Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (Bowie's Top 100 for August)
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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."
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
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I'll start very soon, looking forward to it!
>9 Crazymamie: Boo!
>10 LovingLit: Double Boo!
>11 FAMeulstee: Yay!
Though I wish I had that pretty second cover.
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.
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!!)
>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. :-)
I'm on Chapter 5 now. My favorite chapter so far has been three, "Finders Keepers".
"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."
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)
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)
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.
Good to see her back in Stranger Things on Netflix.
>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.
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
"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.
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.”
There are certainly some crackers in this book! It is just full of observations on life.
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.
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.
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!?
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 ;)
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.
>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.
“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.
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.