2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Barnes' finger is firmly on the pulse of humna emotions.,
This review is from: Pulse (Paperback)
This is the first collection of Julian Barnes' short stories that I have read, having previously enjoyed Arthur and George. This is an exceptionally enjoyable and diverse collection that frequently hits notes of beauty along the way.
Overall, these stories have a wide variety of starting points and settings, although there are recurring characters in the four "At Phil and Joanna" stories that are interleaved into the first half of the book. The "Phil and Joanna" stories follow the conversations of a group of friends attending dinner parties at a number of occasions. The speakers aren't identified, leaving the reader to work out whose voice is whose, and they have a realistic feel whilst also being very funny.
Whilst there humour to be found within the other stories, there is a sense of loneliness or loss running through a number of the stories. Whilst the story "Marriage Lines" focuses more explicitly on bereavement, it is often more subtly explored in the other stories. Barnes introduces us to a range of characters who have found themselves isolated either by through circumstances beyond them, or inadvertently of their own making. So, we are introduced to a pair of mid-list female novelists competing against each other but with no one to go home to in "Sleeping with John Updike"; we meet a rambler struggling to find a soul-mate in "Trespass"; "The Limner" is about a deaf portrait painter; and in "Harmony" features a pianist being treated for her loss of sight. My personal favourite was "Gardner's Questions", which focuses on a domestic tiff about what to do when a couple acquire a house with a garden for the first time. The characters are always well drawn, the narrators voice works well in each story and these are stories that are frequently moving.
Ultimately the stories are all well put together and it would be difficult to pick out a truly dud story, although I found "Carcassonne" and "Complicity" slightly less enjoyable than other stories. The stories in this volume don't end with a bang nor will get the readers' pulse racing - instead they are more low-key and successfully say much about human relationships and our own private worlds.