Top positive review
27 people found this helpful
Life and love in the suburbs
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!