Archive for the ‘Reading Challenge 2012’ Category

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Twelve’s Shelved – Andy reviews his year’s reading

January 29, 2013

And a pretty impressive year it was too. Four out and out failures, by my reckoningreading is sexy, and eight undeniable successes (Netty and I are going to disagree quite a bit about these).

Failures? Easy. Gordimer’s The Conservationist, Borges’ Collected Fictions, Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter, and Allen Ginsberg’s Selected Poems. Yep, four of the most highly regarded writers of the 20th century make my Meh list for 2012.

Sure, sure, Gordimer’s heart is in the right place. The Conservationist is a piercing critique of apartheid, and of proprietorial masculinity. But it’s also a bit boring. And not terribly engaging. Overly intellectual, emotionally distant. And you don’t hyphenate adverbs. Or at least you don’t these days. Maybe you did back then. The ’70s, after all, was a foreign country.

Borges’ short stories are, for the most part, undeniably the work of a genius. Borges’ intellect shines through, from cover to cover. It’s just that, again, they are sometimes quite boring (although not always). They’re not at all emotionally engaging. In fact Borges’ intelligence might be these stories’ greatest weakness – they are just too damn clever. I’m sorry, but that’s not always a good thing.

Ginsberg’s Selected Poems? Forget it. Watch James Franco in Howl instead.

And Richard Ford’s The … Oh, sorry. I’ve lost my train of thought on this par. And I can’t be bothered finding it again.

So anyway. On to the good stuff.

And where to begin? Waiting for Godot – spectacularly absurd, sublimely rational, funny, profound, depressing, all at the same time. American Gods – an Englishman dissects America’s obsession with religion, and the appeal and futility of spiritual belief in the modern age. And also spins a ripping yarn. Gaiman was apparently a Doctor Who fan as a kid and these days occasionally writes scripts for the show. His first one, The Doctor’s Wife, was one of the best since the series’ reboot. The Virgin Suicides – a witty satire of suburban America and a sometimes moving portrait of adolescence. Flaubert’s Parrot – barely a novel, really, but hugely entertaining and enlightening. Beloved – a brutal portrait of American slavery and what black Americans endured even after the system had been abolished.

So, what’s left? Oh yes…

My top three for the year are:

It’s Raining in Mango – Thea Astley’s magnificent tale of a fictitious Australian family, from rough-as-guts Queensland in the mid-1800s through World War II to environmental protests in the 1980s, beautifully melds the settlement experience of white Australia with the impact of that settlement on the indigenous inhabitants. This book should be as highly regarded as Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, one of my favourite books of all time.

Peter Robb’s M. I love Caravaggio’s art, and I loved Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio movie, and I am intrigued by the story of his life, so it’s no surprise that Robb’s superb biography – as much guesswork as it is fact – should feature highly in my year’s reading. And it’s interesting to see that in six months it has easily become the most read post Netty and I have written in five or six years.

But…. Drum roll, please…. Look, OK, we did only read it last month so maybe I’m a little overwhelmed but seriously. Marguerite Duras’ The Lover. How awesome a book is this? A novella, sure, but what a novella. Episodic, impressionistic, lyrical, searingly personal. I would recommend most of the books on last year’s list but realistically no one’s going to read them. The Lover is short. And amazing. Read it.

Of the books in the “side” challenge, books Netty had read that I hadn’t, only D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel failed to impress. Anne Sexton’s Complete Poems was probably the standout but Less Than Zero, The Road, The Mosquito Coast and After Dark all wowed me as well.

A good year, all in all.

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The Lover – Andy takes a ferry with Marguerite

January 15, 2013

“…we’re in the long hot girdle of the earth, with no spring, no renewal.”

The LoverI liked this. I liked this a lot. In fact I didn’t just like it. I pretty much loved it. Which is odd, arguably, because it’s a story about a teenage girl who has sex with an older man. Yuck, is what we’re supposed to say. Melancholy whores? None of that nonsense for Netty and me, thank you very much.

But there’s a bit of a difference here. For a start, it’s written by a woman, from the perspective of the teenage girl. And the “older man” is in his twenties, not his seventies. And – oh yes. Also, it’s fucking spectacular.

