Saturday, November 28, 2009

Books of the Year

Julian Barnes contributes his books of the year for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement.

His selections include Laura Cumming's A Face to the World (HarperPress), Adam Foulds's The Quickening Maze (Cape), and several titles by John Updike.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Barnes on Maupassant

Julian Barnes reviews Guy de Maupassant's Afloat (ranslated by Douglas Parméen) and Alien Hearts (translated by Richard Howard), both published by NYRB. "On We Sail" London Review of Books, 31.21, 5 November 2009: 25-28.

One of the great examples of literary advice-giving took place in the summer of 1878. Guy de Maupassant was on the verge of becoming famous. As Flaubert’s literary nephew, and a member of the new group calling themselves Naturalists, he was already well known in Paris; three years previously, he had made his first appearance – as ‘le petit Maupassant’ – in the Goncourt Journal, delighting a company of already famous writers with a long story about Swinburne's decadent behaviour in Etretat. He had written poems, stories and journalism, coauthored a lewd play, and was working on his first novel, Une Vie. He was socially and sexually successful, and physically very fit: the previous summer, having bought a small boat on Zola's behalf, he had rowed it the 50 kilometres from Bezons to Zola’s house at Médan. Yet on 3 August, two days before his 28th birthday, he made the following complaints to Flaubert about life: 'Fucking women is as monotonous as listening to male wit. I find that the news in the papers is always the same, that the vices are trivial, and that there aren't enough different ways to compose a sentence.'
Read the rest of Barnes's review online at the London Review of Books website.

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"Complicity" -- New Short Story

Julian Barnes's new short story "Complicity" was published in the 19 October 2009 issue of The New Yorker.

The first time I met her was at a party of Ben’s; she had brought her mother. Have you watched mothers and daughters at parties together, and tried to work out who is taking care of whom? The daughter giving Mum a bit of an outing, Mum watching for the sort of men her daughter attracts? Or both at the same time? Even if they’re playing at best friends, there’s often an extra flicker of formality in the relationship. Disapproval either goes unexpressed or is exaggerated, with a roll of the eye and a theatrical moue and a “She never takes any notice of me, anyway.”

Read the story online at the New Yorker website.

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On Rereading John Updike's Rabbit Quartet

Julian Barnes takes a fresh look at John Updike's Rabbit Quartet and finds he still thinks it is the greatest postwar American fiction. "Running Away" The Guardian, 17 October 2009.


"When a writer you admire dies, rereading seems a normal courtesy and tribute. Occasionally, it may be prudent to resist going back: when Lawrence Durrell died, I preferred to remain with 40-year-old memories of The Alexandria Quartet rather than risk such lushness again. And sometimes the nature of the writer's oeuvre creates a problem of choice. This was the case with John Updike. I have only ever met one person – a distinguished arts journalist – who has read all Updike's 60-plus books; most of us, even long-term fans, probably score between 30 and 40. Should you choose one of those previously unopened? Or go for one you suspect you misread, or undervalued, at the time? Or one, like Couples, which you might have read for somewhat non-literary reasons?"

Read the rest of Barnes's thoughts on Updike at The Guardian.

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