4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Good middle section, shame about the bits on either side,
This review is from: Metroland (Paperback)Years ago I watched the film version starring Christian Bale and Emily Watson. It was a standard issue, mediocre, low budget British film with the standard issue low ambitions and too much interest in banal realism. A load of boring rubbish basically.
After having read a fair amount of the Julian Barnes back catalogue, I decided to at long last read his debut novel. Although novella is more accurate as it only took me four hours to read when the average is six hours.
I don't know a word of French, which renders a chunk of the book incomprehensible as a lot of untranslated words, phrases and quotes appear throughout the book. It's annoying.
Part one (pages 1 to 80) was okay in a, "it's not bad", sort of way. It deals with late adolescence as he tells us of his contempt for the comfortable, conformist life of the middle class working man with family. Nothing great is thought or done, but it's not a chore or anything to read.
Part two (pages 83 to 153) was good. Maybe even borderline very good. It deals with his time in Paris in 1968. He has his first and second love. It's interesting stuff.
Part three (pages 157 to 214) was a bit rubbish. It's about returning to England and joining the rank and file of conformist sheep going to work and raising families. It's a bit boring and lacking in anything to really hold your attention.
There is no conventional dramatic story with anything at stake during any of this.
I have to confess I skipped a chapter in part one, and skipped most of the end of part three. I am not someone who skips pages without very good reason. Those parts were deeply unpromising and I believe I missed nothing of vital, or even little, importance.
It's a decent book and very respectable for a debut. The novel has small ambitions for its small story. I can't imagine it still being in print after all these years if it wasn't for his other books making his whole back catalogue valuable, as it's too indifferent and overall irrelevant on its own merits.
I suppose what surprised me most was how anyone read this plotless novel and saw a movie in it? As far as I can remember the film diverges greatly from the novel, and had to create a new properly dramatised storyline from scratch as there wasn't one they could use from the book. The novel is better than the movie, but the film is rubbish anyway so it's not a fair fight between them.
My advice for the uncommitted is to get it out the library and read part two as a seventy page short story. Forget parts one and three as they're nothing to get excited about. You don't have to have read those to understand part two.
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Initial post: 21 May 2011 09:45:52 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 May 2011 12:09:27 BDT
BS on parade says:
My library copy of Metroland wasn't too popular as it only had two previous date stamps on it: bought 5/1/05, and the return dates were 5/1/06, 28/11/08 and my return date of 13/6/11.
I wrote the following book by book quick review about a year and a half ago:
Never read it but I saw the Christian Bale movie adaptation. The film was pretty poor and it didn't suggest the book was anything more than semi-competent. For some reason the Art Brut song "Modern Art" always makes me think of the art gallery opening of this book (I read the first few pages in a bookshop once).
Before She Met Me (1982)
His best book under his own name. Straight up enjoyable and unpretentious. Has an awful out of nowhere ending though to ruin the last four or so pages.*
Flaubert's Parrot (1984)
I started it, then gave it to charity as it was so ungripping. The bits I did read in the bookshop seemed good though.
Staring at the Sun (1986)
Terrible book. Feels like a series of writing exercises, spanning many years, that have been tied together into a plotless book. It just doesn't work. I have no idea how I finished it as it was monumental in its dullness. Can't imagine how he stayed awake to finish it when he wrote it.
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989)
Some of it's brilliant. Some of it's so-so. Very little of it's rubbish. The brilliant parts are of course too short (the hijacked cruise liner) and the so-so bits seem to go on too long (the astronaut trying to find Noah's Ark). A book that's well worth reading as it's pretentiously ambitious in a reader friendly way.**
Talking It Over (1991)
Decent book of no great merit. Easy to read as it's a written as monologues from three characters.
The Porcupine (1992)
Not read it. Doesn't look promising.
Cross Channel (1996) - stories
Not read it.
England, England (1998)
Pretty poor. Nothing really happens in it.
Love, etc (2000)
Talking It Over sequel. It was okay. I think the French made a film out of it.
Arthur & George (2005)
Not read it.
Detective books as Dan Kavanagh:
An immature mess without much of an ending. Not bad, but far from great.
Fiddle City (1981)
Good solid book.
Putting the Boot In (1985)
The solution to the Who Done It and Why? is easy to work out by the half way point. Okay overall.
Going to the Dogs (1987)
The best book Barnes wrote and the reason why I took an interest in him. It's a great country house murder story. I've re-read it about eight times."
* - Badly written murder tacked on at the end that comes out of nowhere. Like an episode of Friends that somehow ends with Ross murdering a love rival for Rachel.
** - I find that review funny to read now as I thought of it as a cohesive book. It's now clear to me that it was just a random collection of short stories with an amusing title.
Posted on 30 Nov 2012 23:28:10 GMT
Frank T says:
Sounds like you wanted a thriller. "Metroland" isn't meant to be exciting; it's a novel of ideas. Its theme is the process of growing up: the slow, disquieting realisation that we aren't as interesting or rebellious or individual as we liked to think when we were young.
Anyone who skips the start and the finish of the book will miss the whole point of it.
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