'You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed...' Julian Barnes's new book is about ballooning, photography, love and grief; about putting two things, and two people, together, and about tearing them apart. One of the judges who awarded him the 2011 Man Booker Prize described him as 'an unparalleled magus of the heart'. This book confirms that opinion.
"Every love story is a potential grief story."
Julian Barnes' new book is, among many things, a family memoir, an exchange with his brother (a philosopher), a meditation on morality and the fear of death, a celebration of art, an argument with and about God, and homage to the French writer Jules Renard. Though he warns us that 'this is not my autobiography', the result is a tour of the mind of one of our most brilliant writers.
Geoffrey Braithwaite is a retired doctor haunted by an obsession with the great French literary genius, Gustave Flaubert. As Geoffrey investigates the mystery of the stuffed parrot Flaubert borrowed from the Museum of Rouen to help research one of his novels, we learn an enormous amount about the writer’s work, family, lovers, thought processes, health and obsessions. But we also gradually come to learn some important and shocking details about Geoffrey and his own life.
As every schoolboy knows, you can fit the whole of England on the Isle of White. Grotesque, visionary tycoon Sir Jack Pitman takes the saying literally and does exactly that. He constructs on the island 'The Project', a vast heritage centre containing everything 'English', from Big Ben to Stonehenge, from Manchester United to the white Cliffs of Dover. The project is monstrous, risky, and vastly successful. In fact, it gradually begins to rival 'Old' England and even threatens to supersede it....
No one has a better perspective on life on both sides of the channel than Julian Barnes. In these exquisitely crafted stories spanning several centuries, he takes as his universal theme the British in France; from the last days of a reclusive English composer, the beef consuming 'navvies' labouring on the Paris-Rouen railway to a lonely woman mourning the death of her brother on the battlefields of the Somme.