Barnes Gives an Insight into Diverse Works of Writers He Admires

Cape Times (South Africa), March 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

Barnes Gives an Insight into Diverse Works of Writers He Admires


BYLINE: REVIEW: Melvyn Minnaar

Julian Barnes

Vintage

Following the contemplative, finely sculptured narrative of his Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes gives us with this tight book of literary essays an oblique insight into his own stratagems as novelist.

It serves as an enlightening add-on and bookend to that wonderfully gentle, melancholic novel, even though the subject matter is a range of diverse works of fiction: novels and writers that Barnes, as critic, considers important and that "speak in the silence of your mind".

The crisp clarity of language and cerebral dynamics of the essays, despite the variety of writers and issues considered, deliver what is essentially an ode to the novel, the fine art of fiction-making (new and old) for readers in a post post-modern world.

A single piece of fiction, Homage to Hemingway: A Short Story, anchors the surround of critical essays. Presented in three parts concerning the same "novelist", "professor", "maestro", in playful contradiction of the title, it is a somewhat elegiac, even Chekhovian and humorous meditation about aging and writing.

The connection to Barnes's prize-winning 2011 novel jumps at the reader.

As to be expected from an astute fiction passionist, Barnes surprises the contemporary reader by revisiting works that may feel outside the present-day book club.

He discusses Penelope Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Edith Wharton and Rudyard Kipling, and argues as if their literary presence is vitally required right now. He may be right, also in that he makes a case for closer "literary reading" and re-evaluation of those pleasures. …

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