15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Parrot of a Book
Without a doubt this is one of the best books I've ever read. It is stylish, engrossing, informative and, best of all, not too lengthy. I particularly like the way Barnes' oeuvre is such a multi-coloured parrot of a book itself: a diary, love story, collection of musings, essay on literary criticism, parody, and affectionate celebration of a great writer. This book has...
Published on 8 Jan 2009 by Amazon Customer
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Smorgasbord of thoughts served on an unappetising platter
This is a book which some notable authors praise (Graham Greene and John Fowles for example) but I did not enjoy due to its constant references to the reader especially about writing. For example Barnes writes: "The imagination doesn't crop annually like a reliable fruit tree. The writer has to gather whatever's there: sometimes too much, sometimes too little, sometimes...
Published on 24 Jan 2011 by Kiwifunlad
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Parrot of a Book,
Without a doubt this is one of the best books I've ever read. It is stylish, engrossing, informative and, best of all, not too lengthy. I particularly like the way Barnes' oeuvre is such a multi-coloured parrot of a book itself: a diary, love story, collection of musings, essay on literary criticism, parody, and affectionate celebration of a great writer. This book has already been highly acclaimed and has achieved great success commercially, so the wonder is why Barnes, or others for that matter, have not written more like it. Perhaps it has to do with traditional British mistrust of 'cleverness', manifested as disdain for dandified romanticism and sophisticated wit. The Barnes bird is not so shy about spreading its wings or displaying such plumage, which is what makes Flaubert's Parrot such a pleasure to read. Perhaps Barnes himself is Flaubert's parrot - he has the Gallic sensibility, and seems knows more about Flaubert than I would consider healthy in an Englishman.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great novel, or a great piece of lit crit?,
This review is from: Flaubert's Parrot (Picador thirty) (Paperback)
Barne's 'Flaubert's Parrot' does not strike one immediately as a conventional piece of literature. It seems to be more a fascinating work of literary criticism, held together by the journey of Barnes' narrator, who delves deeply into the life and works of his idol Flaubert. There are even several chapters that support this idea, such as the various chronologies of Flaubert's life, and, especially, the mock examination questions near the end of the book.
Yet, despite this analytical emphasis on Flaubert's works, it is really the French writer's personality that is analysed and interpreted here. It is this suggestive, fictive element that I found most fascinating - the way that Barnes tries to work out the essence of this complicated, brilliant man through his own character. It is as if, despite all the facts that one can gain from his books and letters, the truth is that all efforts to work out a writer's life is just like creating a work of fiction.
And that is exactly what Barnes does in this novel. A clever, witty, really enjoyable read.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maybe parrots cry, even stuffed ones,
This is an interesting book in the way it is structured especially with the play of so drastically varying the way the chapters were written.
Nonetheless, I am not sure that the frame of Mr.Braithwaite, the narrrator and doctor, around the biography of Flaubert, works. I had to keep going back to what his sad tale was which gets muddled between the suicide of his wife and the loner adulterous life of Flaubert. This became more like a prop rather than a person to enhance the analysis of Flaubert's life. On the other hand, the parrot dilemma brings the book full circle.
I was held though by how Barnes created a dialogue with this early 19th century author and felt frustrated that I was not more familiar with Flaubert's writing and modernist presence so ahead of his time.
As an aspiring writer, a second career, I noted many quote/phrases from Flaubert. Barnes must have done incredible research and the excitement was to be inside Flaubert's person through Barnes's interpretation. Perhaps this reader wanted to feel less intellectual and more in touch with the soul of Flaubert's life, to feel rather than read of 'his passions'. Perhaps Flaubert could not show his heart, though Barnes speaks of how crying came easily.
Maybe parrots cry, even stuffed ones.
Definitely a great read by an inventive author.
4.0 out of 5 stars flaubert's parrot,
I embarked on Flaubert's Parrot not having read any Flaubert. The back cover hinted that the narrator's own life is as much the topic of the book as the famous French writer, but until the end, there was very little about the narrator. We learn early on that he's a retired doctor called Geoffrey Braithwaite whose wife is dead, and that he has grown-up children. His obsession with Gustave Flaubert is evident, and the book is a trawl through Flaubert's life, with the narrator visiting Flaubert's home town,exploring Flaubert's family life (privileged, surgeon father, overbearing over-protective mother, beloved sister, many dead sibs), seeking out the stuffed parrot that Flaubert borrowed from a museum and that perched on his desk during the writing of one of his books(in fact, there are two parrots claiming that honour) and even staying in the hotel where Flaubert used to meet his lover, the poetess Louise Colet. Braithewaite's homage to his idol is interspersed with facts about Flaubert and extracts from his writing, mostly pithy aphorisms and sardonic comments. Many of these are irreverent, refreshing and witty enough to be of interest even to readers unfamiliar with Flaubert.