Also it’s a novella (although so was Marquez’s), a literary form I find myself increasingly fond of, and not just because they’re, er, short. Those who describe the novella as halfway between a short story and a novel understand nothing of the form but its length. The Lover is impressionistic, montage like, not remotely linear. And yet it tells a number of stories – the French narrator’s affair with an older Chinese man, the narrator’s familial history, the narrator’s time as a part of wartime Paris’s literary circle. In other hands this might’ve been a novel the size of War and Peace. Duras swirls it all together, condenses it, heightens and intensifies it, and produces one of the most perfect examples of the novella form I’ve ever read (and OK, I haven’t read that many but I’ve read a few).

Initially I wanted to say something about Duras paring things back, stripping them back, I wanted to say s9mething about her economy of expression. But The Lover doesn’t feel pared back, or stripped back. It doesn’t feel economical. It actually feels lush (and not in an Oops I’ve drunk too much sauv blanc kind of a way). It feels rich, and profound, and deeply felt, and deeply experienced.

Which is explained, at least partly, by the fact that it is deeply autobiographical, I’m not sure exactly how autobiographical, Netty may shed more light on that question, But at one point Duras says something like, I’ve written about this before, but I haven’t written about it this honestly. and she’s not just being metafictive (although she is French, so she’s presumably being at least a little bit metafictive). She is in fact being, um, honest.

And that’s one of the things I love about this book. A woman – well, a person, the gender isn’t important – a writer who has used elements of their personal experience in their earlier work, who in their latter years – and Duras was pretty old when she wrote The Lover – looks back on something that to some extent at least has been a defining moment of their lives and writes about it honestly and openly. Perhaps. And with incredible style and artistry. Not eroticism though, despite what the cover of my edition says. Kind of sexy yes, but not erotic. In an erotica sense, anyway.

I’m not sure about the last scene though. (And yes, SPOILERS!) My gut feeling is that it’s probably what really happened, But a lover from the other end of your life, the better end of your life, coming back to tell you that they’ve never forgotten you, always loved you – it seems a little neat, although the subtext isn’t straightforward. Should we be delighted to know that we have always been desired, that, despite the decades intervening, we have always been desired? Or should we feel desolate that, at the other end of our lives, had things gone differently we’d be so much happier now?

It/s a tribute to Duras’ skill, I think, that either of these interpretations dovetails perfectly with her work,

So not only will I be seeking out more of Duras’ work, I’ll be re-reading this I suspect in the not-too-distant future. Because it’s damn awesome.

Oh, and that quote that I opened with? Means nothing, really. Just seemed appropriate, given I’ll be turning 44 next month…

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Beloved – Andy would like to be witty about slavery but, you know, it’s slavery…

December 19, 2012

We’ve said something like it before, Netty and I both, but Toni Morrison is the quintessential Challenge writer. The author of a book or books we’ve been meaning to get around to but for whatever reason …  Beloved, obviously,  is the book of Morrison’s we should’ve been getting around to.

And now we have.

belovedAnd it wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped. I had this idea that Morrison would be a sublimely beautiful writer, and more often than not she is. Stupendously impressive? Yes. But not page after page, which perhaps unreasonably is what I expected. The supernatural elements of the novel didn’t wash with me entirely, although I consider myself to be the sort of psychopathically rational atheist who can on occasion suspend belief. Like, when I’m watching Lord of the Rings, maybe.

That said, I was pretty impressed.

I thought I knew a bit about slavery. And I did. But Morrison has given my understanding of slavery a depth I’m not entirely comfortable with. These days you can dismiss the Ku Klux Klan as a bunch of murderous psycho scum. Or you could, if you didn’t understand that their vicious, murderous sadism has roots in the racism that found slavery acceptable. I may be drawing a long bow here (although probably not, I’m sure it’s been said before), but in the Greco-Roman world, slavery was a more strictly financial arrangement: So yes, you were a slave, but the human being that owned you understood that you were a human being too. It’s just that it was OK to own humans. The enslavement of Africans was different. Africans weren’t human. Or at least they weren’t as human as white people. There’s a particularly odious scene in Beloved in which children are encouraged to differentiate between the “human” and “animal” attributes of particular slaves.  I remember seeing a doco in the 80s about South Africa, in which a defender of apartheid grabbed a black woman’s hand and pointed to the colour of her palm and said something like, See? Just like a monkey. I was 12 or 13 or something.

