Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (Bowie's Top 100 for August)

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Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (Bowie's Top 100 for August)

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Editado: Ago 5, 2016, 8:21am

Megan and Kim are continuing their monthly Bowie's Top 100 read in July with:

From Amazon: "Which of two stuffed parrots was the inspiration for one of Flaubert's greatest stories? Why did the master keep changing the colour of Emma Bovary's eyes? And why should it matter so much to Geoffrey Braithwaite, a retired doctor haunted by a private secret? In "Flaubert's Parrot", Julian Barnes spins out a multiple mystery of obsession and betrayal (both scholarly and romantic) and creates an exuberant enquiry into the ways in which art mirrors life and then turns around to shape it. "A gem: an unashamed literary novel that is also unashamed to be readable, and broadly entertaining. Bravo!" - John Irving. "Endless food for thought, beautifully written ...A tour de force" - Germaine Greer. "Delightful and enriching ...A book to read" - Joseph Heller. "A dazzling achievement ...remarkably inventive as well as audacious" - Walter Abish. "A delight ...Handsomely the best novel published in England in 1984" - John Fowles."

Ago 5, 2016, 8:22am

David Bowie's Top 100 Reads:

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner--January ✔ ✔
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote -- February ✔ ✔
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -- March ✔ ✔
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima -- April ✔ ✔
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman -- May ✔ ✔
White Noise by Don DeLillo -- June ✔ ✔
Last Exit To Brooklyn By Hubert Selby, Jr. -- July ✔ ✔
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes -- August

Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
Room At The Top by John Braine
On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
City Of Night by John Rechy
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Iliad by Homer
Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
David Bomberg by Richard Cork
Blast by Wyndham Lewis
Passing by Nella Larson
Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto
The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
The Divided Self by R. D. Laing
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Puckoon by Spike Milligan
Black Boy by Richard Wright
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
The Waste Land by T.S. Elliot
McTeague by Frank Norris
Money by Martin Amis
The Outsider by Colin Wilson
Strange People by Frank Edwards
English Journey by J.B. Priestley
A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
1984 by George Orwell
The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
Beano (comic, ’50s)
Raw (comic, ’80s)
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick
Silence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage
Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillete
Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky
The Street by Ann Petry
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Last Exit To Brooklyn By Hubert Selby, Jr.
A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
The Bridge by Hart Crane
All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Saunders
Nowhere To Run The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Teenage by Jon Savage
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Viz (comic, early ’80s)
Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s – ’80s)
Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler
Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa
Inferno by Dante Alighieri
A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
The Insult by Rupert Thomson
In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan
A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

Ago 5, 2016, 8:24am

Got my book at Powell's last month. I have the first cover. Ready to go!

Ago 5, 2016, 9:03am

This is the cover of the one I'll be reading Kimmers.

Ago 5, 2016, 10:59am

I will try to read it too.

Editado: Ago 5, 2016, 11:28am

I have the second cover, which is my favorite. Jeez, the content in this one by Barnes is really varied.

Ago 5, 2016, 5:53pm

I love the covers so far :) (satisfied with the cover, who, me?).
I'll start very soon, looking forward to it!

Ago 6, 2016, 1:40pm

Loved the first chapter...wonderful word choice, thought-provoking, and a good sense of humor.

Ago 6, 2016, 1:57pm

I am waiting on my copy from the library. *sigh*

Ago 6, 2016, 3:51pm

>9 Crazymamie: oh dear, Mamie. Again with the waiting. I have yet to start, and yet to finish with either of the ones I wanted to finish before starting. Sheesh! I better get my skates on.

Ago 7, 2016, 10:46am

Started today, like it!

Ago 7, 2016, 11:33am

>6 jnwelch: Joe, you are absolutely right. Each chapter is wildly different: point of view, writing style, something! My book has no references in the back, so are the timeline and (I assume) diary quotes in Chapter Two actually from Flaubert or are they fictional?

>9 Crazymamie: Boo!

>10 LovingLit: Double Boo!

>11 FAMeulstee: Yay!

Ago 8, 2016, 5:49am

>12 Berly: I think the timeline is from Flaubert.

Ago 8, 2016, 11:20am

I'll be joining in with this lovely group. My copy is the first one up top. I feel cheated. I have a feather but no parrot!

Ago 8, 2016, 2:08pm

I'm finishing the first chapter. This is the edition I'm reading:

Though I wish I had that pretty second cover.

Ago 8, 2016, 9:12pm

>13 FAMeulstee: I assumed so. Do you think the diary entries are real as well?

Ago 9, 2016, 3:11am

>16 Berly: Faubert wrote many letters, published in 5 volumes, so I presume they are real too.

