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3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 4 December 2000
For the adolescent Christopher, born of a middle class family in the middle class rural suburbs of the estate agents' and adman's conceptualised Metroland - defined after the First World War as the path travelled by the old Metropolitan railway line out from Baker Street to Watford, Chesham and Amersham - life is about big issues. He and his friend Toni are obsessed with the "purity of language, perfectibility of self, function of art" and Love, Truth and Authenticity. Always capitalised, and often according to the wisdom of such literary luminaries as Rimbaud and Flaubert.
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!
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on 15 July 2002
Metroland is a very intimate and enchanting novel written in the first person. The reader is drawn into Chris, the narrator's, world at the very outset and from that point on, we are taken on a journey through life, time and age.
We start out in the mind of a 16 year old boy, feeling all his hopes and ideals alongside him, sharing his philosophies and questions with his closest friends in a haven of teenage, mutual, intellectual exchange.
Then comes Paris, May '68. Chris has matured. We sense that he has begun to live, and has become increasingly uncertain of how the realities of life fit in with his childhood ideals.
As the work draw slowly to a close the narrator is experiencing "real" life to the full; the marriage, the mortgage and the child, and yet the need to question seems to have been appeased. We now sense his readiness to live life day by day, without too much forward-thinking. With age, he no longer really asks why things happen, he merely accepts.
The ageing process we feel in the novel is fascinating, in particular when we consider the relationship between the two childhood "best friends", Chris and Toni. As children they seem to parralel so closely, with similar beliefs and concerns, yet as time passes their priorities and goals move in conflicting directions. Chris adapted his ideals to reality. Toni, on the other hand, tried to live by his childhood ideals as an adult, torturing himself in the process in the hopes of being true to his past self and his broken dreams.
Some of us mature and develop and some are children forever ....who is happier?
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on 4 June 2012
I loved this. The voices are so immediately clear, and the early chapters about schoolboy obsessions and the smart-alecky things they do and say are really very entertaining. It's a slim volume, but no less weighty for it. Not sure why it's taken so long for me to get round to reading it, but I'm glad I have - and heartily recommend.
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This is a rather clever story of two very clever boys. The story line runs from confident (possibly even over-confident) school boys, though growing adulthood and eventually into the comforts of conformity for one and maintained range for the other.

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.
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on 18 June 2013
As an inhabitant of Metroland myself I thoroughly enjoyed this short book - definitelty recommend! Though the novel could be a little longer in order for the characters to be better developed it is nevertheless an interesting read.
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on 21 May 2011
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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on 6 May 2013
Metroland is a beautifully written book but it is now dated. It is about a young man becoming an adult; his youthful arrogance and his first loves.
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on 22 July 2011
I didn't expect too much of this first born of Barnes. But it surprised me al the way through. A little gem.
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on 12 December 2012
Barnes' book doesn't have great highs and lows, action or even much of a story, however it remains engaging and thought provoking throughout.

The humour, greasing the wheelis mostly gentle and warming with a few well placed crude jabs.

The real interest is in how the characters dilemmas make us think on love and life.
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on 26 July 2012
The narrator of this unremarkable tale is that special kind of obnoxious, conceited, intellectual who has come to the conclusion that he has something witty and insightful to say about life but he's wrong. The protagonist has no redeeming features and the storytelling is smug, uneventful and dull. I hated this piece of self-glorification from the first page and it just got worse.
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