early in their career, and there is no shame in this. But first novels should be a fresh, energetic footprint on the existing field of literature. Metroland is a mere scrabbling in the soil. It is a neat, clever book, but the prose bumbles along in a bland, bored manner, reminiscent of the Metropolitan tube line itself. The themes covered for instance include:

Teenage Chris and Toni going into a mans shop and asking for 'One man and two small boys please' - come on Julian, you can write better jokes than this surely.

Chris nervously chatting up a French girl in a cafe by asking her about the book she is reading - a trite cliché if ever I saw one.

Chris comparing his emotional state at various stages in his life by considering the objects around him - notorious critic, Dale Peck's assertion that Barnes is motivated by little more than boredom and hubris begin to hold some resonance here.

Chris in middle age going to a school reunion and reflecting on how his peers have grown up and matured - please, is this not a theme covered a thousand times in navel gazing contemporary literature? even in great novels such as 'American Pastoral', the school reunion scene is rarely treated originally or creatively.

Julian Barnes did go on to become one of Britain's foremost novelists and essayists, and deservedly so. But you wouldn't think so from this uninspiring debut.

2-0 out of 5 stars It simply won't do Julian.
I was immensely disappopinted with this novel. In contrast to the thoughts of most other reviewers it was the opening third which irritated me most. The two central characters as children were quite preposterous. Whilst recognising that Barnes wished to track the arc of their development from immature pretentions through to adult acceptance (in Chris's case) I really don't think he carried it off well. Unless these children attended a school for the outstandingly gifted, I suspect they could not have reched such a level of erudition and linguistic profficiency. I also found that the author pandered (perhaps unwittingly) to a certain strata of reader. Yes, the novel examines some universal themes, but much of it is devoted to the angst of the unknowingly privileged and after a while I found my face twitching as I read. As for Barnes' reputation as a witty and observant writer, if his Man Shop anecdote is his best attempt at humour, I suggest he sticks to the plays on words. Barnes' brand of humour is slick and clever, as you would expect, but it seems far too constructed and simply isn't amusing. Like most readers I admire Barnes greatly for his brilliant use of language and his insightful thoughts on the human condition, however this novel is ridden with hubris and an overall dillusion of applicability to the world in general. As a teenager in Newcastle I learned French at school. Most of the time I could barely remember the days of the week, and yet, compared to most kids, I was thought of as fluent! Perhaps this genius generation only ever existed in the Home Counties of England, but then since Englishness is defined, de facto, by those counties I suspect this offering is regarded as a representative piece of 'English' fiction. All in all, a highly insulated view. Posh twaddle - avoid if at all possible.

4-0 out of 5 stars As good a debut as it gets
Les evenements? What?

The secret shame of the book's main character is having been in Paris through May of 1968 and not even noticing the student revolution, much less participating in it.

But then, he was in love.

This book lays foundation for almost every recurring theme of Barnes's future writing: the anxiety of growing up, the middle-class identity, the French connection, sex, love, etc.

It is less enthralling than "Talking It Over" or "Before She Met Me", but still an excellent novel.

Oh, and yes! It must have been noted already, and probably many times, but for me it was a small personal revelation. In "Flaubert's Parrot" the narrator ridicules the author of some first novel or other, who mentiones in his book the first forbidden edition of "Madame Bovary". The narrator's sting points at the fact that there have never been such a thing, and the poor chap must have meant "Les fleurs du mal".

The passage ridiculed in "Flaubert's Parrot" is taken from "Metroland".

Postmodernism rules. Or does it?