Ago 9, 2016, 11:44am

I assume ones like these are real Flaubert comments, right? (p. 32 in my copy, in Ch. 2):

When I was still quite young I had a complete presentiment of life. It was like the nauseating smell of cooking escaping from a ventilator: you don't have to have eaten it to know that it would make you throw up.

I did with you what I have done before with those I have loved best: I showed them the bottom of the bag, and the acrid dust that rose from it made them choke.

What a curmudgeon!

I assume these are Barnes' translations, although he credits all translations to Geoffrey Braithwaite. This is part of what impresses me so far - the translations, along with the wit and the totally-at-ease writing.

Ago 9, 2016, 6:41pm

I also found the second chapter a little confusing as there aren't any attributions, so I googled. It said that the first two timelines were fictional, while the third was from Flaubert. Additionally, "Geoffrey Braithwaite" is the narrator, the main character of the book.

Ago 9, 2016, 9:54pm

I took the quotes as true Flaubert quotes, and the timelines confused me a bit, but I liked them post-reading :)

It is a tricky mishmash style to latch on to, but I am getting into the swing of things now, after putting in an hour's hard graft in the bath with the book (any excuse to read will do).

>19 mstrust: We didn't find out til quite a few pages in that the narrator was Geoffrey Braithwaite, which I found interesting.

>18 jnwelch: What a curmudgeon!
Hey, we've all felt like that from time to time, have we not? Or am I just a curmudgeon too ;) (I'll save you the hassle, and answer that for you, I really am one!!)

Ago 10, 2016, 10:51am

>18 jnwelch: Sorry, I should've mentioned GB is the narrator. I assumed everyone on this thread would get it.

>20 LovingLit: I took the quotes as Flaubert quotes, too, Megan.

I'm nearing the end, and we learn a lot about his curmudgeonly ways. Yes, he's an inspiration to all of us curmudgeons out there. :-)

Ago 10, 2016, 1:08pm

The name of Geoffrey Braithwaite flitted by me, and I thought it was just Barnes naming the translator he'd used for the Flaubert quotes, so I'm glad I looked it up because it put me on more solid ground.
I'm on Chapter 5 now. My favorite chapter so far has been three, "Finders Keepers".

Ago 11, 2016, 9:49am

I thought the animal chapter (4) was very amusing, with some great writing mixed in.

"Pride is a wild beast that lives in caves and roams the desert; Vanity, on the other hand, is a parrot which hops from branch to branch and chatters away in full view."

Ago 12, 2016, 9:31am

Just picked up my copy from the library late yesterday!

Ago 14, 2016, 2:29pm

Yay!! Hoping to read some today....

Editado: Ago 16, 2016, 11:15am

I enjoyed Geoffrey's musings about coincidence and irony near the beginning of Chapter 5.

I'd ban coincidences, if I were a dictator of fiction. Well, perhaps not entirely. Coincidences would be permitted in the picaresque; that's where they belong. Go on, take them: let the pilot whose parachute has failed to open land in the haystack, let the virtuous pauper with the gangrenous foot discover the buried treasure - it's all right, it doesn't really matter. . .

One way of legitimising coincidences, of course, is to call them ironies. That's what smart people do. Irony is, after all, the modern mode, a drinking companion for resonance and wit. Who could be against it? And yet sometimes I wonder if the wittiest, most resonant irony isn't just a well-brushed, well-educated coincidence.

He doesn't know what Flaubert thought about coincidence, but "his love of irony is plain."

P.S. There was a kerfuffle over whether the incidents described in Alanis Morrisette's hit song "Ironic" really were: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironic_%28song%29 (see the Linguistic Usage Disputes part)

Ago 17, 2016, 6:27am

>26 jnwelch: my reading of it takes the narrator as pretty much Julian Barnes. I think this is where I am going wrong with this book. And the irony is (or IS it?) that he discusses the presence of the author in books.
I know it's narrated by the character of Geoffrey, but somehow I feel it is Barnes "talking" to me. I think I felt the same with Sense of an Ending. It is interfering with my enjoyment of it. My only solution is to read more of it per session, and sense if I can't hear the narrator's voice more clearly. (I'm into chapter 6 now, maybe past that point)

Ago 17, 2016, 10:45am

>27 LovingLit: And the irony is (or IS it?) Ha! I'm still trying to figure out irony. At its simplest, it's the opposite of what you'd expect, but it seems much more complicated than that. Some endorse "situational irony", too. And then there's coincidence. :-)

I have to admit, I pretty much took Geoffrey to be Julian in reading this one. I didn't have that feeling so much with The Sense of an Ending, and not at all with Arthur & George (a really good one based on a true story from Conan Doyle's life). Here, it makes more sense (to me, anyway) that Geoffrey is just a front for Julian analyzing Flaubert, although Geoffrey does have his own story to tell before the end of the book.

