Barnes, Julian 1946–
Barnes, Julian 1946–
(Julian Patrick Barnes, Dan Kavanagh, Edward Pygge)
PERSONAL: Born January 19, 1946, in Leicester, England; son of Albert Leonard (a French teacher) and Kaye (a Fsrench teacher) Barnes; married Pat Kavanagh (a literary agent), 1979. Education: Magdalen College, Oxford, B.A. (with honors), 1968.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Peters, Fraser, and Dunlop Ltd., Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.
CAREER: Freelance writer, 1972–. Lexicographer for Oxford English Dictionary Supplement, Oxford, England, 1969–72; New Statesman, London, England, assistant literary editor, 1977–78, television critic, 1977–81; Sunday Times, London, deputy literary editor, 1979–81; Observer, London, television critic, 1982–86; London correspondent for New Yorker magazine, 1990–94.
AWARDS, HONORS: Somerset Maugham Prize, 1980, for Metroland; Booker Prize nomination, 1984, Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and Prix Medicis, all for Flaubert's Parrot; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award, 1986, for work of distinction; Prix Gutembourg, 1987; Premio Grinzane Carour, 1988; Prix Femina for Talking It Over, 1992; Shakespeare Prize (Hamburg), 1993; Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; shortlisted for Booker Prize, 1998, for England, England.
Metroland, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1980.
Before She Met Me, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1982, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1986.
Flaubert's Parrot, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1984, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.
Staring at the Sun, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1986, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
A History of the World in Ten and One-Half Chapters, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
Talking It Over, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
The Porcupine, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
Letters from London, Vintage (New York, NY), 1995.
England, England, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Love, etc., Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
In the Land of Pain, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2002, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
The Lemon Table, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2004.
Arthur & George, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2005.
UNDER PSEUDONYM DAN KAVANAGH; CRIME NOVELS
Duffy, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1980, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1986.
Fiddle City, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1981, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1986.
Putting the Boot In, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1985.
Going to the Dogs, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987.
(Contributor) Charles Hobson, Flaubert & Louise: Letters and Impressions, Limestone (San Francisco, CA), 1988.
Cross Channel (short stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
Something to Declare (essays), Picador (London, England), 2002.
The Pedant in the Kitchen (nonfiction), Atlantic Books, 2003.
Contributing editor, under pseudonym Edward Pygge, to New Review, c. 1970s. Regular contributor to Times Literary Supplement and New York Review of Books.
ADAPTATIONS: Talking It Over was adapted for film in 1996; Metroland was adapted for film in 1999.
SIDELIGHTS: "Julian Barnes," wrote Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Merritt Moseley, "is one of the most celebrated, and one of the most variously rewarding, of Britain's younger novelists." His work, the critic continued, "has been acclaimed by readers as different as Carlos Fuentes and Philip Larkin; reviewers and interviewers sum him up with praise such as Mark Lawson's claim that he 'writes like the teacher of your dreams: jokey, metaphorical across both popular and unpopular culture, epigrammatic.'" In addition to novels such as Flaubert's Parrot, A History of the World in Ten and One-Half Chapters, and The Porcupine, Barnes has also won a reputation as a writer of innovative detective fiction and an essayist. "Since 1990," Moseley concluded, "he has been the London correspondent of the New Yorker magazine, contributing 'Letters from London' every few months on subjects such as the royal family and the quirkier side of British politics." Barnes was also one of many writers—among them Stephen King and Annie Proulx—invited to read from their works at the first-ever New Yorker Festival in 2000.
Barnes published four novels, Metroland, Before She Met Me, and the detective novels Duffy and Fiddle City—both written under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh—before he completed Flaubert's Parrot, his first great success. Critics have acclaimed these early books for their comic sensibility and witty language. Metroland tells the story of two young men who "adopt the motto epater la bourgeoisie," explained New Statesman contributor Nicholas Shrimpton. "But this grandiose ambition is promptly reduced to the level of 'epats,' a thoroughly English field-sport in which the competitors attempt to shock respectable citizens for bets of sixpence a time." "After this vision of the Decadence in short trousers," the reviewer concluded, "it is hard to take the idea of outrage too solemnly." Before She Met Me is the tale of an older man who falls into an obsession about his actress wife's former screen lovers. The book, stated Anthony Thwaite in the Observer, presents an "elegantly hardboiled treatment of the nastier levels of obsession, full of controlled jokes when almost everything else has got out of control."
