13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Julian Barnes's incisive study of a love triangle
In Talking It Over, published in 1991, Julian Barnes introduced us to Gillian, Stuart and Oliver, and then put his characters in front of us one at a time. Not just to narrate events as they occurred, but to speak directly to us. In Love, etc. we revisit the trio. Ten years has passed for them as well, and although they're older and at least two of them have gained...
Published on 29 Sep 2000 by firstname.lastname@example.org
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars treading water - disappointing Barnes
Julian Barnes is capable of writing great novels. Staring at the Sun; and Flaubert's Parrot are both excellent - the latter particularly representative of the best of Barnes's writing style. This style is similar in some ways to the later novels of Milan Kundera, where plot and character study are secondary to the ideas that are explored in various digressions. (Although...
Published on 8 Jan 2004 by Mr. Scott Wortley
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Julian Barnes's incisive study of a love triangle,
In Talking It Over, published in 1991, Julian Barnes introduced us to Gillian, Stuart and Oliver, and then put his characters in front of us one at a time. Not just to narrate events as they occurred, but to speak directly to us. In Love, etc. we revisit the trio. Ten years has passed for them as well, and although they're older and at least two of them have gained weight, their emotional relationships remain as complicated as ever.
The book retains the technique of out-to-camera narration, lending an intimacy to the story that makes us relate it to our real lives. Gillian doesn't just complain about her unsatisfactory sex life, she asks us how it compares to our own. Each event generates multiple points of view; not just from the central three characters, but peripheral figures like Gillian's daughter Sophie, or Mrs Dyer, the old woman across the road. There is no objective record of events; Barnes's message is that we shape our history according to how we see ourselves, even as those around us are forming radically different perceptions.
Overall the book feels a lot darker than Talking It Over. The characters, now in their forties, show no sign of having learnt from the upheavals of ten years ago. There are more rough edges than the last time round. Julian Barnes shows once again that he is a fine novelist with a great talent for dissecting complicated emotions.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars treading water - disappointing Barnes,
Julian Barnes is capable of writing great novels. Staring at the Sun; and Flaubert's Parrot are both excellent - the latter particularly representative of the best of Barnes's writing style. This style is similar in some ways to the later novels of Milan Kundera, where plot and character study are secondary to the ideas that are explored in various digressions. (Although at his best Barnes has a sympathy for character - especially female characters - that Kundera either does not achieve or is not interested in). Indeed, in a recent collection of critical essays James Wood suggested that Barnes is more of an essay writer than a novelist, and this can be seen especially in Flaubert's Parrot and A History of the world in 10 1/2 chapters.
Given the high standards of the best of Barnes's fiction his readership have certain expectations that if not met lead to great disappointment. Julian Barnes' previous novel, England, England was one such disappointment. A heavy handed satire, toying with notions of nationality and nationhood, it somehow found its way onto the Booker Prize shortlist (perhaps saying more about the paucity of modern British fiction and the quality of the judging panel than the quality of the novel). It is disappointing to note that the novel under review, Love etc, is not a return to form.
Love etc is a belated sequel to Talking it over (1991), and was the name of a French film adapted from Talking it over in 1997. Talking it over itself seemed to stem from the half chapter in a History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters - an essay on the meaning of love. Taliking it over had three principal characters, Stuart - the quiet boring one; Oliver - the flamboyant pretentious one; and Gillian - the sensible one. The three characters were caught in a love triangle. The plot seemed to echo that enjoyed so often by new wave French cinema. The novelty of Barnes approach was that each character took it in turns to address the reader. The novel was an exercise in perspective and unreliable narration (some years after Martin Amis's similar Success).
Love etc. adopts the same approach. There are the three central characters picking up where Talking it Over left of. They are ten years older, little wiser. Stuart is still relatively boring, has somehow managed to make a lot of money in the US, has remarried and separated, and keeps something nasty in his wallet; Oliver is a waster, still pretentious, still in love with Gillian; and Gillian is still relatively sensible. There is a greater role in this novel for Gillian's mother, whose gnostic words of wisdom litter the novel like Confuscian thought. The characters also still directly address the reader.
There are advantages in this approach. When done well the character's approach to the reader is not mediated through an ominscient authorial voice. When done well, the reader is shown how the same event can be viewed in many different ways by different observers. However, where the stylistic device gave Talking it over its novelty, grates here. We've seen it done before and the process feels like an exercise in ventriloquism. The characters all seem like different facets of one character, rther than distinct personae. The characters are too alike, their individuality based on stylistic quirks (Oliver uses big words; Stuart is banal), rather than any particular revelations of character.