Ago 18, 2016, 5:10am

>28 jnwelch: I love the scene in Reality Bites (I have seen that film At least ten times) when Winona Ryders character is asked in a job interview to define irony. She is all "it's like....well....it's when someone ....." and that is it for her and that workplace ;)

Ago 18, 2016, 11:07am

>29 LovingLit: Ha! I haven't seen Reality Bites, Megan. That probably would've been it for me and that workplace, too.

Good to see her back in Stranger Things on Netflix.

Ago 21, 2016, 10:24am

I have finished Flaubert's parrot, I liked it, not loved it like The Sense of an Ending and The noise of time.

Ago 22, 2016, 12:23pm

>26 jnwelch: I enjoyed the ironic chapter a lot as well. And the quote you chose, was the one I had earmarked as well. : )

>27 LovingLit: I heard Barnes throughout the book and was, in fact, surprised when he started talking about his medical practice, which, of course, was the narrator Geoffrey. Perhaps if we find out a bit more about Geoffrey, he will begin to have more of a presence for me.

Ago 22, 2016, 10:26pm

In the Cross Channel chapter (7), I loved the discussion about the pointlessness of having alternative endings "to simulate the delta of life's possibilities" unless one choses to use the envelope method: "At the back of the book would be a set of sale envelopes in various colors. Each would be clearly marked on the outside: Traditional Happy ending; Traditional Unhappy Ending; Traditional Half-and-Half Ending; End of the World Ending; Cliffhanger Ending; Dream Ending; Opaque Ending; and so on. You would be allowed only one, and would have to destroy the envelopes you didn't select."

I had thought of this one myself, so it really tickled me. But I think Barnes/Braithwaite is even too soft with this solution. Since we never know how our decisions will truly affect our lives, I think the envelopes should all be there, but none of them should be labeled! Because, sometimes, the decisions we make in pursuit of happiness actually lead us down a dark road and vice-versa.

Editado: Ago 24, 2016, 1:43am

And also from this chapter, just because I liked it.

"Directness also confuses. The full-face portrait staring back at you hypnotizes. Flaubert is usually looking away in his portraits and photographs. He's looking away so that you can't catch his eye; he's also looking away because what he can see over your shoulder is more interesting than your shoulder." Ha! Love that.

Editado: Ago 23, 2016, 11:05am

Good ones, Kim.

I also liked this book-related one, a little further up in ch. 12:

“Books say: She did this because. Life says: She did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. I'm not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people's lives, never your own.”

Ago 23, 2016, 6:57pm

>34 Berly: I read a couple of sentences yesterday that I loved, I must go get the quotes to write down here. They were deeply cynical and dark.....which are traits I admire ;)

There are certainly some crackers in this book! It is just full of observations on life.

Ago 24, 2016, 1:45am

>35 jnwelch: Ah! A very good one, Joe. I am on Ch 9, so we'll see what else I come up with before that one.

>36 LovingLit: Oooh! Megan, I love deeply cynical and dark (in my books, not my life!). And the quotes are??

Ago 24, 2016, 1:56am

>26 jnwelch: It is a novel about being clever in many ways isn't it? Part fiction, part literary criticism, part biography, part a send up of the publishing establishment who didn't rate Flaubert overly. The parrot is of course also symbolic of the lierati who parrot and ape the latest fads and trends. In his lifetime it became fashionable to think of Flaubert as unfashionable whereas nowadays he is deemed one of the greatest of French writers.

An interesting work and typical of Barnes' work of the time. His A History of the World in 10.5 Chapters is similarly difficult to place in genre.

Editado: Ago 24, 2016, 2:10am

One thing that is immensely interesting about Barnes is the rancour between him and Amis father and son - Kingsley and Martin.

An interesting article about why Barnes fell out with Amis senior is here :

The bad blood between him and Martin Amis stems from rather more personal issues. Pat Kavanagh (Barnes' wife) was the agent of Amis for 22 years. He sacked her and replaced her with the agent of Salman Rushdie and Bruce Chatwin when his novel The Information was coming out and for which he received the then astonishing sum of GBP500,000.

Barnes wrote a very emotional and emotive letter to Amis which shall we say did not sign off with "best regards". Amis then began a torrid affair with Kavanagh's sister whom he proceeded to cheat on with her best friend. Who said that the literary world is boring?

Barnes incidentally has published a few detective novels in the name Dan Kavanagh with the sobriquet obviously coming from his missus.

Editado: Ago 24, 2016, 5:43am

>38 PaulCranswick: A History of the World in 10.5 Chapters is the other book in my edition of Flaubert'sParrot. I read one of the chapters and loved it, so now I am going to read some more chapters....and so it continues :)

I was thinking while reading the parrot one that the book would be fantssatic as a tiny book for each chapter, in a boxed set, each with different cover/font/ style of presentation. Maybe the same app
It's for the 10.5 chapters one??

