A couple of weeks ago, I attended a preview screening of the film adaptation of ‘The Sense of an Ending’, based on Julian Barnes’s bestselling novella first published in 2011. The story follows Tony Webster, a divorced, middle-class, semi-retired man living in London where he runs a vintage camera shop. His memories of events in the past concerning his relationship with Veronica Ford at Bristol University and friendship with Adrian Finn in the 1960s and the tragic consequences which followed are somewhat different from how others remember them. When Tony receives a letter from a solicitor regarding a legacy left by Veronica’s late mother, he is forced to re-examine what actually happened so many years ago. Continue reading
‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes is a fictional account of the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the most famous Russian composers of the twentieth century. The novel focuses on three key points in his life at twelve-year intervals. In the first part, Shostakovich is waiting by a lift shaft expecting the secret police to take him away and interrogate him at The Big House during the height of the purges in 1936. In the second part, he travels to the United States to deliver a speech on behalf of the Soviet Union in 1948. In the final part set in 1960, he is asked to become a party member under Khrushchev. Continue reading
As well as all the books I missed in 2015 and want to catch up on, there are lots of new books to look forward to in 2016. Here is a selection I will be keeping my eye out for this year:
I‘m looking forward to reading The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, an author who can always be relied upon to write about something completely different every time he publishes a new book. His latest novel, his first since The Sense of an Ending which won the Man Booker Prize in 2011, is based on the life of Dmitri Shostakovich.
The Muse by Jessie Burton will be out in the summer. I thought The Miniaturist was an enjoyable piece of historical literary fiction but a bit on the light side whereas her second novel looks like it’s going to be more ambitious in terms of content. Set in 1930s Spain and 1960s London, it tells the story of a painting which connects a Caribbean migrant and a bohemian artist.
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell will be published in May. I’ve enjoyed all of her novels, particularly The Hand That First Held Mine and I’m looking forward to her seventh novel about an American professor living in Ireland who has a secret which threatens to destroy his idyllic life in the countryside.
‘After Me Comes the Flood’ is a 50p charity shop bargain I haven’t read yet but I’m hoping to read both that as well as The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry this year. Her second novel is set in Victorian London and Essex and tells the story of a unique relationship between a widow and a vicar. Continue reading
The Waterstones Book of the Year award shortlist was announced today. The nominated books are:
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins
Maps by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński
Love, Nina: Despatches of Family Life by Nina Stibbe
Stoner by John L. Williams Continue reading
‘Levels of Life’ by Julian Barnes is (I think) the only book I have reviewed on this blog which I have tagged as both fiction and non-fiction. Part essay, part fiction and part memoir, the book certainly defies simple categorisation despite being less than 120 pages long. Continue reading
I have read quite a few of Julian Barnes’ other novels over the last few months and I am a real fan of his work. I think I am now even more in awe of the power of his prose, having finally got hold of a copy of ‘The Sense of an Ending’ and devoured it in a little over two hours. Continue reading
‘Arthur & George’ by Julian Barnes is a fictionalised account of the Great Wyrley Outrages case at the turn of the twentieth century in which George Edalji, a half-Indian solicitor from Staffordshire, is accused of mutilating farm animals and is later sentenced to seven years in prison. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will already know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played a significant role in this case by setting out to prove Edalji’s innocence. Although this miscarriage of justice has largely been forgotten over a century later, Barnes has brought the story vividly back to life and I think this book would be enjoyable for both those who have prior knowledge of the case and also for those who don’t. Continue reading
After reading ‘1Q84’ last week, I felt like tackling something a tad shorter this week (although pretty much anything would seem short after that). Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, ‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobson was the first ‘comic’ novel to win the prize since Kingsley Amis won in 1986 with ‘The Old Devils’. I’ve read some terrible reviews for this book but as part of my ongoing quest to read as many Booker Prize-winning or nominated novels as possible, I thought I’d give it a go anyway when I found it in the library the other day.
‘The Finkler Question’ tells the story of middle-aged former BBC producer Julian Treslove, his old schoolfriend Jewish philosopher Samuel Finkler and their former tutor Libor Sevcik. It’s certainly not an easy book to fall in love with. The satire of the BBC was nicely done as were the general observations of relationships and aging but I still think Julian Barnes is more skilled than Jacobson when it comes to incorporating subtle humour and irony into his work. Continue reading
Is it a novel? Or is it a tapestry of 10 1/2 vignettes on the broad theme of discovery? Barnes himself has said that ‘A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters’ was conceived as the former but I would be more inclined to agree with the latter. The irony here is that the main themes of this book revolve around the idea of alternative perspectives … so perhaps we are both right.
Like Barnes’ other short stories (I reviewed his latest collection ‘Pulse’ last month), the ‘chapters’ are a mixed bunch and aside from repeated nautical metaphors, I’m not fully convinced that it hangs together all that well as a ‘novel’. However, the opening chapter set on Noah’s Ark is pure satirical brilliance, and the 1/2 chapter ‘Parenthesis’ is beautifully written and is definitely Barnes at his best. Perhaps I will only fully appreciate the book at a novel by re-reading it as a later date. Continue reading
Just like I wrote a blog entry about Haruki Murakami without having read ‘1Q84’, I will today be writing about Julian Barnes without having read ‘The Sense of an Ending’. Forgive me if I’m rarely up-to-date with anything.
Saying that, this week, I have read Barnes’s most recent collection of short stories ‘Pulse’ as well as his debut novel ‘Metroland’ first published some thirty years ago. ‘Metroland’ is a coming-of-age story set in London and Paris in the 1960s and 1970s which has some nice touches of subtle irony and acute observations about youth and relationships even if the meandering plot resulted in somewhat less developed characters. This is probably why I enjoyed reading ‘Pulse’ more as his perceptive wit seems to be more effective in the form of a short story. Split into two parts, the stories are all in some way linked with wider themes of love and loss while the stories in Part Two each explore one of the five senses. The first and final stories in the collection, ‘East Wind’ and ‘Pulse’ respectively, were the most poignant while ‘Sleeping with John Updike’ was the most successful of his comic work. The sequence of dinner-party conversations written entirely in dialogue, however, would surely have worked more effectively as scripts than short stories. Overall though, ‘Pulse’ is an impressive collection which demonstrates Barnes’s exquisite versatility and perceptiveness.