Monday, August 28, 2006

Academically Speaking

Vanessa Guignery
Julian Barnes. L’art du mélange.
Bordeaux: Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2001. (136 p.)
ISBN 2-86781-281-X. (12€)

Vanessa Guignery
Flaubert’s Parrot de Julian Barnes.
Paris: Nathan université/Armand Colin, 2001. (140 p.)
ISBN 2-200-26198-5. (15€)

Julian Barnes. L’art du mélange (2001) by Vanessa Guignery is the second volume of the new collection Couleurs anglaises directed by Bernard Gilbert at the Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux (France). This collection aims at presenting the works of major or promising British contemporary writers from the perspective of a specialist who wishes to communicate to the reader his/her personal enthusiasm for a work of art. The volumes on David Lodge and Julian Barnes have been published in Autumn 2001; volumes on Kazuo Ishiguro, Graham Swift, Jeanette Winterson, Salman Rushdie and others will soon follow. The books, entirely written in French, are intended for keen readers of British contemporary literature, undergraduate and postgraduate students but also a wider public eager to know more about new forms of writing.

Julian Barnes. L’art du mélange is an attempt to testify to the prodigious heterogeneity of Julian Barnes’ fictional work which oscillates between the realist tradition and a deconstruction of codes and conventions. Chapter one, "The choice of hybridity", first gives a broad view of the various forms of Barnes’s work, starting with the novels of formation and the detective fiction, going on with the short stories, essays and novels that focus on contemporary history, and ending with the formal experiments of innovative works of fiction. The analysis then moves to the polyphony of voices and the multiplicity of perspectives that may be found in various novels. Chapter two, "A love song towards France", delineates Julian Barnes’ deep attachment to Gustave Flaubert and presents the various intertextual processes in Flaubert’s Parrot, before recording the traces of French culture in Julian Barnes’ work, be they geographical, linguistic, literary, filmic or pictorial. Chapter three, "The confessional mode", first analyses the forms of Geoffrey Braithwaite’s emotional blockage in Flaubert’s Parrot, then pores over the reflections on love in “Parenthesis” from A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, and eventually considers Talking It Over and Love, etc as original means of suggesting an intimate conversation with the reader. Chapter four, "The relation to the past", shows how many of Julian Barnes’s works attempt to preserve historical traces and fight against oblivion, but also acknowledge the irretrievability of the past and the uncertainty of historical knowledge. Chapter five, "Humour strategies", first analyses the provocative cheekiness of the woodworm’s rewriting of the biblical deluge in the first chapter of A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, then focuses on the various forms of eccentricity in Julian Barnes’ work, and eventually demonstrates the writer’s wonderful knack for irony. The book ends with a brief chronology of Julian Barnes’s life and a selective bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Flaubert’s Parrot de Julian Barnes (2001) by Vanessa Guignery is a scholarly analysis of Julian Barnes’ novel, intended for postgraduate students, particularly those who are preparing the agrégation competitive examination in France. The aim of this study, written in French, is to present a thorough examination of Flaubert’s Parrot so as to determine its specificity and originality in contemporary British literature. Chapter one, "A generic, structural and ontological instability", presents Flaubert’s Parrot as a book which challenges any attempt at categorisation, classification and genre taxonomy, mixes fiction and non-fiction, and simultaneously exploits and subverts the need for structure. Chapter two, "The haunting presence of Gustave Flaubert", traces Julian Barnes’ attachment to Gustave Flaubert and analyses the various forms of Flaubertian metatextuality, intertextuality and hypertextuality in the novel. Chapter three, "The choice of hybridity", focuses first on the circulation of texts in Flaubert’s Parrot which demands that the reader be active and take part in a form of intertextual game, and then on the linguistic medley between English and French, based on contrastive phenomena, literal translations and bilingual puns, whose aim is mainly humorous but also reveals the author’s keen concerns about novelistic techniques. Chapter four, "The figure of the narrator", tackles the question of the possible confusion between author and narrator, and discusses the main features of Geoffrey Braithwaite, a self-conscious and reluctant narrator who wavers between a reluctance to discuss his private life, as emblematised by the indirections, delays, ellipses and gaps in the text, and a willingness to share with the reader the traumatic subject of his wife’s adultery and suicide. Chapter five, "The knowledge of the past", shows how Braithwaite creates a new form of biography which is hybrid, subjective, partial, incomplete and contradictory, hence reflecting the new awareness of the irretrievability of the past. Flaubert’s Parrot presents itself as a historiographic metafiction in which the narrator does not consider historical or biographical knowledge as an unproblematic category, but questions the ways in which we come to know the past.

-- Vanessa Guignery, December 2001 (© 2001 by Vanessa Guignery)

Vanessa Guignery is a Senior Lecturer in British literature at the University of La Sorbonne in Paris (France). She is the author of a thesis called Postmodernism and modes of blurring in Julian Barnes' fiction (Septentrion, 2001), and of several articles on Julian Barnes' work. She is the co-director of the research centre « Ecritures du roman contemporain de langue anglaise » at the Sorbonne.


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