>37 Berly: amazing quotes:

p. 114 The writer must be universal in sympathy and an outcast by nature: only then can he see clearly.

p. 116 The public wants works which flatter its illusions. (from Flaubert)

p. 148 Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.

How about the Anthony Burgess book from Bowie's list for next month? I'll scan the list again...Earthly Powers. Or, Madame Bovary perhaps!?

Ago 24, 2016, 10:20am

>38 PaulCranswick:, >39 PaulCranswick: Thanks for all that good info, Paul. I'm going to take a look now at both History of the World in 10.5 Chapters and Dan Kavanagh mysteries.

>40 LovingLit: Great quotes, Megan.

I'm a fan of Earthly Powers. Great book.

Ago 24, 2016, 8:05pm

There was another quote that struck me also...something about happiness only being available to those with stupidity, selfishness, and good health. Wow, just processing that leaves me thinking about all the people I know who (to me seem to) have excessive happiness...and it rings true!! Either that or I am just a curmudgeon ;)

Ago 24, 2016, 9:42pm

>40 LovingLit: I have read both of those so wouldn't be joining but Madame Bovary would be a natural progression and Earthly Powers is a great, if salacious, read.

Ago 29, 2016, 5:24am

*Fun fact*
In the intro to my edition it talks about the part in the book where the narrator is discussing an author who has used Madame Bovary in his description of a suitor who....
'comically rehearses to himself the best way to kiss a girl without being rebuffed: "with a slow, sensual, irresistables strength, draw her gradually towards you while gazing into her eyes as if you had just been given a copy of the first, suppressed edition of Madame Bovary." I thought this was quite neatly put', Braithwaite remarks, 'indeed rather amusing. The only trouble is,' he adds, 'there's no such thing as a "first suppressed edition of Madame Bovary" ...I expect the young novelist (it seems unfair to give his name) was thinking of.....'

Turns to the young novelist in question is Julian Barnes himself, and he wrote that in his first book, Metroland! I wasn't surprised to see him lambast someone in the book through his narrator, seeing as he had done the same to the critic....but still, it's nice to see a little self -correction ;)

Ago 29, 2016, 6:14am

Shared from my thread

This is a book which is difficult to classify. It is neither a novel in the traditional sense nor is it biography nor is it a work purely of literary criticism, but there are elements of each entwined in this clever piece of writing. It is a piece of writing that illuminates, that resonates and that fascinates but ultimately is still neither one thing nor the other.

Flaubert is a writer whose masterpiece Madame Bovary appears on many lists of the best works of French or World literature and Barnes does a good job of displaying him warts and all for our delectation and disputation. Someone who can describe his best fried as "his left testicle" is obviously worth knowing at least as dinner company.

Barnes is a writer adept of playing with the concentration of the reader as he did (I think a little better) with A History of the World in 10.5 Chapters. This is good and indeed exceptional in parts but the scattergun approach to book creation occasionally jars too. Barnes too with his obvious wit and playfulness would be another prized asset at the dinner table.

This is a book I appreciated rather than gloried in. I book I can say I admired rather than one I adored.

Ago 29, 2016, 4:22pm

>44 LovingLit: Whoa, that is a fun fact! I loved the quoted material, but that he's critiquing and poking fun at a young JB adds that much more spice to it.

>45 PaulCranswick: Good comments, Paul, as I mentioned over on your thread. I've got A History of the World in 10.5 Chapters on the WL. I really enjoyed Flaubert's Parrot, so if you think the former is even a little better, that's encouraging.

Editado: Ago 30, 2016, 2:40pm

“Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. I'm not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people's lives, never your own.”

“The sky is a theatre of possibilities.”

“I like these out-of-season crossings. When you're young you prefer the vulgar months, the fullness of the seasons. As you grow older, you learn to like the in-between times, the months that can't make up their minds.”

I liked Flaubert's Parrot but it was not always an easy or a smooth read. No question, Barnes has a way with words. He is super smart and very inventive, dazzling at times, but he can overwhelm too. I have not read Madam Bovary, (a sad oversight), or anything thing else by Flaubert, so I wonder if that was detrimental to my overall enjoyment of this short and sassy novel.

That said, thanks to Kim & Megan for making this selection. I wanted to read more Barnes.

Ago 31, 2016, 10:28pm

I have not reviewed this one *bad Megan*

But I enjoyed the read of it, much more in the second half. And once again, I can't figure out which direction the causal relationship goes. Did I enjoy it because I was putting in longer reading times? Or did I put in longer sessions because I was enjoying it?

It looks like Madame Bovary is September's choice! Fitting, no? I'll have a thread up tomorrow.