21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Julian Barnes has regularly turned out novels breaching the boundaries between fiction and essay, lolling around in ideas and dissecting them as an essayist would but through the machinations of plot.
The genius of the man lies in the fact that despite his leanings towards the essay his works exist as fully-fledged fictional works. He is arguably the greatest English novelist of the past twenty years and has a much more natural handling of the vagaries of plot and character than most of his contemporaries.
In 'England, England' he takes on the idea of utopia/dystopia but with his usual comic touch. The plot revolves around a businessman's attempts to seal his legacy by creating a sort of mini-England on the Isle of Wight. The island holds everything that foreigners think constitutes England, from Robin Hood to Fish and Chips and even a robin in the snow, and serves as a kind of amusement park come tourist haven, enabling people to experience the breadth of English history and geography in a matter of days.
In terms of ideas Barnes covers capitalism, the real vs the imitation, British tabloids, love, sex and fetishism.
It's one of his more unconventional novels and I probably wouldn't recommend it for a first time reader of Barnes (try 'Talking It Over' instead), but it is probably the novel of his that will be looked at most in academic circles and on university courses and will be read alongside '1984' and 'Brave New World' in the future as a study of utopias/dystopias.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 1998
As well as discussing England and 'Englishness', the book also asks of us to think of our own, individual, character or nature. And it's this that I found most interesting. Sure, the logistics involved in recreating a simulacra of England on the Isle of Wight are fascinating, but there's so much more to the novel as well. It would be crass of me to reduce the essence of this book to cliched questions like - 'Who am I? Where am I going? How will I know when I get there? Am I who I'm destined to be yet?' But I'm not a professional book reviewer, so you'll have to forgive such crassness.
'England, England' is a fine book, and there's more in there than you might think.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2002
Barnes' reputation as one of Britain's foremost modern authors is strongly reinforced by this recent work. England, England is the story of one man's successful attempt to turn the Isle of Man into a gigantic theme park containing everything that represents England. He is so rich, and so influential, that this project manages to relocate key English landscapes and even the monarchy. The theme park becomes more and more "English", whilst, meanwhile, England is changing. What is left behind on the mainland in the absence of London Bridge, traditional pubs, the Royal Family, soldiers in bearskin hats, and so forth, is a much slower pace of life. With all foreign visitors now diverted to the Isle of Man, by then a quasi-state more powerful than the country it has emulated, England becomes progressively isolated and retreats within itself. An arcadian revival takes place, with a return to rural living, agriculture, village fetes and simple, uncluttered lifestyles. The natural question this draws us to ask is: "Which one is *really* England?" Barnes' concept is strikingly brilliant, and calls into sharp question the values to which we ascribe a certain country or people -- is what makes a country quintessentially that country the legacy of a rotting jumble of nineteenth-century national rhetoric - Britannia, the Union Jack, Queen and Country-, or is it rather something deeper, that has survived political change in the hearts and minds of its people over the centuries? The portrait of life in England Barnes paints by the end of the novel is so much simpler, so much more pleasant than the busy, noisy, stressful lives we lead today that one almost wishes someone would try to create that Isle of Man themepark. In an age of globalisation where states - Britain and England prime amongst them - are having to reconsider their identities, to redefine what makes them "unique" and what characterises them, England, England is an intelligent and persuasive addition to the literary debate, presented in a very clever and extremely amusing format. Its characters are sharply and wittily constructed and the whole central plot, based around the scheming of the self-made millionaire and the constrast between his public and private personae, will keep all readers entertained. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2011
I am listening to England England on CD in the car and decided to check to see what else the author has written and was amazed to see how few stars it gets. This is the first time I've read/ listened to anything my Julian Barnes and I am absolutely loving it. It's so well written and brilliantly funny. It makes me laugh helplessly every time I drive anywhere. (A bit dangerous sometimes!) The megalomaniac businessman -Sir Jack - is hilarious. ((@$£! the Puffins' has become a catchphrase in my house!) Anyone who has ever sat in a meeting will recognise the subtle and vicious power play that Barnes describes. But there's so much more to this book than comedy. The opening chapter where we learn about Martha's childhood (especially the riffs on memory) is just beautiful and Barnes' ideas about identity and authenticity are fascinating. Everyone I know will be getting this for Christmas. If I don't know you, you'll have to get it for yourself!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In this witty satire of English traditions, values, and national identity, the eccentric Sir Jack Pitman gathers a staff of "forward-thinking" consultants and young executives to create the ultimate theme park. Sir Jack intends to relocate (or recreate, if he must) all of England's important tourist sites in one location--the Isle of Wight--creating a "Disneyland" of British history. Time is fluid here--Robin Hood and his band inhabit the woodland while Dr. Samuel Johnson holds forth in the local pub. The Battle of Britain is reenacted while shepherds and farmers cultivate the countryside using the oldest of tools.
