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3.9 out of 5 stars31
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 10 November 2014
An intriguing novel both in structure and in plot but what stands out particularly is Julian Barnes' remarkable command of the writer's craft. Highly reccomended.
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Not until I came to the end did I check the publication dates of this novel and John Mortimer's Dunster. Barnes has it. Talking It Over dates from 1991 and Dunster from 1992. Whether there was any communication between the authors regarding their stories, or whether the muse visited them independently, I have no idea at all. If the latter, the resemblance between the plot-lines is nothing less than startling. Safe and slightly dull financial professional has a showy and erratic best friend. Dull professional marries well, and wife deserts him for erratic and showy best friend, whom she then marries. The second marriage fails, partly through Aristotelian hamartia of best friend. The b/f gets his deserved comeuppance, this providing some cold and partial consolation to the wronged dull professional.
Julian Barnes is talented in the extreme. Not only is the book as well written as those familiar with his other work would expect, the plot gives him the opportunity to parade some of his own prejudices regarding the proper use of English, these prejudices being of course voiced by the characters in the book and not directly by the author (as if we would be fooled). In fact it is the persons of the drama who talk from first page to last, never the author for himself, and it is not just the three protagonists but the minor supporting cast as well. This device is very cleverly and adroitly used, again as we would expect, but I myself am sometimes inclined to find Barnes just a little too smart for his own good or for my appreciation as a reader. The start of the book is completely brilliant, for example, with the two lonely-hearts falling for each other, and the talkative Oliver playing gooseberry. His own discomfiture at being in this position and the way he talks too much in compensation are ultra-perceptive observation by the author, and I have the strong impression that he knows that himself. How the story then develops until the ousted Stuart finally becomes the unwanted presence that brings Oliver's downfall about is clever, original and convincing, or clever and original at least.
The whole book shows a sharp eye for character and situations, and an even sharper ear for how some kinds of people talk when they are forced to come to terms with their real thoughts and motivations. What I found very successful was the way Barnes keeps his distance from his characters and ensures that they are really talking for themselves rather than for himself. Every incident and every situation in this book challenges us to be judgmental, but if any judging is going to be done the author makes sure that we are left doing it. His style is also light, graceful and in the last degree skilful, and you will get through the book's 270 or so pages before you think.
Very readable, very persuasive and I suppose very recommendable. I gave Dunster 5 stars when I reviewed that, so I have no other option here.
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on 28 May 2014
Couldn't put it down. Sad I've finished it. Love his books - such a brilliant writer. Can't wait to read another Julian Barnes.
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on 31 August 2000
Julian Barnes tells a story which starts from a very easy going scenario and evolves into a tragic love triangle. This story is told from the different (and not necessarily honest) perspectives of the individuals involved in the triangle, and it is amazing to see them analyse themselves and each other, change their point of views, and mutate slowly into completely different characters. A very good read!
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on 11 September 2000
Ths is a fascinating book and particularly so from thr point of view of the narrator / author / interviewer. The first part (short) is a retrospective look back over their lives so far, childhood, school, scrapes with bullies etc, meeting each other and the arrival of Gillian.
Stuart and Gill show the power of a narrator, of an author controlling the flow of information by trying to edit Gill's arrival on the scene by fiction, but life is not fiction and they find tha the forces of human nature are too strong or humans too weak and the story unravels once the weakness of the story is (albeit only obliquely) tested. Lesson 1, narration must be strong, Barnes is the strongest in his field.
But we have a real narrator whop plays a masterly game, allowing the characters to tell the story iun their own time using their own language. It's like listening to a more thoughtful radio 4 programme like "on the ropes" or even "in the psyciatrists chair" where a simple question can unlock a stream of thoughts and recollections. Some extremely vivid, as now we are telling the story in the present tense. When the actoprs show their anger one can really feel it, as if you could see them blowing their tops.
The great thing is that the narrator does not know, the characters do not know, so we certainly don't know what is going to happen. They are telling the story of what happened a few days ago, how on earth can they know how it will end? Lesson 2, life is bewildering, a book which wants to depict individuals caught in these circumstances must show this bewilderment as vididly as possible. The language evolves to suit this style, Oliver with his gorgeously pompous condescending sneer uses words to impress. The lesson is best seen through Oliver who can speak like Oscar Wilde but at times is reduced to muttering profanities and even that with difficulty, such is his state of mind.
It is a masterpiece of narration, the way lives can change in a short period of time, narrated in their own words, you can sense bewilderment at the state their in, they don't know what next. But the narrator sticks with them to find out. It's the reverse of something like Camus's the Outsider where at the end we know he wrote it all after tragic events. Everything can be seen, therefore, as leading up to the present day. Here we can look back but we have to work at what has been said to glean evidence of how present circumstances might have been predicted.
Julian Barnes writes like an angel and this book is his best. Better even than Martin Amis's book with similar themes and style, Success, which until now i had thought beyond compare.
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on 13 December 2012
A great fan of Julian Barnes and was.not disappointed by this booked. Loved his characterization. Each person's view of the same story was both funny, interesting and enlightening - so true to life. A good read.
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on 17 May 2012
I find Barnes so thoughtful and smart - but at the same time witty and fun to read. None of the three main characters here are particularly likeable. But they're all vivid and compelling and full of surprises.
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on 17 January 2013
Julian Barnes is very good at relationships and people
and the language is alive and vivid.
I could see here the seeds of The Sense of an Ending
which is truly fantastic.
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on 18 April 2000
The initial premise is misleadingly simple: take a classic love triangle and have the voices of the three protagonists recount their versions of it to an unseen interviewer - intercut them as in a film; tell the same incident from different perspectives or let each take up the narrative in turn; allow the occasional external commentator to speak and watch the reactions. Explore how each excuses, explains, contradicts and analyses what happened, trying to justify themselves, and watch how our perceptions of the characters change.
Stuart, the sensible optimist, middle of the road, unambitiously happy is by the end cynical, obsessive, unable to let go of the past or to disengage. From being a dull but worthy character at the start, by the end there is something repulsive and sinister about him.
By contrast, Oliver, venter of vertiginous prose pictures, charmer, entertainer, coward, hogger of the central stage, is by the end driven to violence towards the wife he stole from his best friend, fleeing a life in France where, with an undemanding job teaching English, a small garden and a baby he could, in a quiet way, have been happy.
The enigma is Gillian herself. At the outset an anti-heroine, not wanting to participate in the game of trying to explain all to the interviewer but dragged into it by the others, by the end she thought that she was in control,and deliberately drove and goaded Oliver to the edge of violence, knowing that in a house across the road, her ex-husband was watching.........
No-one is clear about their motivations for their actions, however hard they protest, or indeed what the result will be - each is out of control, even Gillian who does not really expect to be on the receiving end of a blow, and perhaps in the end, without either man.
A simple premise, but it is the execution that is impressive - in this case it is sustained, perceptive, entertaining, with a slightly voyeuristic feel to it. Well worth reading.
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on 29 March 2015
While very eloquently written, I had a slight feeling this was the author showing how clever he was to write a book in a different style.
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