4-0 out of 5 stars passage of time
Metroland is a very intimate and enchanting novel written in the first person. The reader is drawn into Chris, the narrator's, world at the very outset and from that point on, we are taken on a journey through life, time and age.
We start out in the mind of a 16 year old boy, feeling all his hopes and ideals alongside him, sharing his philosophies and questions with his closest friends in a haven of teenage, mutual, intellectual exchange.
Then comes Paris, May '68. Chris has matured. We sense that he has begun to live, and has become increasingly uncertain of how the realities of life fit in with his childhood ideals.
As the work draw slowly to a close the narrator is experiencing "real" life to the full; the marriage, the mortgage and the child, and yet the need to question seems to have been appeased. We now sense his readiness to live life day by day, without too much forward-thinking. With age, he no longer really asks why things happen, he merely accepts.
The ageing process we feel in the novel is fascinating, in particular when we consider the relationship between the two childhood "best friends", Chris and Toni. As children they seem to parralel so closely, with similar beliefs and concerns, yet as time passes their priorities and goals move in conflicting directions. Chris adapted his ideals to reality. Toni, on the other hand, tried to live by his childhood ideals as an adult, torturing himself in the process in the hopes of being true to his past self and his broken dreams.
Some of us mature and develop and some are children forever ....who is happier?

4-0 out of 5 stars Metroland
The thoughts and conversations of the two teenage boys and this book are certainly not typical of those of 'real' children. The device used by the author in attributing such sophistication to adolescents parallels one of the themes of the book, that of utilty versus aesthetics.
In the first conversation we read between Chris and Tony since Chris' marriage, Chris asks Tony to explain to him the use of their childhood, heartfelt, agonising studies of reactions to the arts.
As adolescents, the boys have no power but no responsibility - Tony, it seems, never develops responsibilty and is embittered by his subsequent lack of influence on the real world or, indeed, on the literary world.
Chris accomodates real responsibility with a gradual softening of his views on other peoples jobs and lives, (see school reunion,)and the novel ends with Chris looking at the effect of a sodium light - this time he doesn't worry about it turning the colour of his clothes brown, but is content that his daughter is comforted by the light outside her window.
Art has no 'use' other than to sustain our spirits and give support to our more duties as adults.
There is no 'selling out' in this novel, just a wish to avoid the bitterness, loneliness and futility of a life driven by criticism and cynicism. ... Read more

18. Conversations with Julian Barnes (Literary Conversations Series)
Paperback: 212 Pages (2009-03-23)
list price: US$22.00 -- used & new: US$13.95
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Asin: 1604732040
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Conversations with Julian Barnes collects eighteen interviews, conducted over nearly three decades, by journalists and correspondents throughout the world with the author (b. 1946) of such highly praised novels as FlaubertÂ's Parrot and Arthur & George. The interviews collectively address the entirety of Julian BarnesÂ's varied works and provide readers the most vivid portrait yet of contexts and influences behind his ten novels, his short stories, and his essays. The interviews focus not only on the authorÂ's fiction but also on his essays, translations, and pseudonymous writings. BarnesÂ's evolving understanding of the themes developed in his works (history, truth, love, art, and death), his views on the art of the writing process, and the role of authors in contemporary society are also discussed at length. ... Read more

19. Understanding Julian Barnes (Understanding Contemporary British Literature)
by Merritt Moseley
Paperback: 216 Pages (2009-08-31)
list price: US$21.95 -- used & new: US$21.95
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Asin: 1570038759
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Understanding Julian Barnes surveys the career of an innovative British novelist who has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize on three occasions. In this analysis of Barnes’s distinctive qualities and of his place in the British literary establishment, Merritt Moseley suggests that Barnes’s greatest achievement is his ability to resist summary and categorization by imagining each book in a dramatically original way.

In evaluating Barnes’s fiction, Moseley discusses the novelist’s admiration for Gustave Flaubert, identifies his technical and thematic concerns, and explores the intrigue surrounding his divided career as a writer of serious novels, published under his own name, and of detective thrillers, published under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh. Moseley provides close readings of Barnes’s book-length works, defending the writer against the charge that some of these volumes should not be considered novels at all and examining his commitment to writing books rich in the exploration of serious ideas. ... Read more

20. Language, History, and Metanarrative in the Fiction of Julian Barnes (Studies in Twentieth-Century British Literature, Vol. 3)
by Bruce Sesto
 Hardcover: 136 Pages (2001-10)
list price: US$47.95 -- used & new: US$40.76
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Asin: 0820444677
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