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Metroland (Picador Books) Mass Market Paperback – 18 Mar 2005
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"Barnes writes like a dream." --Village Voice Literary Supplement
Paris, spring 1968. Christopher is fully occupied revelling in first lust. Just a short Métro ride away from les événements, as Toni never ceases to remind him. Winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
This is a very familiar story line and most people of my age - teenaged when university did not burden you with debt for life, and "youth" were expected to rebel - will find people and things they recognize.
While I can understand why this book is so highly regarded, one thing about it did really annoy me. The characters in the books use French phrases to talk to each other - secret codes that distance them from, or in their minds elevate them above, the masses.
Unfortunately the use of the French phrases in the book does the same thing to the reader - well it did I for me at least. While the meaning of some of the phrases can be deduced from how they are used, some cannot. As such, the joke remains on me, the poor dolt in 9C who never mastered French.
Did I enjoy the book? - well, yes I did.
Would I recommend the book - yes I would, but if your French is as limited as mine, you may find it just a wee bit annoying.
Christopher's transition into adulthood is undertaken in a different Metroland - Paris in 1968. Whilst the student riots rage not far away, Christopher is too busy finding out about the realities of love, truth and authenticity to become involved. Such realities ultimately lead him back to his own childhood metroland again. But now he sees it and life through different eyes.
Barnes paints a rich picture in the reader's imagination, and his use of language is poetic, descriptive and colloquial in turn. To enjoy this, you first have to overcome a sneaking suspicion that you are not quite clever enough to read it. This was compounded (on my part anyway) by having only a smattering knowledge of French and a complete ignorance of most of the authors, playwrights, philosophers and artists dropped into the narrative like so many starlets at a Hello! party.
However, once you've determined not to let this deter you, the novel blossoms into a funny and realistic recollection of the ideals, presumptions and pretensions of one's teenage years, and the recognition that in the end life is often rather more straightforward and mundane than you thought it would be.
Having become engrossed in the novel, I personally found the ending a bit of an anticlimax, but arguably this could be one of the messages of the novel itself. It is not as sophisticated as 'England, England', the only other Barnes novel that I've read, but confirms his importance to modern British writing. Not bad for a first novel either!
In the first section, when the boys are at school, the structure of the sentences and the pace of the novel, mirrored the sporadic and constantly evolving views of youth. The pace subtly slows as the novel progresses, again reflecting how we tend to settle down and fall into a routine as we age.
I think every reader will relate to that grandiose belief, which permeates your youth, that as soon as you become an adult everything will fall into place and suddenly make sense. I distinctly remember having conversations when I was at school about how my life would be "when I am an adult". I am 33 now, so it's safe to say I have crossed the threshold to adulthood but in my head, I am still 19.
"Adult, yes...I conclude I must be...why haven't I spotted some signal changing to green, some notice being held up from the pits, some celestial nod (not too public) letting me know I'm there?"
Another of my favourite topics in the book relates to how the suburban towns were formed. When people are house hunting today, it is so common to think in terms of the commute, however the simplicity with which Barnes sums this up is actually a view I had overlooked!
"...a thin corridor of land opened up with no geographical or ideological unity: you lived there because it was an easy area to get out of".
Whilst the early part of the book was set in the sixties, the comments made regarding the Tube were still observable today as I sat on the District Line to work reading the book.
"The pinstripes and chalk stripes always forced themselves to get their favourite place without appearing to care where they sat..."
I would not describe this as a 'coming of age' novel, which I assumed it would be from the synopsis. Instead I would say it is a realistic and humourous account of the experiences we all have on the path to adulthood.
As you can probably tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and devoured it in a day! This will be the first of many that I read by Julian Barnes!
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Comments: "Some funny and insightful moments, but mostly quite dull and pretentious characters droning on about nothing much" "Funny in parts, quite...Read more