The "selling" of the theme park idea to the king, who will appear at functions, and to the Houses of Parliament, which Pitman hopes to move there, is no less ambitious than his plan to challenge the thirteenth century purchase of the Isle of Wight by England so that he himself can govern it as a separate country. Sir Jack hires Martha Cochrane, an ambitious woman nearing forty, to be his primary assistant, along with a cast of eccentric characters, all of whom are determined to produce a new, more compact "England" to which tourists will be drawn in droves.
Throughout this wickedly complex satire, author Julian Barnes examines what constitutes "Englishness," raising issues of what how Britons define reality, what role the Church of England plays in real life, how important to present life are the "roots" of ancient history, and more personal subjects, such as how one defines salvation, what constitutes love, and whether integrity can exist within a business environment. Naturally, the concept of the theme park and its reality do not always mesh. The fake smugglers become real smugglers, Robin Hood and his Merry Men really do rob from the rich, and Dr. Johnson turns out to be an inebriated cynic who refuses to socialize at the pub.
Despite the intriguing concept and the pointed satire, this is a very "talky" novel, with little real action. Conferences in the boardroom or Sir Jack's office vastly outnumber scenes in which something actually happens, and the author's self-conscious wit and arch observations pall in the course of the more than four hundred pages. Sir Jack, Martha Cochrane, and her lover Paul Harrison never develop enough human qualities to add genuine humor to the dark cynicism of the satire, and the reader often feels a bit patronized--left out of the joke. Ultimately, Barnes shows the cycle of history repeating as he fantasizes about the future. An idea more interesting in concept than in execution. n Mary Whipple
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 12 March 2000
The first chapter alone is worth the whole book for the quality of the writing. Barnes' themes are treated lightly throughout his well-constructed narrative.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2000
Barnes's "England, England" is a humorous novel about historical and personal identity, and how both can be lost through overidealization of the past. Sir Jack Pitman, an egomaniacal tycoon, decides to build a theme park in which English history comes alive, and which subsequently becomes more popular than England itself. Caught up in this scheme are cynical Martha Cochrane, who is trying to find love, happiness, and personal identity among the mess, and Paul Harrison who is torn between his love for Martha and his loyalty to Sir Jack. The book itself is clever, but almost too clever at points, as Barnes sometimes sacrifices a decent plot line or character integrity in order to crack a cheap joke. The characters themselves, with the possible exceptions of Martha and Paul, are bland stereotypes, but since this is a satirical book, that can be forgiven. Barnes's writing style is easy to read, but some of the historical references can be lost on those unfamiliar with some of the finer points of British history. All in all, this is an entertaining, but not excellent book.
This is a book that reminds me of many England cricket matches – it starts with real promise, slows down in the middle and ends up with you wondering what all the excitement at the start was about.
The first section in this shortish novel is the best part of the book – it deals with memory and authenticity; how do we remember? Do we really remember at all? Or are we just recalling the stories that are told about things that people think we should remember?
This section of the book links clearly to the central, and longest part, of the book. The Isle of White is converted into a ‘theme park’ version of England, where everything that people think of as England is available in one place.
This seems to be a reasonable extension of the idea of authenticity, but soon even this idea seems to be so overplayed as to be rather obvious. People are not what they seem, relationships are not what they seem, reputations are not what they seem.
In the end the central protagonist of the book returns to something, which may or may not be authentic – and then the book ends.
I really liked the first part of the book – and even the start of the section where the IOW is converted is interesting because of the way it plays with the idea of what people want to see, and what they want to experience.
But then the middle order collapse sets in, and the innings limps to a disappointing end.
I think the book is worth reading for the first part alone, but in the end I was pleased when it was all over. 3 stars.
on 23 August 2007
In England, England, Julian Barnes inhabits similar territory to that of Unswaorth's Losing Nelson, but humorously. One character lists quintessences (there are more than five) of Englishness and many, perhaps most, are myth, by nature or association. And the purpose of identifying these icons of Englishness is to facilitate the construction, by Sir Jack Pitman on an eventually independent Isle of Wight, of an England Theme Park, packed with imitation and reproduction experience, collected together to take the strain out of tourism. Theme Park England becomes, itself, the quintessence (just one) of corporate identity and presence, with the products on offer being seen and marketed as "better" than the originals. It's all a great success until, that is, the imitations begin to adopt their assigned identities. Smugglers become a problem when they start smuggling. Dr. Samuel Johnson changes his name to - guess what? - Dr. Samuel Johnson and begins emulating the behaviour of the historical figure, along with a few of his own improvisations for added effect. The King thinks he's a king and Robin Hood and his Merrie Men yearn to be real outlaws. They are all in breach of contract. Through humour, the book asks questions about what is essential in national personal identity. The project identifies myths and reproduces them as second order experience which themselves become as capable of fulfilling the role of identity creation, definition and perpetuation as the real thing. So, by extension, the book questions how we create, assume and sustain cultures and their associated values.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2000
If I weren't so obsessive about finishing books I've started, I would have given up after 50 pages. I can see what the author is trying to do, but I found the writing too contrived, too knowing, too clever by half. The characterswere cardboard and the humour forced. To be fair, I found the second half to be somewhat better than the first. Still, I guess it's back to Patricia Scanlan for me ...