Oliver, Stuart, and Gillian have been friends and lovers. But it's been 10 years since this backbiting trio, which Julian Barnes first introduced in Talking It Over
, last met--and a lot has changed. For starters, Oliver has married Gillian, and Stuart, his erstwhile best friend, hates him for it. Not just because Stuart was once married to Gillian, but because he still loves her and has never ceased to regard himself as her savior. Under the guise of repairing old friendships--"all blood under the bridge"--this mild-mannered third wheel insinuates himself into the couple's life by offering advice, providing support, and even giving Oliver a job. Once he's maneuvered his nemesis into a crippling depression, Stuart unveils his master plan.
In Love, Etc. Barnes adopts the same technique he used in the earlier installment, allowing his characters to speak their innermost thoughts and secrets directly to the reader--and just about everybody gets some good lines. (Oliver: "Yes, everything went swimmingly, which is a very peculiar adverb to apply to a social event, considering how most human beings swim.") But the book is also a bewitchingly intimate excursion into betrayal and jealousy. With painstaking detail, Barnes creates a vibrant portrait of a modern love triangle--as funny as it is cruel, as absurd as it is deep. Few contemporary writers can portray Middle England, with all its temptations, so darkly. --Matthew Baylis
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From Publishers Weekly
The ever-brilliant Barnes concocts a mordant sexual comedy for his latest novel, taking over the later lives of three characters he introduced in the earlier Talking It Over. Straight, rather stuffy organic-food kingpin Stuart; his former best friend, the ebulliently witty layabout Oliver; and Gillian, whom Oliver stole from Stuart, address the reader in turns about just what happened (or in Oliver's case, show off for the reader in a dazzling display of verbal pyrotechnics that would bring down the house if this were a play). There's no doubt that in most ways Stuart deserves Gillian more than Oliver does, and the latter's attraction for her seems odd. On the other hand, Oliver is, unexpectedly, quite a good father, and there are hints of obtuseness and brutality about Stuart's bluff self-satisfaction. Poor Gillian, whose French-born mother also comments on the proceedings from a cynical distance, seems quite unable to decide between the two men when Stuart forcibly reenters her life. Out of their often self-serving, sometimes touchingly self-aware accounts of a handful of encounters emerges a funny, occasionally poignant look at the strange confusion between friendship and loveAas well as more than a hint that nobody truly knows just who they really are and what they are capable of. It's slight but telling and, except for Oliver's wonderful and witty set pieces, oddly subdued for Barnes, but it would make an excellent play, in the Tom Stoppard vein. (Feb. 13) Forecast: Although Barnes's succession of clever novels have won him a following here, the strongly English domesticity portrayed in Love, Etc. seems unlikely to gather him many new adherents. For connoisseurs of brilliant invective, however, it's a treat, and Knopf is anticipating that interest with a 40,000 first printing.
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