Dan Sandman

#18 Flaubert’s Parrot

In Books, Fiction on 28/04/2017 at 12:00 pm

#18 Flaubert's Parrot.JPGI found three Julian Barnes first editions at the Keats Community Library Book Sale last Saturday and couldn’t resist the temptation to restock the bookshelf. Barnes’ novels are full of interesting facts, clever words and clever sentences. His art is a cleverly constructed representation of the way a certain type of person–a person not a little unlike Barnes himself–thinks and feels about other people. For this type of artist, the obsessive type of writer or musician or academic, the world is seen in terms of a battle between art and reality. Before you switch off, please allow me to explain.

This type of artist, including what some snobbishly call the Hampstead Brigade or such, is an odd type of being. They seem to worry about what other people will think of them within their own circle, whilst more or less ignoring what the general populace thinks of their art. Just as in Henry James, in Barnes, working class people are not characters with deep emotions. Barnes knows his audience are well read, middle class and probably privately educated. His novels are targeted at people who probably go to The National at regular intervals, probably look down on your average television viewer and probably get their Danish nanny to buy artisan bread on a Thursday afternoon. I’m not saying this a bad thing, it’s just my impression of the man.

But besides my personal snobbery against Julian Barnes, these novels are beautiful works of art and the result of years spent not having to mingle with the course language of the uneducated masses. Perfect in their construction and enigmatic nuances, they work well as fodder for readers of the Times Literary Supplement to mull over. The subject matter is usually some important figure, Flaubert being quite typical, and everything is very clever indeed. You are left with a great sense of awe, as you learn more and more about how clever novels can be. Then you put the book down and want to watch a Bruce Willis film until two in the morning because what you really want to see is a camera-shot of John McClane flying through a glass window, after hanging from a massive security van being suspended from a helicopter that is about to explode.

Both have about as much to do with reality.


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