Barnes's detective fiction also looks at times and characters for whom life has gotten out of control. The title character of Duffy is a bisexual former policeman who was blackmailed out of his job. "The thrillers are active, louche, violent, thoroughly plotted," stated Moseley. "Duffy shows the result of serious research into the seamy world of London's sex industry; in Duffy, as in its successors, the crime tends to be theft or fraud rather than murder, though Barnes successfully imbues the book with a feeling of menace." Fiddle City, for instance, takes place at London's Heathrow airport and looks at the smuggling of drugs and other illegal items.
It was with the publication of Flaubert's Parrot, though, that Barnes scored his greatest success to date. The novel tells of Geoffrey Braithwaite, a retired English doctor, and his obsession with the great French novelist Gustave Flaubert. After his wife's somewhat mysterious death, Braithwaite travels to France in search of trivia concerning Flaubert; his chief aim is to find the stuffed parrot that the writer kept on his desk for inspiration while writing Un coeur simple, the story of a peasant woman's devotion to her pet. Barnes "uses Braithwaite's investigations to reflect on the ambiguous truths of biography, the relationship of art and life, the impact of death, the consolations of literature," explained Michael Dirda in the Washington Post Book World.
Far from a straightforward narrative, Flaubert's Parrot blends fiction, literary criticism, and biography in a manner strongly reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, according to many critics. Newsweek reviewer Gene Lyons called it "too involuted by half for readers accustomed to grazing contentedly in the bestseller list," but recommended it to readers "of immoderate literary passions." Other reviewers stressed that, while a complex and intellectual work, Flaubert's Parrot is also "endlessly fascinating and very funny," in the words of London Times contributor Annabel Edwards. Dirda concluded that this "delicious potpourri of quotations, legends, facts, fantasies, and interpretations of Flaubert and his work … might seem dry, but Barnes' style and Braithwaite's autumnal wisdom make the novel into a kind of Stoic comedy…. Anyone who reads Flaubert's Parrot will learn a good deal about Flaubert, the making of fiction, and the complex tangle of art and life. And—not least important—have a lot of rather peculiar fun too."
Of Barnes's more recent works, A History of the World in Ten and One-Half Chapters and The Porcupine are probably best known to U.S. readers. A History of the World in Ten and One-Half Chapters "builds on Barnes' reputation as one of Britain's premier postmodernists," stated Village Voice Literary Supplement contributor Rob Nixon. "The anti-novel that emerges attempts to double as a novel of ideas—never Brit lit's forté…. The principal concern of the novel, which begins with corruption on the Ark and ends in the tedium of heaven (pretty much like life with lots of shopping), is to debunk religion and that most seductive of theologies, History." Barnes conceives of history in the book as a series of different, mostly unrelated events, and the connections individuals invent to link them together. "One of Barnes's characters rather improbably describes her supposed mental condition—imagining that she has survived a nuclear disaster, which, as it turns out, she has—as 'Fabulation. You keep a few true facts and spin a new story about them,'" declared Frank Kermode in the London Review of Books. "This is what Barnes himself, in this book, attempts. He fabulates this and that, stitches the fabulations together, and then he and we quite properly call the product a novel." "As a 'historian,'" stated Anthony Quinn in the New Statesman and Society, "he is unlikely to dislodge Gibbon or Macaulay; but as satirist and story-teller he has few equals at present."
