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Cheer up! The end is near...,
This review is from: The Lemon Table (Paperback)
In this collection of short stories, age, aging and departing are considered from different angles, centred on individuals of a certain, mature, age, healthy or coping with physical or mental illness, and set against a wide range of geographical and cultural backgrounds. Creating expressive mini-portraits of his characters and their "dearest and nearest", Julian Barnes explores the deep and sometimes conflicting emotions of regret and defiance, love and nostalgia, past and present happiness, new, rekindled or now only in the mind of the central figure. Exquisitely crafted, and most of them sprinkled with a good portion of irony and humour, the stories will capture the readers attention, and very likely, given their diversity, one or the other will speak especially strongly.
Among the eleven stories, three were my definite favourites. "The Story of Mats Indridason", set in a different era in a remote part of Sweden, touches on the long standing romantic feelings of two individuals who each were waiting for the other to declare themselves. Eventually, reality of will force a less than happy resolution. Another, also a very gentle story of long lasting love, is "Revival", set in Russia. It has all the ingredients of a deeply romantic Russian novel in miniature. "Vigilance" on the other hand is one of the highly ironic stories that captures a man who, after many years of sharing the pleasures of listening to live concerts with his partner, now has to be by himself. Annoyed, he becomes increasingly irritated by the distracting noise by others around him and reacts with force... Barnes captures the character and the atmosphere with great skill and a large dose of irony. The last story, "Silence" has a very different touch and stands apart for me. A composer (likely based on Sibelius) has stopped writing - seeing the ultimate aim of music to become silence. While being constantly pestered by his colleagues and admirers to complete his eighth symphony, he withdraws to watching the cranes fly by... This is a much more reflective, philosophical story that touches on aging in a much different way from most of the other stories.
Other than in two, the weakest stories in my estimation, the central characters are male and the women mostly play a supporting or nagging role (the wives) or are the object of desires past or have remained in the emotional present. Barnes lightens up the mood by adding ironic twists or the odd comeuppances to the psychological ups and downs he evokes in his aging characters, all affected with the symptoms of a nearing end.
And what about the title? According to one of the stories, a lemon represents death in Chinese and often a lemon was placed in the hand of a recently departed. [Friederike Knabe]