I thought I knew a bit about slavery and racism. But the savagery in Beloved left me reeling. Only slightly, I should say, if it’s possible to reel only slightly. I’m pretty well aware of what human beings are prepared to do to each other in extreme and sometimes not so extreme circumstances. It’s just that, rather naively, I guess,  I hadn’t realised the sadism descended to quite such appalling depths in the American South of the mid-1800s. And while I have no doubt there have been those who have said Morrison doesn’t know what she’s talking about, I have absolutely no doubt at all. She knows exactly what she’s talking about.

Anyway, enough of that bollocks. What about the book?

I loved the way Morrison tells her story. Throughout the novel there are things happening at five or more different points in time, between the story’s earliest moments and its last (and these moments do not correspond exactly with the book’s beginning and its end). Things are told, and they are not entirely explicable, and then other things will be told that will explain some though not all of the previously inexplicable things but perhaps reveal other not entirely explicable things, which may or may not be explained at a later point. Beloved is definitely a novel to be reread – one reading gets you to the end understanding, essentially, what has happened, but not comprehending things completely. It’s not linear and it’s not compartmentalised, and perspective within scenes sometimes flicks from character to character – something I’m rather opposed to, both as a writer and a reader, although Morrison pulls it off.

Curiously, while it is obviously a novel that explores racism, I’m not sure it’s a novel that explores sexism. Most of what the female characters endure they endure because they’re black slaves, not because they’re women. Both male and female slaves are subjected to sexual violence, although what the female slaves endure is far more horrific (heterosexual males might disagree with me on this one). So perhaps not a novel about sexism, but without doubt a feminist novel – in that it depicts women, strong women, battling and surviving and triumphing, at least a little bit, against the odds. Those odds are skewed against them mostly because of their ethnicity rather than their gender. Netty is probably going to disagree with me on this, and given that I’m a self-absorbed sodomite male, she’s probably right.

There are a handful of chapters/sections towards the end of the novel that are particularly impressive, breaking with what Morrison has done earlier to present things in first person from the perspectives of Sethe, Denver and Beloved. Beloved’s is quite haunting because, while it presumably describes her time in the afterlife, it reads like a description of the slave ship passage from Africa to the Americas.

I’m also curious about the house number. 124. 2 is 1 plus 1, and 4 is 2 plus 2. I don’t do numerology, obviously, rational atheist and all. But perhaps Morrison does. One plus one equals two, and two plus two equals four. 124. I’m not sure how many times you’d have to do this ’til you get to 60 million…

Finally, and perhaps least interestingly, the question I guess everybody asks themselves about this book: Did Sethe do the right thing by murdering her daughter? If you’re worried, I’m not giving anything away.This is on the back cover of my copy. My answer is yes. She did the right thing. A lifetime of slavery versus a knife in the throat at eighteen months? Give me the knife.

That said, apparently, Beloved disagreed.

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The Mosquito Coast – Andy goes feral with Theroux

December 2, 2012

“Oh god,” the owner of my favourite secondhand bookshop said when I told him I was looking for a novel by Paul Theroux. “A really boring travel writer and an even worse novelist!” He was no fan of Nadine Gordimer, either. Or Doris Lessing, although I didn’t ask about her,  he just threw her into the mix. I have no idea if he’s right about Lessing. I concur with him on Gordimer. But I disagree on Theroux.

I was supposed to read My Secret History, one of Netty’s favourite books, but finding a copy proved impossible. So I settled for The Mosquito Coast, another of Theroux’s novels Netty has read and one that another of my favourite secondhand bookshops had on its shelves, in a rather handsome year-of-publication hardback edition. Not a first edition though, sadly. (I do have a first edition of Gore Vidal’s Myron, his sequel to Myra Breckinridge, which Netty blogged on a few months back. Rather have a first edition of Myra, but there you go.)

theroux.mosquitoIf you haven’t seen the movie – and I hadn’t until last week, and I need to watch it again because I was a tad, err, under the weather at the time – The Mosquito Coast is narrated by Charlie Fox, eldest son of Allie Fox, an inventor and, err, eccentric. A man of arguably extreme and certainly muscular views. Tired of America, Fox relocates his family to a wild, unsettled area of Honduras. Things here are tough for a bit, but then they get better. Allie creates not just a functioning family compound but an ice machine, and is very proud of himself. Not everybody is quite so impressed, but Charlie and the other kids seem reasonably happy, and reasonably proud of their dad.

And then things go wrong.

And then they get worse.

And then things get really, really bad.

And then there’s the bit at the end, a piece of grotesque poetic justice that Peter Weir wimped out on in the movie. So you’d have lost your PG rating, Pete. Big deal. That scene – monstrous, and shocking, and monstrously, shockingly thrilling – should’ve been in the movie.