The reader gains real insight into Flaubert's personality - his refusal to compromise his independence by marrying or even living with his lover, his disregard for convention, his casual infidelity with men and women, his loyalty to friends, and even his playfulness, the latter depicted in an anecdote about how he marched a five-legged sheep through his ill friend's apartment to cheer him up (he failed - the sheep left little mirth and copious droppings in its wake).
It is only at the end that we find out more about Braithewaite and how, despite his admiration for Flaubert, his own emotional life could not have been more different from his hero's flamboyant promiscuity and inability to commit.
Although the facts about Flaubert are interesting and his cynical, witty condemnations of the bourgeois fun to read, I found myself wanting to hear more of Braithewaite's life - after all, I had chosen to read a novel by Julian Barnes, not a biography of Gustave Flaubert. The parts of the novel dealing with Braithewaite show such potential for Barnes's sparkling wit and trenchant ability to tell a tale that I felt disappointed that they were so few. One of the most entertaining scenes is the one where Braithewaite receives notification from an acquaintance, Ed Winterton, that Winterton has some material that might interest Braithewaite about a woman called Juliet Herbert, who acted as governess for Flaubert's beloved neice. There is some discussion in academic circles about whether Flaubert and Herbert were lovers, and Braithewaite is almost apopoleptic with excitement, planning the papers he can write on Flaubert's relationship with Herbert. The lunch over which Winterton and Braithewaite meet to discuss Winterton's findings - a cache of letters between the two - is an understated comic masterpiece. Braithewaite's quiet seething through gnashing teeth is a wonderful study of the riled Englishman, as sharply droll a caricature of a repressed, neurotic, unreasonably furious Englishman as William Boyd's loveable protagonists in A Good Man in Africa and Stars and Bars. Barnes could have created copious copy from the rich mines of his protagonist's character, but chooses not to spin more such gems from his raw material. Without giving anything away about the conversation over that lunch, here is Braithewaite's uncharitable thought before meeting the low key American academic Winterton:
'Had Ed really discovered some Juliet Herbert material? I admit I began to feel possessive in advance. I imagined myself presenting it in one of the more important literary journals; perhaps I might let the TLS have it. 'Juliet Herbert: A Mystery Solved, by Geoffrey Braithewaite', illustrated with one of those photographs in which you can't quite read the handwriting. I also began to worry at the thought of Ed blurting out his discovery on campus and guilelessly yielding up his cache to some ambitious Gallicist with an astronaut's haircut'. As with much comic genius, the hilarity is in the detail - the horror of being pipped to the literary post by the clean-cut blandness of a pudding bowl shorn American hunk.
Elsewhere, Barnes's known affection for France comes to the fore in Braithewaite's eulogy to the country. Like Boyd in Bamboo, Barnes lists random facts about the culture of his adopted country which make its scents, tastes and smells come alive.
All in all, Flaubert's Parrot is an interesting stroll through the life of a great French writer folded into intriguing glints into the life of a fictional character. The promising sparks of the latter could have been ignited into an explosive blaze of a novel.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DEAD PARROTS SOCIETY,
What I always keep in mind about Flaubert is that Raymond Chandler admired him. From my own distant recollections of Flaubert, I'd guess that what appealed to such a craftsman as Chandler was the workmanship - in both authors one has a similar sense that every sentence and indeed every word has been worked on with minute precision. On the other hand, Chandler was scathing about pretentiousness and affectation too. I never managed to finish anything by Flaubert because I found him a bit too literary in an offputting sense, and this was no doubt not his fault but mine. However I have to say that when it comes to Julian Barnes this is now the third novel of his that I have read, and for all his outstanding gifts he is beginning to get on my nerves slightly.
There is something rather preening and self-regarding about Barnes, I find. I don't deny him creative originality for a moment, but that comes across to me as being secondary to a wish to exercise and display his accomplishment as a writer. The way this book is put together is undeniably effective. Flaubert has a Dr Bovary , and Dr Bovary has a wife Emma who is unfaithful and kills herself. Barnes has a Dr Braithwaite who has a wife Ellen who was unfaithful and killed herself. Some combination of Dr Braithwaite and Mr Barnes (very skilfully alternated) research Flaubert's life, hanging their researches, cleverly but rather artificially, around the identification of a parrot called Loulou belonging to Flaubert's housekeeper. The significance of the parrot, I'd say, is principally to provide a good eye-catching title for the book rather than anything more essential. Dr Braithwaite is very lacklustre as a personality, and while I'm sure that was deliberate on the author's part I'm equally certain he thought his denouement was more effective and less predictable than I have just found it to be.
