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Barnes, Julian

flaubert story life french

(British, 1946– )

After graduating in modern languages from Oxford University, Barnes worked for three years as a lexicographer on the supplement to The Oxford English Dictionary before becoming a journalist and critic.

Metroland (1980) is a witty coming-of-age story charting the narrator's youth in west London and his experiences in Paris at the time of the student revolts in 1968. Before She Met Me (1982) is a story of obsessive jealousy. These are largely works of social observation, and offer few hints of the formal experimentation that marks Barnes's later works, including Flaubert's Parrot (1984) and A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989). The former follows a retired, widowed doctor, Geoffrey Braithwaite, on a tour to northern France to research a life of Flaubert; through his meditations on the French writer, Braithwaite reveals truths about the nature of biography and about his own life. The latter pushes the conventions of the novel even further: the chapters, through which common themes and images run, include a woodworm's view of life on Noah's ark, a critique of Géricault's painting The Raft of the Medusa, and the story of a heaven that provides an unlimited supply of comfortable and ultimately boring pleasures. The collection of stories Cross Channel (1996) deals with various aspects of the relationship between the British and the French. The novel England, England (1998), is a satire in which a tycoon is involved with a heritage centre devoted to Englishness.

Barnes's fiction continues to resist categorization. But all his writing displays an elegant, cool, sceptical intelligence. He has also written detective fiction under the name Dan Kavanagh.

Jonathan Coe, Martin Amis, William Boyd, Gustave Flaubert. See FRANCE  NC

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