Anyway.

On the strength of this novel, and it’s all of his I’ve read, Theroux is not a great writer. He’s good, though. Seriously good. Unlike Cormac McCarthy, say, countless sentences do not jump out screaming I AM THE WORK OF A GENIUS.  Theroux’s style in understated, deceptively pedestrian. There’s wit, certainly, and there are occasional, wonderful moments of poetry. The Mosquito Coast was published in 1981, 14 years after Theroux’s first novel. It has the feel of an established, mid-career writer, comfortable with his limitations and prepared perhaps to nudge and explore those limitations, rather than overextend himself and produce a mess. It’s a really, really well-written yarn. And as a yarn it’s awesome.

There’s more going on here than a yarn, of course, and this counts towards Theroux’s skill as a writer and a storyteller. On one level it’s an exploration of the father-son dynamic – father as despot, son as traitor. Charlie is aware from the outset of his father’s shortcomings, which makes his attempts, late in the novel, to support and defend him quite poignant (if also infuriating). It’s also a perhaps reactionary look at the idea that all utopias must, by their nature, descend into totalitarianism. Allie Fox wants to believe he is an idealist; ultimately he’s a deluded bully. There are points that could be made about colonialism and the West’s cultural arrogance, as well, although Theroux cleverly muddies those waters by having Allie espouse ideas that sound like Western elitism, but then having him abandon them and berate himself for ever having held them. Making him look even more deluded than he was in the first place – and he looked deluded enough then.

The Mosquito Coast is not a great book. But then apparently The Sportswriter is. And if you were to ask me which of these books you should read, I’d tell you The Mosquito Coast. Without hesitation. And if you were then to say to me, But I should get around to The Sportswriter, yeah? I’d probably shrug and say something like, If you’ve got the time.

Make of that what you will.

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The Sportswriter – Andy still doesn’t understand American football

November 21, 2012

… and no doubt never will.

Or was it bastketball? Or baseball, maybe? Not sure. Maybe there were players and games of all three persuasions featured. I missed that.

What I didn’t miss: Ford’s sly humour. Could’ve done with a bit more of it, to be honest. Quite a bit more. His deft, subtle subversion of the American male archetype, something I think he has in common with Updike in Rabbit, Run (Netty will disagree ferociously on this point). His insightful and nonjudgmental depiction of a relationship between an older (pfft, 38, five years younger than me), intelligent, arguably self-aware man and a younger (30, I think), less intelligent, arguably self-aware, but perhaps in different ways, woman. You could probably say something similar about Frank Bascombe’s relationship with his wife, actually, except for the age bit. And the intelligence bit. So OK no, maybe you couldn’t say something similar after all.

I liked the depiction of the arguably bisexual, probably gay “best” friend, who is barely a friend. (I guessed his fate, though.) I liked Frank’s kids. Could’ve done withmore of them, actually. Could’ve done with more of the wife. Could’ve done with less of the girlfriend. The stuff in Detroit with the girlfriend – blah. The stuff in the town outside of Detroit with the crippled football star (or baseball star, or basketball star) – that was good. That was impressive. Bordered on sublime, even. And the Easter Sunday lunch scene is brilliant. Awkward, heartwarming, trying to be heartbreaking and knowing that it’s failing – Really well done.

The Sportswriter is, essentially, a book about failure. Frank Bascombe wrote a successful book of short stories as a 20 something, then started a novel, then was asked to write “sports”, as they say in the States. And then gave up all hope of ever being a “real writer” again. Ford has his narrator use those words – “real writer” – to distinguish writers of fiction from journalists of any persuasion a number of times. The self-deprecation doesn’t ring terribly true, and probably isn’t supposed to.

Bascombe has failed as a “real writer”. He’s failed as a husband. Subliminally he feels he’s failed as a parent. In the past he’s failed as a teacher. On this particular Easter weekend, he fails as a boyfriend. He fails as a friend. He even fails as a sportswriter. Even as the book’s last chapter brings him something that lifts him from despair he knows it’s not going to work.

In its depiction of the heterosexual American male The Sportswriter reminded me sharply of Rabbit, Run. Rabbit is much younger, and living well over two decades earlier, but still. There’s crossover thematically, I think. Plenty crossover. Netty disagrees, but that’s because she hated Rabbit, Run, and I quite liked it.