The way this kind of book takes me is that I find the factual material a lot more involving than the `human interest'. So far as I can tell, the research seems to have been meticulous, and I always like to see popular and superficial misconceptions put right. All the same, I could have done with less self-congratulation from Barnes and in particular with less sense of pettiness in the points he scores. Poor old Enid Starkey! I dare say she annoyed him and for all I know she might have annoyed me too, but the triumphs Barnes awards himself are not really very important. If Barnes wants to be as nitpicking as this I may as well point out to him that `ipsophagy' is a dreadful mixture of Latin and Greek roots, and if he wanted to coin such a term it ought to have been `hautophagy'.
Obviously, reactions of this kind are subjective on my part, but this is literature and I don't see any way round that. The author's personality as he projects it is not entirely a sympathetic one to me for the reasons I've attempted to explain, but other readers will doubtless react differently. What seems to me a lot less subjective is the sheer quality of what Barnes does. The man is a master and no two ways about that, I'm happy to agree. The book is all over in less than 200 pages anyway, and it is instructive as well as highly readable. Whether it has fired me up to read more by Julian Barnes is maybe doubtful, but it might just get me to have another go at Flaubert.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book,
By A Customer
Part novel, part literary criticism, this delightful book presents an fascinating portrait of the life, art and aspirations of Gustave Flaubert. Intermingled with Flaubert's story, is that of the narrator, a retired doctor living in the wake of his wife's suicide. The narrator attempts to make sense of a world that is not entirely with reason or definite shape: his wife, though a good woman, was also an adulteress who was never fully happy with her marriage - although you couldn't necessarily say she was unhappy either. Throughout the novel, it is uncertain why the narrator is so interested in Flaubert. How does this obsession tie into the story of his dead wife? Why does a doctor have such an active interest in a dead author? As the narrator tries to make sense of Flaubert life - a process which he compares to the act of making a fishing net, where one is essentially tying together a bunch of holes - if not sense, than a certain type of understanding begins to unwind. The resolution of the book is ambiguous, although given the subject matter and spirit of the book, this is a good thing. Also within, you'll find one of the best university exams ever written. The book is worth reading for that chapter alone!
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Smorgasbord of thoughts served on an unappetising platter,
This review is from: Flaubert's Parrot (Paperback)
This is a book which some notable authors praise (Graham Greene and John Fowles for example) but I did not enjoy due to its constant references to the reader especially about writing. For example Barnes writes: "The imagination doesn't crop annually like a reliable fruit tree. The writer has to gather whatever's there: sometimes too much, sometimes too little, sometimes nothing at all." The result was a smorgasbord of thoughts and ideas often bland and unpalatable. True, there were scattered within some wonderful snippets such as Barnes' rant about the late Dr Enid Starkie, Reader Emeritus in French Literature at the University of Oxford. It was when Barnes wrote about Flaubert's character and life that the novel picked up but when the narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, came to the fore, ennui set in. Barnes had obviously done considerable research into Flaubert's life but if you are looking for an enjoyable literary read, I suggest read Madame Bovary and leave Flaubert's Parrot on the shelf.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review of Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes is a book I have had queuing up to read for some time. I don't know why I have never got round to reading it. Perhaps it's because of the overtly "literary" tag that was attached to it when it was short-listed for the Booker Prize. I am not against "literary" fiction. Far from it: indeed I aspire to write it, after a fashion. My avoidance of Flaubert's Parrot was never conscious, but was probably a result of thinking that I knew what to expect - word play, experimentation with form, biography, dissection of the writer's role, relationship between art and life, in fact all the mundane things that your average novelist has for breakfast. The less than average ones, by the way, always have corn flakes. It is their convention. Having just finished the book, I can declare that I found all I expected and much, much, much more.
