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Pulse Hardcover – January 6, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Companionship—the search for, the basking in, and the loss of—binds Barnes's first-rate collection of short stories, his first since 2004's The Lemon Table. In a lesser author's hands, a single story composed almost entirely of dialogue—let alone four of them—would collapse under the pressure of carrying off such a task and still moving along the narrative. But Barnes proves himself an erudite fly on the wall in his "At Phil and Joanna's" series, which involves the postdinner conversations of a group of London friends discussing everything from the 2008 election to marmalade, sex, and testicle operations—and each character comes alive despite the slightest hints of description and exposition. Vernon in "East Wind," on the other hand, takes the notion of observing a step too far during an awkward courtship with a German waitress in a seaside town. Though their circumstances couldn't be more different, the characters in "Sleeping with John Updike," "Gardeners' World," and "Harmony" all find themselves at one time or another content in the knowledge of the space they share with a friend, spouse or healer, yet it is when this companionship is just out of reach, as in the dryly witty "Trespass," or snuffed out, as in the poignant title story, that Barnes shines brightest. (May)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


"Pulse is Barnes's 17th book and is a masterclass in the shorter form." -- Elizabeth Day Observer

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; First Edition edition (January 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224091085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224091084
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,622,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Julian Barnes is the author of nine novels, including Metroland, Flaubert's Parrot, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, England, England and Arthur and George, and two collections of short stories, Cross Channel and The Lemon Table.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Hande Z on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
It is a book of stories, fourteen in all, every one of them written with the gentle charm that has become the mark of Julian Barnes. He exhibits serenity, sadness, and joy all with a wry British, or should I say, Barnes-like humour. He created amusement and fun in short statements: "Riding a hobby horse to death is flogging a dead metaphor." (At Phil & Joanna's 2: Marmalade). A theme of hypocrisy and sincerity appears as the underlying current in each of the stories, culminating in the poignant story about a man's (Barnes?) parents in the last story, "Pulse" that Barnes gave to the title of the book. It is a book about looking back to appreciate what little might be left in the future.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Morris Massel on May 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Pulse, by Julian Barnes, is a collection of 14 short stories about "longing and loss, [and] friendship and love". Barnes is a quintessential British writer who has been short-listed for the Man Booker prize three times.

This collection of short stories starts with a terrific opener, "East Wind", in which an Englishman courts a Eastern European waitress and tries to uncover the root of her unusual behavior. Suddenly, the Englishman and the reader are jarred with the waitress's story. Four of the stories, entitled "At Phil and Joanna's", form a single narrative in parts. It is essentially a drunken conversation among four friends ranging from sex to politics (very left wing) to loss. One story, "Sleeping with John Updike" is a funny (and sad) story about the relationship between two female writers who did not quite make it to the top of the literary world. Two of the stories are set a few centuries ago. A few of the stories read more like essays than short stories.

Barnes captures conversation beautifully. For example, the "At Phil and Joanna's" cycle of stories is just a long conversation between four characters. There are few indications of who is actually speaking but it feels very real. While the writing was magnificent, the point of that cycle of stories was lost on me.

Some of the stories were simply amazing. Others, such as Phil and Joanna's and a couple of the essays, were well written but didn't capture me. This is not Barnes' strongest book. If you want to give him a try, I would start with one of his Man Booker finalists: Flaubert's Parrot, England, England or Arthur & George (a fictional story about Sherlock Holmes' creator).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By G.I Gurdjieff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I bought this collection of stories purely on the recommendation of the bookseller I frequent. I was unfamiliar with the author Julian Barnes but I have become a fan. These stories all deal with the topics of love, loss, and longing and provide a 'fly on the wall' view on a variety of topics. Among my favorites was "SLEEPING WITH JOHN UPDIKE" where a couple of female writers discuss their careers which appear to be fairly lackluster.
Barnes appeal from my perspective is that he parses his words carefully while managing to convey a lot. He is revealing in respect to his characters and can conversely express humor as well as pathos in the same paragraph. While at times he does seem more of an essayist than a short story writer, he may very well be a modern day Jonathan Swift.
I found this collecton so interesting and enjoyable that I plan to read more of Barnes' stories.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
THE LEMON TABLE, Julian Barnes' previous collection of short stories, was one of the best books of its kind that I have read in a long time. It contained a brilliant mixture of stories set in other times or cultures and sharp and poignant observations of contemporary life, all silvered over with a tender or wry nostalgia. Whatever I have to say about the present volume, do read the earlier one; it is so rich that anything else is almost bound to disappoint.

As this does, I'm afraid. There are a few tales here that are almost as fine as the earlier ones, but none that are better. In "Harmony," one of Barnes' historical reconstructions, an eighteenth-century doctor attempts to cure a young musical prodigy of her blindness; although Barnes uses initials rather than names, this is a true story (I'll identify it in a comment) which he presents as a touching emotional drama with rich philosophical overtones. In "The Limner," another story from roughly the same period, he shows the wretched life but inner beauty of an itinerant portrait-painter. The contemporary "Complicity" shows two damaged people slowly coming together: a divorced man and a doctor, whose sense of touch has been compromised by a rare medical condition. In the title story "Pulse," which is placed at the end, the narrator's father loses his sense of smell; around this fact, Barnes builds an account of a happy marriage contrasted with a troubled one; it hangs together only very loosely as a story, but it contains a lot of sensitive observation and truth.

All these come in Part Two of the collection, which holds five stories.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David R. Anderson on June 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
You may take it as a given. A Barnes short story will be well written. He is a reader pleaser. In every sense. Take the account of sex with Janice after the bike ride in "Pulse." You don't merely see what's going on, you feel it, smell it, taste and hear it. All engagingly packaged in just a few short paragraphs in the book's title story. For the English sex is quite normal you see.

Part of what makes Barnes' stories so engaging is that he is willing to challenge his readers. In the "Phil & Joanna's" stories, (four in all) Barnes rounds up three 40-ish, well-off, self-satisfied English couples - Phil and Joanna (the host and hostess), Dick (he of the pungent comments) and Sue, Carol and David -- and their American friend Larry, for drinks and dinner every fortnight or so. They eat well, drink a good deal, and so reach the drawing room stage of the evening with no inhibitions. Time for talk, talk, and more talk, almost always and somewhat wistfully, about sex. But who is doing the talking? That's for you to figure out, and the clues keep coming until the end of the fourth story. By contrast, Barnes can not resist having one of his characters pin a facetious nom de guerre on Phil and Donna's maid very early on. She becomes "Doreena the Cleaner."

In "Pulse," the narrator, never named (sound familiar?), brings us around to meet his aging parents, his girl friend Janice (see above) who stood out among his friends "because she has that London edge to her," and his buddies, particularly Jake, who he admires for his easy way with women. The story track takes the narrator back and forth between his concerns about his parents - his Dad has lost his sense of smell, his Mum turns out to have motor neuron disease -- and the ups and downs in his life with his friends and Janice.
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