I didn’t hate The Sportswriter, but I didn’t like it much. Rabbit, Run and The Sportswriter are both the first books in cycles. I haven’t got back to Updike’s later books yet but I’m planning to. I might give Ford’s sequel, Independence Day, a crack sometime but to be honest it’s not a priority. He clearly takes himself terribly seriously as a writer and that’s not always a bad thing, though it very, very rarely – if ever – is a good thing.

So well written and sometimes engaging, but ultimately a bit … meh.

In closing, and for absolutely no good reason whatsoever, I would like to quote a line from aforesaid impressive Easter Sunday lunch scene, and suggest such words will never, ever, be used about my blogging partner in crime: “Lynette has transformed her dining room into a hot little jewel box.”

Make of that what you will.

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In which Netty checks into Cloudstreet … and decides to stay for a little while …

November 4, 2012

ImageI’m actually a bit embarrassed to admit I have only just gotten around to finally reading Tim Winton – at Andy’s behest in this, the (mini) Reading Challenge within a Reading Challenge. I don’t know, it seems somehow un-Australian to only now be dipping a toe into the work of this much-loved local “national living treasure” (TM), who has 10 novels (including a Vogel-winning debut and two Man Booker short-listers), plus short-story collections, numerous collated essays, half a dozen children’s books, non-fiction collaborations and even a play under his belt. It’s like owning up to a dislike for Vegemite. Un-Oz-stray-yun.

The obvious choice for a Winton novice is the 1991 novel Cloudstreet, arguably his best-known work, which has also been adapted as a play and was recently made into an acclaimed mini-series (and now at the top of my Quickflix queue). To be fair, I had always been meaning to get around to Cloudstreet; I gave a copy to my mother (whose taste runs to romance and the occasional schlockbuster) for Christmas a couple of years ago. She read it, but proclaimed it “peculiar”. I didn’t quiz her further at the time, but will need to do so now – Cloudstreet could hardly be called peculiar, although there is an ever-so-faint, surrealist strain of (David) Lynch-ianisms running throughout the passages narrated by Fish Lamb, and that business of the talking pig, and then there’s the spectre of the “living, breathing” house itself, rendered in a much more subtle, slightly (Stephen) King-ish fashion. But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Two families are at the heart of Cloudstreet – the Pickles and the Lambs – and the novel charts the intertwining of their lives across three decades, from the war years of the early 1940s to the mid-1960s. As the book opens, the Pickles – Sam and Dolly, and their children Rose, Ted and Chub – are down on their luck thanks to hapless punter Sam, whose fortunes take a further nose-dive after he loses the fingers of his right hand in a freak fishing accident. His brother Joel, with whom the family has been living at his Geraldton pub, suffers a fatal heart attack; his will stipulates that his brother inherit the huge, rambling, ramshackle Perth house at One Cloud Street – on the proviso that it cannot be sold for 20 years – and $4000, which Sam promptly loses on the horses.

Meanwhile, the rural, dirt-poor, god-fearing Lambs – Lester and Oriel, and their children Quick, Fish, Hattie, Elaine, Red and Lon – pack up their bags and head for the big smoke after the charismatic Fish is left permanently brain-damaged after another freak fishing accident. Fate washes the Lambs on to the shores of Cloud Street when they answer a classified ad in the local paper that leads them to becoming the Pickles’ tenants. Industrious and hard-working, the Lambs also establish a grocery shop in the front room that quickly becomes a prosperous smash-hit in their local neighbourhood and beyond.

And thus is the set-up for this big, sprawling family saga, stretching over some 400 pages. I have never been one for spoilers, so I am loath to go into any more detail on the plot, its many twists and its turns, on the off-chance that, like me, there are others out there who have not yet got around to reading Cloudstreet. Don’t be put off by its bulk – it is an easy, fast and compelling read, with marvellously memorable, deeply flawed characters that nonetheless significantly elicit the reader’s empathy. I was about halfway through the novel and enjoying it, but wondering if it could have done with a tighter edit; by the time I was devouring its final pages I was better equipped to more fairly see Winton’s vision for both the story and its characters.

I do have one quibble, though, and it is not as minor as it might initially sound – the novel is divided into five parts, and within these are subsections with their own little chapter headings, sometimes two or three per two pages. I found them completely superfluous and often distracting, especially when a subsection ran for only two or three paragraphs. The copy I read was a first edition borrowed from a friend; hopefully subsequent editions did away with these silly little heads.

