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Julian Barnes (Julian Patrick Barnes) Biography

(1946– ), (Julian Patrick Barnes), Metroland, Before She Met Me, Flaubert's Parrot, Madame Bovary

British novelist, born in Leicester, educated at Oxford University. In his first novel, Metroland (1980; Somerset Maugham Award, 1981), his precocious hero, Christopher Lloyd, recounts the events of his suburban childhood, his student days in Paris in 1968, and his eventual return, with wife and baby, to the peaceful suburban landscapes of ‘Metroland’. Before She Met Me (1982), a study of murderous obsession and marital claustrophobia, was followed by the novel with which Barnes consolidated his reputation as one of the more innovative and witty of the younger generation of writers. Flaubert's Parrot (1984), which was awarded the Prix Medicis in France, is narrated by Geoffrey Braithwaite, a retired doctor and widowed cuckold, who attempts to come to terms with the bitterness of his memories by pursuing his obsession for the writings of Flaubert, whilst on a touring holiday in France. Amalgamating scholarly allusion, tourist guide, exam questions on Madame Bovary, and eccentric biographical facts about the life of the great French novelist, the book displays Barnes's prevailing interest in the relationship between life and art. Staring at the Sun (1986), a more conventional narrative, follows its female protagonist from her girlhood in wartime Britain, through her unsuccessful marriage to great old age, in a future society of 2020. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (1989) shows the writer at his most playful and experimental in his treatment of a number of related themes: the nature of art, religion, love, and death. The work takes the form of a series of ingeniously linked stories, whose central image is that of the Ark. The first of these, for example, is narrated by a woodworm ‘stowaway’ on Noah's Ark during the Great Flood; another memorably describes the painting of Géricault's masterpiece ‘The Raft of the Medusa’; a third is about an American astronaut who becomes involved in a search for the ‘true’ Ark. Talking It Over (1991), although perhaps less unconventional in form, picks up where the earlier work left off, with a meditation on the vicissitudes of love. The Porcupine (1992) is set in an unnamed Eastern European country and concerns the trial of its former dictator following the overthrow of the communist regime over which he presided for many years. As crisply written and ironic as his previous work, it displays yet another side to Barnes's apparently effortless versatility. Cross Channel (1996) is a collection of short stories set in France. Unlike many of his contemporaries, the author has shown himself to be at ease in a number of different literary forms, ranging from the essay to the comedy of manners, from Letters from London (1995), his contributions on topical themes to the New Yorker, to the detective novels written under the pseudonym ‘Dan Kavanagh’. Barnes has also worked as literary editor and television critic for the New Statesman, The Sunday Times and the Observer.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Houston A. Baker (Houston Alfred to Sally Beauman Biography