Featured Author: Julian Barnes
It’s been a crazy week for our blog and our reading lives. Our beloved Shelfari is shutting down and we both spent the week scrambling with group administrators to move our 1001 discussion group over to Goodreads and to transfer years of data over to GR and LibraryThing. Add that to the insane amount of traffic our last post generated — a post I wrote largely in the heat of the moment when I was angry — and our regular posting schedule ground to a halt.
So we are happy to get back to normal (albeit a little late) with our Featured Author post.
January’s featured author turns 70 today and will be releasing one of the most anticipated books of 2016.
A very happy birthday to one of our favorites: Mr. Julian Barnes! His new book, The Noise of Time is being released in the U.K. on January 28 and May in the U.S. and Canada. So he was an easy pick for this month’s featured author.
Julian was born on January 19, 1946 in Leicester and lived most of his life in London. He was educated at the City of London School and Magdalen College, Oxford. After graduating from university, he worked as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. His first novel, published in 1980, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His work has won many other literary prizes including the Prix Medicis for Flaubert’s Parrot, the Prix Femina for Talking it Over, and the Man Booker Award for The Sense of an Ending.
Barnes’ Complete Bibliography:
The Noise of Time
Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art
Levels of Life
Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story (Vintage International)
The Sense of an Ending. Winner of 2011 Man Booker Prize
Nothing to Be Frightened Of
Arthur & George Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
The Lemon Table
The Pedant in the Kitchen
Something to Declare: Essays on France and French Culture
England, England Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Letters from London
Talking It Over
A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
Staring at the Sun
Before She Met Me
Metroland Winner of the Somerset Maugham Award for first novel
Jen’s Thoughts: I think Barnes is an incredibly talented writer and I look forward to reading more of his work. I’ve only read three of his books and one thing that has struck me is how different they are from each other, not only in terms of content but also in structure and style. Here are my quick reviews:
The Sense of an Ending: ★★★★ This is a book about memory, aging, personal responsibility, and how seemingly small events can have big repercussions. It opens with Anthony’s memories about his childhood friends and relationship with his first girlfriend, Veronica. Fast-forward to the day in which a 60 year-old Anthony is given information by the solicitor of his former girlfriend’s mother. This event sets off a chain of memories that go back to the earlier events in Antony’s life. As future events unfold, old memories come into sharper focus until the truth of what happened earlier in his life is ultimately revealed. The book is short but contains great depth. The writing style was simple and pulled me in right away. The true picture develops slowly but in a way that seems full of suspense and intrigue. Barnes makes you think about how memories change and become distorted through the aging process and raises questions of how the actions we take can impact the lives of others.
Flaubert’s Parrot: ★★★ Book Worm and I both read this book and reviewed it on the blog last year. I have to admit that I found it a bit disappointing compared to The Sense of an Ending, but it was still a good book that will appeal to many. The varying formats that he uses for different chapters are clever, and do help to break up the subject matter. I also liked the idea of a book that blends fiction with reality and I appreciated how the narrator’s obsession with Flaubert makes sense in the context of understanding the realities of his own life. Finally, I liked how Barnes pokes fun at literary analysis and literary critics. It’s an undeniably clever book, but I could only give it 3 stars because I found it rather dull at times.
Measuring the World in 101/2 chapters: ★★★★ Irreverent, funny, and intelligent, this book is comprised of a series of short stories that take us through the history of the world, starting with the story of Noah’s Ark (warning: Noah is kind of a jerk) and ending with a preview of heaven. It’s both funny and unsettling. I thought it was a very clever and witty book that made me feel like Julian and I should be friends. Each chapter is very different in terms of narrative style. I just finished it last night so a more thoughtful review will follow soon. I recommend it highly.
Book Worm’s Thoughts: I have only read two of Barnes’ books and, like Jen, I really enjoyed Sense of an Ending. I don’t usually like books that don’t tie everything up neatly for you at the end but, in this case, the ending made me think more about earlier parts of the book. It’s not something you finish, put down, and forget. It leaves you wanting more. While that can be frustrating, in this case it was definitely a good thing.
Like Jen I was also disappointed with Flaubert’s Parrot. I started out really enjoying the story and then got bored. By the end, I really couldn’t have cared less about Flaubert or his parrot. However, throughout the book there were chapters I really enjoyed.
Neither of us have read Julian’s new book The Noise of Time. We are really looking forward reading it. It is his first novel since Sense of an Ending. Will it make the 2016 Man Booker Longlist? Here is the Amazon synopsis:
1936: Shostakovich, just thirty, fears for his livelihood and his life. Stalin, hitherto a distant figure, has taken a sudden interest in his work and denounced his latest opera. Now, certain he will be exiled to Siberia (or, more likely, shot dead on the spot), he reflects on his predicament, his personal history, his parents, various women and wives, his daughter–all of those hanging in the balance of his fate. And though a stroke of luck prevents him from becoming yet another casualty of the Great Terror, for years to come he will be held fast under the thumb of despotism: made to represent Soviet values at a cultural conference in New York City, forced into joining the Party, and compelled, constantly, to weigh appeasing those in power against the integrity of his music. Barnes elegantly guides us through the trajectory of Shostakovich’s career, at the same time illuminating the tumultuous evolution of the Soviet Union. The result is both a stunning portrait of a relentlessly fascinating man and a brilliant meditation on the meaning of art and its place in society.
We want to hear from you! What do you think of Julian Barnes? Which are your favorite and least favorite of his books? Do you plan on reading his latest?