Meeting Julian Barnes

GILLIAN: The point is, you can love two people, one after the other, one interrupting the other, like I did. You can love them in different ways. And it doesn’t mean one love is true and the other is false. That’s what I wish I could have convinced Stuart. I loved each of them truly. You don’t believe me? Well, it doesn’t matter, I no longer argue the case. I just say: it didn’t happen to you, did it? It happened to me.

And looking back, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Long afterwards, my mother said, apropos of some twosome of threesome, she said, ‘The heart has been made tender, and that is dangerous.’ I could see what she meant. Being in love makes you liable to fall in love. Isn’t that a terrible paradox? Isn’t that a terrible truth?

My first Julian Barnes, and an impulse buy at that. But Love, etc. is intriguing, with your usual mid-life love triangle presented to us by the key players themselves—in testimonials, monologues. Imagine being the lone audience in a dark theater, and your attention is focused on only one character at a time. They take turns, there’s no diplomacy involved here—what organization there is simply follows Barnes’ prerogative as author. It’s a play on points of view and unreliable narrators. On characters both odiously familiar with and to you, and distant, too.

And, I suspect, on voice—but this wasn’t impressive at all, they all seemed to be variations of the same theme. They don’t sound alike, no, but painfully obvious techniques to differentiate them were employed, and it was quite annoying.

I do like the words. Occasionally. The characters, less so. Through no fault of their own, of course. Has anyone ever been mobbed at some party or any other sort of gathering, and one after the other, people just come at you, and you are suddenly wishing it would all end, this chatter, this me-me-me? Oh, yeah, wrong analogy: This experience is more like having a crowd of people approach you with something remotely interesting, but, in the long run, is decidedly not. Hell, making a muck of this.

Still, for posterity’s sake, here’s a sample of that back-and-forth dialogue, between the three main character.  From the titular chapter, it’s pretty representative of what goes on with the rest of the novel. That’s pretty much it, give or take some flashbacks and extraneous characters. Under the jump, because, well, you really do not have to read it. [Way to entertain you, huh?]

STUART: First love is the only love.

OLIVER: As much love as possible is the only love.

GILLIAN: True love is the only love.

STUART: I don’t mean you can’t love again. Some people can, even if some people can’t. But whether you can or can’t, first love can never be repeated. And whether you can or can’t, first love never lets you go. Second love lets you go. First love, never.

OLIVER: Misprise me not. ‘Twas not the catechism of Casanova, the justification of Giovanni. Sexual Stakhanovism is for those with no imagination. I meant, if anything, the contrary. We need as much love as possible because there is so little of it to go around, don’t you find?

GILLIAN: True love is solid love, day-to-day love, reliable love, love that never lets you down. You think that sounds boring? I don’t I think it sounds deeply romantic.

STUART: P.S. By the way, and incidentally, who ever said that love makes us better people, or makes us behave better? Who ever said that?

STUART: P.P.S. I’d like to make another point because nobody else has done so. Someone said that being in love makes you liable to fall in love. I’d just like to say: not half as much as not being in love does.

STUART: P.P.P.S. And another thing. Love leads to happiness. That’s what everyone believes, isn’t it? That’s what I used to believe, too, all those years ago. I don’t anymore. You look surprised. Think about it. Examine you own life. Love leads to happiness? Come off it.

Sigh. Good lord, this post bores itself. But, ya know, if you made it this far, how are your experiences with Barnes? One of his novels is up for a Booker. Me, I’m very curious about his Flaubert’s Parrot and A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.

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8 comments

  1. Jillian ♣ · · Reply

    Have you read Plato’s Symposium? The structure of this book reminds me of that — the unveiling of what love is, through a Socratic dialogue… (I haven’t read all of the Symposium. Just parts of it for my philosophy class.)

    Love the blog look!

    1. I haven’t read all of the Symposium, too! And, like you, I read parts of it for a Philosophy class. However, unlike you, I have almost forgotten all about it, that any similarity between this book’s structure and the Socratic dialogue never occurred to me, haha.

  2. The only Barnes I read was a few years ago, called Arthur and George. I wish I could tell you about it in any detail, but time has washed my memory clean of any recall apart from the fact that I remember liking it. Arthur is Arthur Conan Doyle, and as I’d obsessed over Sherlock Holmes as a girl, and continued to love them as I grew up, reading historial fiction about his creator made me happy. I do want to revisit the book, but as you well know — there are so many books to get through and so little time. (Google Arthur & George for a synopsis perhaps?)

  3. I own A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters! This makes me very excited since I had forgotten all about it. Ooh, I love finding something on your own shelves that you had completely forgotten about.

    Sorry, no intelligent comment here.

    1. I’ve read around, and quite a lot of people think that Barnes would make a far better essayist than a novelist. A backhanded compliment, no? Anyway, A History and Flaubert’s Parrot is on the list, if ever I feel like re-introducing myself to Barnes.

  4. Love etc., is actually sequel to Talking It Over which was a better book in my opinion. I just finished Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending which has so much to discuss though Im still not sure if I liked it or not. I’m sure it will make the Booker shortlist though.

    1. I saw that it was that this one was a sequel, but I was assured that reading Talking It Over wasn’t necessary to enjoy this one. However, I do feel that I might have enjoyed the earlier book more, if only because I’m intrigued as to how they interacted while the central events were taking place. I mean, Love, etc. feels, at times, like a giant neon flashback. People who can’t get over it, etc. etc. etc.

  5. […] Love, Etc., by Julian Barnes. […]

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