The Porcupine is a short novel set in a fictional Eastern European country in the post-Communist era. "Stoyo Petkanov, the former president, a cross between [former Rumanian premier] Nicolae Ceaucescu and Bulgaria's Georgi Dimitrov," explained New York Times Book Review contributor Robert Stone, "is on trial in the courts of the shakily democratic successor government." His prosecutor is Peter Solinsky, born into a family prominent under the Communists. Solinsky is shaken by Petkanov's sincere belief in the principles of Communism. Contrasting them with the poverty and lack of respect that the reforms have brought, Solinsky begins to turn away from his new democratic ideals. "In the end," Mary Warner Marien declared in the Christian Science Monitor, "nothing is resolved except a clearer vision of the stupendous obstacles facing the former communist country." "Admirers of the earlier, Francophile Julian Barnes may regret that in his latest work … the author of Flaubert's Parrot and Talking It Over has shed his brilliance and dandyism to become a rather somber recorder of his times," stated London Review of Books contributor Patrick Parrinder. "The grayness seems inherent in his subject-matter, but it has not infected his acute and spiny prose."
England, England, a darkly satiric novel set in the twenty-first century, incorporates conflicting world situations and their connectedness to greed for power and money. Protagonist and businessman Sir Jack Pitman plots to replace England with a replica island—a Disneyland-type fantasy world—intending to reap huge financial rewards. John Kennedy, writing for the Antioch Review, concluded that the book falls short because the characters are underdeveloped. Even so, he commended Barnes's writing style, adding that he "cleverly puts his finger upon a central issue: how do we find our personal uniqueness and salvation when 'memory is identity' and everywhere history and heritage are being manipulated for profit." Philip Landon, in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, dubbed England, England "a novel of downright Swiftian darkness and ferocity." Comparing the fantasy island to Lilliput, Landon called the work a "stinging caricature" that "chills with the bleakness of its cultural panorama."
Commenting on Love, etc. for Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri, a reviewer called Barnes a "sensitive writer, whose specialty is a down-to-earth lucidity about the sad paradoxes of love and marriage." Love, etc. is a ten-years-later look into the lives of the characters of Talking It Over, although reading the latter is not a prerequisite to enjoying the former. Steven Rea, reviewing the book for Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, noted that Love, etc. "is penned in confession mode—in the voices of its protagonists, a knotty triangle of love, loathing, trust and betrayal known as Stuart, Gillian and Oliver." He called Barnes's prose "lively, lucid, ricocheting with wryly observed commentary on the human condition," adding that Barnes "pokes and prods into the dark corners of contemporary relationships." Dale Peck in the New Republic, however, found the writing clever but the story ultimately "soulless." As Peck explained, "Barnes is a terribly smart man, a terribly skilled writer … [but] intelligence and talent in the service of a discompassionate temperament are precisely the opposite of what one seeks from a novelist, or a novel."
In a departure from his longer fictional works, Barnes experimented with the short-story form in 1996's Cross Channel. A collection of ten short stories that span centuries, each tale is also linked by its depiction of a Brit heading for the far bank of the Channel, lured by the pleasures of neighboring France. Drawing on the similarities between the British and their Gallic cousins, Barnes's "imagination seems to work comfortably in a historical context, building fiction on bits of fact," according to Chicago's Tribune Books reviewer Bruce Cook. Among the stories—each set on French soil—are "Junction," which revolves around the perception of the French-born Channel-spanning railroad's builders' perception of their British co-workers during the railroad's 1840s construction. "Melon" finds a cross-cultural cricket match interrupted by the French Revolution, much to the dismay of the story's high-born protagonist who had hoped to sideline the populace's rush to rebel by sparking a far more healthy interest in sport. And in "Inferences," an older-than-middle-aged English musical composer now living in France awaits the performance of his latest composition on the radio, hoping to surprise his young mistress with its magnificence.
Slipping back and forth between the centuries, Barnes's "prose slips quietly back from its modern cadences into those of the early nineteenth century, into the cherished foreignness of the past," noted Michael Wood in a New York Times Book Review critique of Cross Channel. The author also slips back and forth between outlook, between the way the British view the French and vice versa, understanding the French perspective yet clearly aligned with the British. "Cross Channel reconfirms Barnes' sympathy for those characters whose English-ness accompanies them, like a sensible mackintosh, into the unpredictable depths of France," quipped critic Gerald Mangan in his review of the collection for the Times Literary Supplement. Praising the volume for its sensitive portrayal of a myriad of cultural subtleties, Cook had particular praise for the dry wit that imbues the collection. Barnes "may indeed be a comic writer at heart—and that may be why he appeals to French readers," surmised the critic. "His humor is the sort that translates well. It travels."
