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.
©2008 Julian Barnes; (P)2008 BBC Audiobooks Ltd
"Frustrating but worth persevering with."
Julian Barnes fails to define what the nature of this book is and therein lies it's strength - as well as the sheer frustration I felt when I finished it. It is neither an autobiography nor a novel but more like the reminiscences of an old friend (and as a reader of all of his books thus far, he feels very much like an old friend) over the course of a good meal and bottle of wine.
Early on I was rather irritated by the way in which he fails to define the terms on which he is writing. Why his atheism/agnosticism? Why not "stand up and be counted" and give rational scientific reasons for his stance? Does he even know why he has the attitudes he has?
I gradually realised that many of our conversations have a logic of their own and listening to Julian Barnes reading his own work had a rationale that goes beyond face value. Yes, he fails to give a reason for why he thinks as he does; often I want to shout "justify that" or "explain yourself". But that's not what it's about nor came to realise is what satisfies. As Patrick Kavanagh says in his poem Advent, "Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder". The book isn't meant to give all the answer - what it did for me is make me ask myself the same question and try to answer it for myself.
No, I don't agree with everything he said (or indeed most of it). But I like the way he says it and that's the attraction of the book.
Get it, listen to it and engage with him. Whether or not you agree with it isn't the point. It's not the best introduction (by a long shot) to the work of Julian Barnes but it is a great insight to all that he has written thus far.
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