Julian Barnes has his character, a doctor called Geoffrey Braithwaite, consider various literary ideas. One, which only really applies to writing prose fiction, is the relation between form and content. Most novels, certainly most pulp fiction, never address this, since the authors usually present apparently literal material merely literally or, perhaps even more commonly, fantastical material literally. Generally within some recognisable genre, these offerings tend to preoccupy themselves with simple narration. In effect, most novels are presented in pictorial form, like a comic strip running a frame at a time through the author's mind, with only minimally extended commentary. Their presentation is invariably linear, with the writer's aim to spoon-feed the reader with bite-sized chinks of easily digestible plot in a context aimed at simplifying the experience.
Flaubert's Parrot is the polar opposite of this. The only plot is Flaubert's life, both physical and intellectual, alongside that of his enthusiastic intended biographer, the doctor, Geoffrey. Geoffrey's research, notes, speculations and musings provide the book's utterly original form. Since the adultery of Flaubert's fictional Madam Bovary provided the scandal that created his fame, evidence of his attitudes towards women and sex in his own life provides a fascinating backdrop against which we can assess the author's motives and desires. The death and revealed adultery of the narrator's own wife provides motive for his obsession with Flaubert and his femme fatale, and, quite unexpectedly, this culminates in a truly moving moment of emotional empathy that the author, Barnes, not Flaubert, not the narrator, evokes in his reader.
This emotional intensity developed as a real surprise towards the end of the book. Through it, Julian Barnes achieves a perfect marriage of form and content, the finest I have ever encountered. No matter how much we analyse the creative process, it is our emotional lives that provide the stuff of art. The writer moulds it, contextualises it, formalises it, but eventually the rawness of the experience, the chasm of bereavement, the hollow of betrayal, the consonance of love that makes us laugh or weep as we read, and Julian Barnes provokes both responses in this beautiful book.
There are some stunning moments of virtuosity. There are, for instance, three concatenated chronologies of Flaubert's life - an encyclopedia of success, a record of failure and a personal diary. This is a masterstroke, effectively answering the rhetorical question of why we remain interested in the author, even when we consider a work as iconic as Madame Bovary. The narrator's dissection of "correctness" in fiction is utterly poignant, especially so when we cannot even agree on the detail of reality. And so what if the writer decides to change things around? Isn't it supposed to be fiction?
But the enduring memory of Flaubert's Parrot is that masterstroke of marrying motives via Falubert's real life, whatever that was, the imagined world of his femme fatale and the apparently real life of Geoffrey Braithwaite, with its own experience of adultery and bereavement. And then, of course, we have Geoffrey's obsession with Flaubert, through which we reflect on the ideas of the self and its selfishness. Stunningly beautiful.
And the parrot? Probably a fake. Or perhaps just faked. Or then again....
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars NO, I DON'T WANNA CRACKER,
In 1876, writing his last completed novel, Flaubert borrows a stuffed parrot from the Museum of Rouen to grace his desk. The parrot figures in "A Simple Heart," but its glowering presence soon irritates him and he sends it back. Today, there are two stuffed parrots in Rouen, each claimed to be the one. So begins Julian Barnes' extended riff on his favorite French author. The very promising spine of this narrative is a detective story about undiscovered letters between Flaubert and his English mistress, involving a Pnin-like academic worthy of Nabokov. But Barnes drops this ball after only two brief segments, and for the rest of his book offers a miscellany for Flaubert buffs: trivia, chronologies, riffs on obscure text points--the content of any famous-author website. In the end, as with the parrot, this reader said: so what? The result is anemic and precious, not compelling or illuminating, and has been greatly over-praised.
For a better sense of Barnes' caliber within this new collage genre, compare it with "Was" by Geoff Ryman, a lesser-known masterpiece from 1992. Like Barnes, Ryman riffs on a famous author and his work (Frank Baum and the Oz books) but instead of Barnes' lazy doodling, Ryman offers a stunning multi-strand tapestry filled with cinematic drama and complex characters, a book that really takes off, not once but repeatedly. In Barnes, a wan little smoke signal rises above Oxbridge; in Ryman, a fictive tornado sweeps us away.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A clever, funny and readable account of a human life,
By A Customer
Julian Barnes is a wonderfully flattering writer and this book is no exception. I had never read any Flaubert and in this book he was able to create a real desire to explore everything he had written. The story centres around a retired doctor and obsessive Flaubert fan who trawls through the life of the writer as though through an antique shop. In the process he unearths treasures not only about Flaubert but about the whole human condition. At the start of the book the character (and above all its glaring flaws)of the doctor and his own tragic history are muffled by the wealth of curioities we discover about Flaubert - slowly the narrators life grip our interest more and more and Barnes manages to drip feed just enough information to keep the reader fascinated. By turns funny and painful this is a truly wonderful book
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Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes