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Flaubert's Parrot Paperback – November 27, 1990
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On the surface, at first, Julian Barnes's book is the tale of an elderly English doctor's search for some intriguing details of Flaubert's life. Geoffrey Braithwaite seems to be involved in an attempt to establish whether a particularly fine, lovely, and ancient stuffed parrot is in fact one originally "borrowed by G. Flaubert from the Museum of Rouen and placed on his worktable during the writing of Un coeur simple, where it is called Loulou, the parrot of Felicité, the principal character of the tale."
What begins as a droll and intriguing excursion into the minutiae of Flaubert's life and intellect, along with an attempt to solve the small puzzle of the parrot--or rather parrots, for there are two competing for the title of Gustave's avian confrere--soon devolves into something obscure and worrisome, the exploration of an arcane Braithwaite obsession that is perhaps even pathological. The first hint we have that all is not as it seems comes almost halfway into the book, when after a humorously cantankerous account of the inadequacies of literary critics, Braithwaite closes a chapter by saying, "Now do you understand why I hate critics? I could try and describe to you the expression in my eyes at this moment; but they are far too discoloured with rage." And from that point, things just get more and more curious, until they end in the most unexpected bang.
One passage perhaps best describes the overall effect of this extraordinary story: "You can define a net in one of two ways, depending on your point of view. Normally, you would say that it is a meshed instrument designed to catch fish. But you could, with no great injury to logic, reverse the image and define the net as a jocular lexicographer once did: he called it a collection of holes tied together with string." Julian Barnes demonstrates that it is possible to catch quite an interesting fish no matter how you define the net. --Andrew Himes
In this collection of three novels spanning Julian Barnes's career, we see the broad range of his imagination and literary skill.
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Top Customer Reviews
Conventions of narrative, style, and form are dispensed with throughout this work - it is composed of a range of genres (mulit-voiced narratives, chronology, encyclopedia/dictionary, and even essay-exam questions). At the same time, the disparate modes are held together from the beginning by a deeper underlying drive - the uncovering of Flaubert's life and opinions operate as a function of Braithwaite's own unresolved issues with the death of his wife.
For all the Sartre-bashing that goes on in "Flaubert's Parrot," one notices striking resonances between Barnes's novel and one of Sartre's, to wit, "Nausea." In both, exasperated scholars find themselves feebly attempting to write intended biographies (for Sartre, the subject is Monsieur de Rollebon) while exploring their own relationship turmoils. Is this part of the much-discussed 'irony' that Braithwaite emphasizes as present in Flaubert's life and writings? Is Barnes, as the deus in absentia author, manipulating and ironizing Braithwaite's tumultuous search for truth about Flaubert to point out Braithwaite's own inconsistencies?
I digress.Read more ›
Mr. Barnes has truly assembled this work as opposed to progressing from one chapter to the next. The first clever use of this is when you come upon a Chronology of Flaubert's life. Nothing-unusual here. However Mr. Julian Barnes is anything but another quick wit with a pen. So the reader is treated to 3 distinct Chronologies, the subject is essentially the same, however the only true commonality is on the date they end. The voice they are written in changes, and with this modification the mood as well.
We have a Narrator who loosely guides us through the tale, however a range of stylistic changes intrudes upon his narrative. Intrude is probably too strong a word for it all works, it all makes sense when placed in the complete context of the book. For one example, I cannot remember the last time I read a novel and found myself subjected to a test, complete with parameters, what is not acceptable regarding the form of answer, and finally a time limit. It did cause uncomfortable suppressed memories of literature exams, but the unpleasant moment is blessedly short. It will depend on how fond you were of written tests.
The Parrot is much more than a bird, and even when it does appear as an ornithologist would describe the creature, the number varies widely, as do the locations and clues to the one true bird.Read more ›
When someone mentions Flaubert in conversation, the first thing that usually pops into one's head is - almost inevitably - "Madame Bovary". The first thing I think of though is "Flaubert's Parrot" by Julian Barnes.
It has become not uncommon for the Brits to write perceptive analysis of French authors - Alain de Botton's "How Prouste Can Change Your Life" is only a recent example. It's probably the very nature of a complicated relationship between the two countries, their often emphasized difference that bears fruit like Barnes' masterpiece: profound knowledge of the close neighbor, on one hand, and on the other, an ability to keep one's distance and stay aloof, for the purposes of estranged observation. Barnes employs both. As a result, we have a work of art that is neither English nor French, but both, in which English irony and self-scrutiy mingle with French grace and wit in a most successful combination.
"Flaubert's Parrot" is also a mixture of styles, both fiction and literary criticism, diary and biography. We get to view Flaubert's life though the eyes of one Doctor Geoffrey Braithwaite who sets off to reconstruct the writer's life in order to - probably - better understand the human nature and thus to - possibly - comprehend a mystery of his own wife's suicide.
In Flaubert's melancholy the protagonist finds - perhaps an illusionary - comfort, almost a feeling of shared sadness which he might fail to encounter among his contemporary friends, in case he has any. It actually seems that Gustave, as Braithwaite takes to calling the writer, is his only friend. There is an "advantage of making friends with those already dead.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wonderful book. I loved it all while I was learning more about Flaubert than I ever thought was possible to know.Published 2 months ago by J. MCGIFFIN
What a strange book. How does one even begin to categorize it? Maybe that's the point. Maybe it shouldn't be categorized at all. Read morePublished 4 months ago by PlantBirdWoman
Distasteful, hard to follow, totally uninteresting. Waste of time and moneyPublished 4 months ago by Bede Camera
A central theme to Julian Barnes’ writing is our inability to capture exactly what happened with people, places, events…. well, things. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Matt Mansfield
I think this was my least liked book by Julian Barnes. I found his other work far more absorbing.Published 6 months ago by Love to Read
More of an essay book in a fictional form, about the author's perspectives on arts and life, very cleverly written, with great wit and sharp and often cynical humor. Read morePublished 7 months ago by whj
Brilliant!!! One of the finest writers in English today; lucid,elegant,erudite and, perhaps best of all,readable.Published 7 months ago by Gail C. Thomson