9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
NO, I DON'T WANNA CRACKER,
This review is from: Flaubert's Parrot (Picador Books) (Paperback)
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.