Returning again to the short-fiction format in The Lemon Table, Barnes combines eleven unique short stories that focus on individuals whose lives are connected through the unnerving themes of death and aging. As readers plunge into the lives of the characters, dark secrets are revealed, along with chilling answers to much-feared questions. Barbara Love in Library Journal called The Lemon Table a "superb collection" and added: "This is Barnes at his best." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that the short tales "are as stylish as any of Barnes's creations, while also possessed of a pleasing heft … the reader is taken for a delightful ride."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 42, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Moseley, Merritt, Understanding Julian Barnes, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1997.
Sesto, Bruce, Language, History, and Metanarrative in the Fiction of Julian Barnes, Peter Lang Publishing (New York, NY), 2001.
Antioch Review, winter, 2000, John Kennedy, review of England, England, p. 117.
Booklist, July, 1995, p. 1856; June 1, 2004, p. 1697.
Chicago Tribune, January 3, 1993, p. 3.
Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 1993, p. 13.
Commonweal, May 8, 1992, pp. 22-24.
Financial Times, September 16, 2002, James Haldane, "Reversibility, etc.," review of Love, etc., p. 4.
Independent, July 13, 1991, pp. 34-36.
Journal of Literature and Theology, June, 1991, pp. 220-232.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, p. 1585.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 28, 2001, Steven Rea, review of Love, etc., p. K6406.
Library Journal, March 15, 1996, p. 98; June 1, 2004, p. 128.
London Review of Books, June 22, 1989, p. 20; February 11, 1993, pp. 18-19.
Los Angeles Time Book Review, March 17, 1985; November 8, 1992, p. 3.
National Review, August 30, 1999, Roger Kimball, "Faux Britannia," p. 48.
New Republic, April 2, 2001, Dale Peck, "Literature's Cuckold," review of Love, etc., p. 32.
New Statesman, March 28, 1980, p. 483.
New Statesman and Society, June 23, 1989, p. 38; November 13, 1992, pp. 34-35; January 16, 1996, pp. 39-40; June 4, 2001, Jason Cowley, "Blame It on Amis, Barnes and McEwan," p. 36.
Newsweek, April 29, 1985.
New York Review of Books, March 21, 1996, p. 22.
New York Times, February 28, 1985; March 30, 1987, p. C16; July 5, 1990, pp. C11, C15; April 16, 1996, p. B2; May 11, 1999, Michiko Kakutani, "England As Theme Park, with Doubled Everything," p. E7.
New York Times Book Review, March 10, 1985; December 13, 1992, p. 3; April 21, 1996, p. 12.
New York Times Magazine, November 22, 1992, pp. 29, 68-72, 80.
Observer (London, England), April 18, 1982, p. 31; July 7, 1991, pp. 25-26.
Publishers Weekly, November 3, 1989, pp. 73-74; February 19, 1996, p. 204; April 12, 1999, review of England, England, p. 54, December 23, 2002, review of In the Land of Pain, p. 60; May 10, 2004, review of The Lemon Table, p. 33; August 9, 2004, review of The Lemon Table, p. 47.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1999, Philip Landon, review of England, England, p. 174; summer, 2001, Philip Landon, review of Love, etc., p. 167.
Spectator, January 26, 2002, Alberto Manguel, review of Something to Declare, p. 46.
Sunday Times (London, England), June 18, 1989, p. G9.
Time, April 8, 1985.
Times (London, England), March 21, 1980; October 4, 1984; November 7, 1985.
Times Literary Supplement, March 28, 1980; April 23, 1982; January 6, 1984, pp. 4214-4215; October 5, 1984, p. 1117; January 19, 1996, p. 24.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 21, 1996, p. 3.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, November, 1989, p. 5.
Wall Street Journal, December 11, 1992, p. A10.
Washington Post Book World, March 3, 1985; November 15, 1992.
Yale Review, summer, 1988, pp. 478-491.
Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri, April 2, 2001.
Julian Barnes Home Page, http://www.julianbarnes.com/ (August 4, 2004).
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (May 13-17, 1996).