Barnes gives the novel a "shock" ending which while handled sensitively seemed like an attempt to give the novel an issue to deal with rather than a necessary action of the characters.
This novel is disappointing, and this review has picked out what for this reviewer were weaknesses. Saying that, what is disappointing for Barnes is still a level above most contemporary English literary fiction.
The novel is very readable. It has a wry wit; and raises interesting observations and questions on the nature of love. However, I think, ultimately, that the novel fails.
This novel can be read without having read Talking it over, but the characters have more depth if Love etc is read after Talking it over.
If you want to try a Barnes novel I suggest Flaubert's Parrot or Staring at the sun. If you enjoy Love etc, try Alain de Botton's Essays in Love, or - in a very different style - Ivan Klima's Love and Garbage.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Creatively daring.,
In this inventive and unconventional narrative, Barnes turns the old fiction-writing maxim, "Don't tell about something, recreate it," on its head, choosing not to recreate anything at all. Instead, his three main characters address the reader in soliloquies, each telling his version of events that have happened in the past and leaving it up to the reader to decide what really happened.
Stuart, stodgy and predictable, was briefly married to Gillian before dashing Oliver stole her away. Ten years have passed, Stuart has remarried, divorced, become financially successful in the U.S., and returned to England. Oliver and Gillian are still married, the parents of two daughters. As their lives once again intertwine, many of the old tensions revive, along with some new tensions, the result of the characters' changes in ten years.
Barnes's characters are vivid, and their speeches to the audience are both dramatic and real. One can easily see how the various characters would interpret events differently, and that aspect of the book is fun to read. There are numerous disadvantages to Barnes's approach, however. The characters are independent of the reader, isolated not only from the reader but from each other, and they feel like actors on a stage who have not invited anyone in to share their lives. The reader's role becomes that of an observer or a judge, deciding not only what happened but what will happen in the future. Readers looking for an unusual narrative will find this book fascinating and carefully constructed, though perhaps a bit slow. Mary Whipple
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Different voices, different love stories.,
Since the publication of *Flaubert's Parrot* in 1984, when he was first recognised widely as a major contemporary English author, Julian Barnes has had a reputation as an author of 'novels of ideas.' This was reinforced by his meditation on history, *A History of The World in 10 ½ Chapters.* His latest novel is primarily about the ideas we have about love.
In *Love, Etc.*, the sequel to *Talking It Over* (1991), three characters involved in a love triangle take turns, uninterrupted by a narrator, to tell their versions of events. New readers will find it no handicap not to have read *Talking It Over*; others will be pleased to catch up with the characters.
We find Stuart making contact again with his former best friend Oliver, the man who married Stuart's former wife, Gillian, months after falling in love with her on Stuart and Gillian's wedding day. 'Well, I've changed', announces Stuart. A successful businessman now, he sets about 'rescuing' the couple by employing Oliver and renting the couple and their daughters his and Gillian's old marital home. Gillian, now a 'coper' ('quality time - there's always another load of washing up'), reluctantly accepts Stuart's ostensible kindness. A picture restorer, she is the breadwinner, and looks after not only her two children but also Oliver, who suffers a hopeless depression after beginning to doubt her loyalty.
Oliver, despising the seriousness of the novel's other voices, takes pleasure in alluding to Shakespeare, Byron and The Song of Roland (amongst other texts). He delights in favourite phrases ('Une etre sans raisonable raison d'etre) and favourite words('picayune', 'sempiternal'). 'Someone round here must represent the ludic and the abstract,' he says. Clever, pretentious, amusing and finally pathetic, he is brilliantly drawn and Barnes clearly has more interest in him than the rather pedestrian Gillian.
Despite Oliver's thought that Stuart might support one of his unfulfilled artistic 'projects' the plot moves towards Stuart's revenge on the 'wife-stealer' and his attempt to regain Gillian. Stuart presents himself as strident, reliable and realistic. At first he might seem the dullard that Oliver claims he is, but he is as difficult to pin down as his former best friend.
As events move towards disaster, the characters views of love change. Oliver, having long believed that love comes first, everything else in life being an 'Etc.', comes to see 'The sad truth' that relationships 'are about power.' For Stuart, 'First love is the only love', but after having taken his revenge he begins to doubt his love for Gillian. For Gillian, love is largely about managing a gone-stale marriage; yet after Stuart has taken his revenge she sees whether or not he still loves her as 'the key question'.
The final chapter is entitled 'What Do You Think?' Despite the reader's desire for certainty and the characters' attempts to charm and cajole him into accepting partial versions of events, one can only conclude that the truth simply doesn't exist. We are left just with different people's different stories.
As with *A History*, it is likely that readers will differ widely in their interpretations of what Barnes is up to. This is a book to read and enjoy, to lend to others and to argue about. Barnes has written something that will simultaneously delight readers and prompt them to consider anew the nature of love and the importance of stories in the construction of reality.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REVERSION,
This is now the fourth novel I've read from Julian Barnes, shortly after I had decided that three was enough. There is no doubt about it, Barnes is quite exceptionally gifted, as a novelist, as a writer and as a virtuoso with the English language. What tends to get up my nose is the self-admiring sense that I get from him. He is a bit of a smartyboots not to say a cleverclogs, and there is always a distinct feeling of exhibitionism about his manner.
This book is a sequel to his Talking It Over. The main characters are the same, and the formula is the same. The story is entirely told by the characters in their own personae. In particular the ineffectual Oliver is still at it as before, chattering his gilded futile chatter, and I can't escape the impression that Mr Barnes was unable to resist the temptation to show us again just how adept he is in capturing the idiom. As well as an acute ear, Barnes has an acute and observant eye for how people behave and how they think and feel, and I find the characterisation extremely convincing, both within this story just taken by itself and in how the actors have changed and developed over the ten years that have intervened since Talking It Over. The blurb on the back cover describes Love, etc as 'darker and deeper than its predecessor', but I don't think I really agree. Certainly some of the motivations and the some of the incidents in Love, Etc are not very pretty or nice, but the same could have been said about Talking It Over, and the author's preening self-preoccupation actually does a great deal to lighten any darkness in the story here. It is very readable and involving, I found, and if anything even better than the story that provides its starting-off point. In particular the ending, with Stuart and Gillian each wondering whether the other 'loves' them has a great ring of truth about it for me. What exactly might it be, this 'loving', and how exactly would they tell? The heir to the British throne famously distressed his young bride many years ago by talking in public about 'falling in love, whatever that is'. That may have been crass, it may have been inept, but surely it made sense.
To get the best out of Love, Etc I'd say that you really need to have read Talking It Over first. That will introduce the characters to you and explain in proper depth what happened ten years and more earlier and where they are all coming from in this new episode. Neither book is long, and this particular edition makes this book look bigger than it is with its large print. What fills me with mixed feelings is the ending here, with some distinctly important and dangerous issues left unresolved, and the main characters in different ways in peril of the ruination of their lives. It is all crying out for a further sequel, and I'm not sure how I look forward to the prospect of that, although foreboding is definitely a strong element in what I feel. I hope he doesn't do it, because something tells me strongly that if he does it will be a sequel too far. However if he does turn out such a sequel I'm pretty sure that I for one will be reading it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Loving Love etc.,,
This review is from: Love, Etc (Paperback)
This is one of those books that sort of creeps up on you. I wasn’t sure of the style to begin with. Written as a series of internal monologues there is no real story, the reader is simply given an insight on each protagonist’s reactions to a situation which develops throughout the book. After the first two chapters though I was hooked and could scarcely put it down. It is acutely observed, beautifully written. It made me think about love, marriage and relationships in a way I never have before.
The book is, in fact, a sequel to “Talking It Over”, (which I haven’t read) but the “story”, such as it is, stands alone. We have three main protagonists: Gillian, Oliver and Stuart. In the prequel Gillian and Stuart were married until his best friend Oliver “stole her away.”
The story begins ten years later when Stuart unexpectedly re-enters the lives of Gillian and Oliver. In the intervening period he has re-married and divorced, due to his second wife’s insecurity over Gillian. In every other way, though, he has been more successful than Oliver: he runs a profitable business, drives a better car, looks fitter and younger. Oliver and Gillian’s marriage has produced two children but is “comfortable” rather than happy.
Amongst other voices we hear are Stuart’s second wife, Gillian’s mother and Gillian’s assistant Ellie.
I won’t spoil it by telling you how the situation develops, but I will say there were a few implausibilities, like the way Oliver readily accepts Stuart’s offer of a job in his firm.
The book reminded me of a French film: a slice of life with no real beginning and no ending, the reader left to wonder for themselves how it might evolve. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know.
Although I like books about relationships It’s not the sort I would normally choose to read. I prefer more of a story. The only reason I read it all was because my daughter left it behind when she had been to stay one weekend. I would definitely recommend it though, and plan to read the prequel as soon as possible.
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing,
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This review is from: Love, Etc. (Hardcover)
I had not bargained for this. First American edition, hard cover with special edge cuttings.
I will keep it in my library and won't part with it.
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining sequel,
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Love etc is JB's follow-up to Talking It Over - the blackly comic love-triangle tale of the bizarre lives of Gillian, Stuart and Oliver (plus a a few others). The fly-on-the-wall docu-interviews wear a bit thin in this second book but the bleak pscho rom-com has intellectual Tom Sharpe credentials. Barnes's prose is always crisp and entertaining and, despite flogging the same format, his insights in the human condition remain oddly compelling.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable, very enjoyable and very good.,
This review is from: Love, Etc (Kindle Edition)
"Love, etc" revisits and updates us on the lives of the characters that Julian Barnes created and introduced us to in his 1991 book "Talking it over" (see review). The current book was published in 2000 and shows us where Oliver, Stuart and Gillian are 10 years later and how they have survived the major relationship crises of 1991. And it looks at how they have changed and developed, and we are reminded that we, the readers, have changed and developed during that 10 year period too, which would certainly be true if the reader had read the books chronologically and when first published. This was not the case for me as I read "Love, etc" immediately after "Talking it Over" , having bought both books together. And I'm glad I did that because the characters and the story were naturally totally fresh and alive in my mind. So, to anyone who has not read "Talking it Over" my advice is to read it first and then straight on to "Love, etc". You have a treat in store, as these are two wonderful books and this one, the sequel, I found even better in many ways.
Just to recap, the format is as it was in "Talking it Over", viz ; alternate voices relating the events as each individual sees them. For instance, there is a paragraph headed .....STUART: in which Stuart gives his account of what is happening. This is followed by a paragraph headed....OLIVER: in which Oliver gives his version of the same events; then it's Gillian's turn, then Stuart again ..and on it goes. In this book there are more voices added including, ex-wife, girlfriend, mother-in-law, doctor, children and others.As before, each character becomes very real to us and talks straight to the reader as if it were a real conversation. The same events often are seen totally differently as related to us by the characters involved - just like in real life, there are always many, many versions of the truth, it depends on one's point of view.
This book goes deeper and darker than the first one and although it continues in a generally witty and compellingly readable style, at times it is very serious in the issues that it raises, in the questions that it asks and in the answers that the various characters suggest.
I thoroughly recommend "Love etc", and the prequel, as being the works of a first class writer dealing with serious issues in a very engaging way.
5.0 out of 5 stars Love, etc by Julian Barnes - deeply observant and moving too,
It's hard to imagine a more perfect marriage of form and content than Love, etc, in which Julian Barnes continues the story of characters that came to life in Talking It Over. If, however, this marriage is fine, then equally the marriage of Gillian and Oliver is not. And neither, for that matter, was the previous one that temporarily joined Gillian and Stuart.
Julian Barnes tells the story of this love triangle entirely in the first person. Gillian, Oliver and Stuart appear like talking heads on a screen to relate their own side of things. Since we left them at the end of Talking It Over, Stuart has moved to the States, where he has become a successful businessman and has found a new partner. Oliver, meanwhile, having won the hand of fair Gillian, has started his family but has fallen on hard times, an experience he seems to regard merely as a passing phase, except that it's clearly not a phase and neither does it pass. Re-enter Stuart, and thus the situation progresses.
Occasionally, especially when the principal actors mention them, minor characters appear to have their often substantial say. There is an ex, a new girlfriend, an occasional mother. Also, the children have their say, their naiveté as confused as it is innocent, their vagueness inherited, perhaps, from their personal environment.
And so a story unfolds. Oliver is as full of theatre and bravura as he was throughout Talking It Over, but now it rings more of a bluff, a screen erected for self-protection rather than an extrovert's sheen. Unemployment and illness seem to have exhausted him. Stuart, having made his fortune, is on an up and begins to reassert his desire to occupy the position he has always coveted, the space by Gillian's side.
There are surprises in store, surprises for the characters and for the reader. But what Julian Barnes communicates with such subtlety, skill and ease are the inconsistencies of human character, the incongruities of events, the contradictions and deceptions of behaviour, and the illusions these confusions create. These people all act primarily out of self-interest. But then who doesn't? That's the point. And thus the process takes all of us to places we have all been, but have often failed to notice or acknowledge, even if we have admitted and recognised our motives, which most of us have not. Love, etc is a brilliant book, brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed with a lightness of touch that leaves us wholly surprised when we encounter a fundamentally serious point. The plot? Who cares?
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Love, Etc by Julian Barnes (Paperback - 6 Aug 2009)