Winton is considered one of Australia’s finest writers of the landscape, and that is certainly on show here, particularly in the section where Quick goes bush, then later when Quick, Rose, Fish and young Harry go on a road trip that takes them into the desert. A West Australian native, Winton obviously knows the country, especially his local environs, like the back of his hand. A keen surfer, his writing on the water is particularly evocative – and for a novel mostly set in the city, water still plays a central role in Cloudstreet, with all its pivotal plot elements taking place in and around the water, particularly the opening and closing chapters.

I spoke to several people – Winton fans familiar with all his books – during and after reading Cloudstreet. Just last night I went to see the new Paul Kelly doco Stories Of Me; a particularly nice touch, during the closing credits, is the listing, under each of the major players in its making, of their favourite Paul Kelly song. Similarly, Winton fans have strong opinions on their favourite among his books – I have been recommended Dirt Music, The Riders, even Breath (even though Andy says it’s probably his least favourite). Kelly is lauded for the “Australian-ness” of his music; you could certainly lay a similar charge at Winton’s writing. As I have – happily – said so many times before during this Reading Challenge, here’s another author of whom I will definitely be reading more. Sometime. Hopefully soon.

Eeegads. There are just so many books to read. So many, many books …

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Flaubert’s Parrot – Andy gets in a flap with Julian

October 15, 2012

Not that Flaubert’s parrot had much chance to flap. Not when Flaubert knew it, anyway.

Flaw Bear. I’m reasonably certain that’s how it’s pronounced. And I completely disagree with the suggestion, made, apparently by one of Flaubert’s friends after the writer’s death, that Bovary should be pronounced Bovvery. To rhyme with bother, but with an “ee” at the ends. Bollocks to that. Alzhough I guess if you try it wizz a Fraunch acsaunt…

I really enjoyed this. I shall pre-empt Netty and let you know that she did too. She’s never read Madame Bovary. I have, but so long ago I’ve forgotten most of it. A detailed knowledge of Flaubert’s masterpiece will make Julian Barnes’s novel even better. But you don’t actually need to know too much about Bovary to enjoy the Parrot. It’s funny and enlightening and entertaining and – gobsmacking – even maybe sort of educational, and you don’t need to know who Emma Bovary was fucking on the side to appreciate all of this.

Arguably, a criticism: it’s arguable this is a novel. Although it is, I suppose. But then it’s also a piece of literary criticism, although you don’t necessarily have to know the book to appreciate the wit. And it’s also a critique of literary criticism – you certainly don’t have to have read the book to enjoy (and laugh at) the discussion of Emma Bovary’s eye colour. It’s rich in historical detail about Flaubert and his acquaintances and his time, and that detail is hugely interesting and entertaining (and sometimes obscene, which is both interesting and entertaining, and fine by me). But the emperor’s clothes Barnes puts all this in to call it a novel – Geoffrey Braithwaite, Flaubert afficianado, whose wife Ellen (EB, get it?) cheated on him repeatedly (get it?) and then topped herself (get it yet?), Geoffrey Braithwaite ( the G I suppose being as close to the C of Charles Bovary, Emma’s husband, as Barnes was prepared to go – Cyril probably wouldn’t’ve cut it) travels to France, to the places Flaubert frequented, and does some research. And gets obsessed with a parrot. That doesn’t actually appear in Bovary. I’m not sure that particular storyline passes muster.

So “novel” is arguably arguable. But it’s still damn good. Barnes is funnier than I expected him to be – he’s supposedly, notoriously much more serious than his former chum Martin Amis, something Amis apparently satirised viciously and bitterly and yes, I’m sorry, rather hilariously in The Information – and he’s also much easier to read than I expected. Like Murakami, I approached Barnes with some trepidation, assuming he’d be dense, difficult, dastardly. OK no one expected them to be dastardly, I just made that up. Barnes is a little denser and a little more difficult than Murakami, but ironically also makes a little more sense.

I’ve read one other of Barnes’s novels, The Sense of an Ending, which won the Man Booker Prize last year. It’s much more obviously a novel than the Parrot, and the first half especially is simply magnificent. It fails slightly, I think, in the second half, but it’s still an amazing work of fiction. The Parrot doesn’t fall into that category. But it’s cheekier than his Man Booker winner. And that’s a good thing. Barnes, like Murakami, joins the To Explore list.

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