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Something to Declare: Essays on France and French Culture Paperback – September 9, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400030870
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400030873
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,018,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Barnes's latest collection of haute musings on France and things French is rather like a ride in a creaky Citro n: at first, it kicks and gurgles in a scattered path, but once it gets started, it's a charming and nostalgic way to view la belle France. Barnes, author of nine novels (Love, Etc., etc.), a book of stories and a collection of essays, offers here an amalgamation of pieces, many previously published in the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books. The collection begins with meandering yet tellingly accurate critiques of popular culture phenomena, such as the Tour de France, the films of Truffaut and Godard, and singer Jacques Brel. Barnes's assessment of culinary writer Elizabeth David's thoughts on nouvelle cuisine (it means "lighter food, less of it, costing more") are at once witty and dead-on. After sharing these lighter, whimsical thoughts, Barnes shifts into a higher gear and delves into a study of the French and Francophile literary establishment, from Edith Wharton and Ford Madox Ford to Henry James and George Sand. He saves many of the book's later chapters for his favorite subject, Gustave Flaubert. Throughout, Barnes integrates his commentary with detailed, intriguing bits of history. Devotees of Madame Bovary will thrill to read his ruminations on the masterpiece (e.g., what if it had been written for the screen rather than as a book?). Serious yet self-deprecating, Barnes's prose is perfectly tuned to its subject. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 7)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

What do you get when you combine a passion for France, a rapier wit, and an immense writing vocabulary? You get Barnes, a one-time lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, a declared Francophile, and a much-published writer of nonfiction and fiction (e.g., Staring at the Sun). This collection of essays on France includes some of Barnes's best work published in the United States (the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker) and England (Times Literary Supplement) between 1982 and 2000. A fascinating essay on the Tour de Franc, for example, includes a detailed portrait of Lance Armstrong's 2000 victory and gives insight into how the Tour has changed over time. Edith Wharton and Henry James figure prominently in an essay on travel in France at the turn of the century. Flaubert appears in several essays, reflecting Barnes's lifelong involvement in Flaubertiana: we meet his colleagues Turgenev, Baudelaire, Mallarm‚, and, of course, his mistress Louise Colet. Going beyond the literary, Barnes includes essays on cooking, contemporary film, and pop singers. All in all, this eclectic commentary on all things French is a very satisfying read-just keep your unabridged dictionary nearby! Definitely recommended for larger collections on French culture, civilization, and travel.
Olga B. Wise, Hewlett-Packard, Austin, TX
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By E. Hawkins on January 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Barnes's collection falls into two halves. The first is a collection of pieces that might be said to have a French theme: a review and appreciation of Edith Wharton's account of a car journey taken through France, a piece of French songsters of the sixties, a very entertaining look at the perils of the Tour de France. The second half is nearly all given over to Flaubert, Barnes's obsession. The essays on the great writer are fascinating, especially those centered around his correspondence. Barnes's love for the writer and the man is contagious. I had no great enthusiasm for Flaubert, despite having loved Barnes's 'Flaubert's Parrot', but since reading this book I have read 'Madame Bovary' with a great deal of pleasure and have begun looking into the correspondence. All the essays are scrupulously and stylishly written and are worth reading for the prose alone.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sirin on May 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
Julian Barnes is probably the British writer most associated with French influence over his literature. Most of his novels are influenced by France in one way or another, especially his acclaimed 1984 masterpiece, Flaubert's Parrot.

In the introduction to these essays, Barnes traces his personal affiliation with France. From nervous childhood holidays with his parents, to his immersion in French language and culture while studying Languages at Oxford, ending with a 1997 trip across the Channel to deliver the ashes of his parents. He cheerfully admits a bias towards French culture over his native Anglo-Saxon and this fact permeates the essays here.

The first part of the book features a range of essays on obscure French singers, the film director Francois Truffaut, Elizabeth David's cookery writing and, best of all, a lenghty piece on drug taking in the Tour de France.

In the second half of the book, the emphasis shifts to Flaubert, Barnes's self professed literary idol. The essays span the full range of Flaubert's life and his associations: his biographers, his mistresses, his relationship with other writers and film versions of Madame Bovary. Flaubert was given extensive fictional treatment in 'Flaubert's Parrot' and these pieces perhaps read like a reworking of the research notes for that novel.

Unlike most wannabe British continentals who think that to become au fait with European Culture one just has to eat at The River Cafe and take the occasional jaunt to Paris or Rome, Barnes has clearly read many pages of French literature and watched many metres of film. His depth and range of knowledge is impressive and the style is (as with all Barnes's writings) erudite, crisp and piercingly intelligent.
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Format: Paperback
"And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?" -- Acts 2:8 (NKJV)

Julian Barnes has a great appreciation for all things French, from the rural life there, to the language, to the manifestations of Frenchness itself in popular culture, and, of course, literature . . . most notably Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary. The collection of stories is more about Flaubert than about anything else. If you are a fan of Madame Bovary, you'll have some fun. If you already know the book and Flaubert well, these essays aren't really necessary.

My favorite sections were about the Tour de France and Mr. Barnes' subtle commentaries about the French language, to which he brings a nuanced knowledge that added a lot to my understanding of his observations.

Should you read this collection? The Lemon Table is a better choice for most Barnes fans. But if you are a true Francophile (of which I am one), be sure to read this collection as well. If you are a Francophobe, the essays won't change your mind.
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8 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Foxworthy on December 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Something to Declare" is a clever title for a book about travel abroad; but, beyond its opening pages, that's not what this book is about. "Essays on France" is an equally misleading subtitle, for the book's erudite essays (beyond the opening chapter) are not on France but on a narrow selection of French writers and related movers and shakers, and one fictional character: Madame Bovary. After a fast-paced, dazzling opening sequence, hilariously describing the teen-aged Barnes' first encounters across the English Channel, we slow down to pick through some highlights in the lives of some of the top French authors, poets, filmmakers and other cultural icons, eventually easing to a crawl through exhaustive detail regarding the author's main interest, Flaubert and his world. If Madame Bovary is your cup of tea, you may enjoy steeping yourself further in Barnes. For me it was just too much.
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8 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Whoseblues on August 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
The title of this book, as you can see, is "Something To Declare: Essays on France and French Culture." The blurbs on the back of my trade paperback version enthusiastically support this title. However, only a quarter of the pages of this book are devoted to a discussion of "France and French culture." The rest are spent on the very specific topics of particular French artists and authors, most particularly Flaubert and things related to Flaubert. Given that artists and authors often make a point of setting themselves apart from their cultural milieu (especially most if not all of the ones Barnes writes about) and are often, at a minimum, a bit out of touch with the reality of the world around them, writings on these folks can hardly be deemed to reflect "French culture," as promised by the title. Barnes is, of course, perfectly entitled to publish a book composed of these elements; however, it would be nice if the title and blurbs made it clearer that that is what he is doing, for those of us poor unenlightened souls who do not go into a swoon every time we see or hear the name Flaubert -- for those of us who, in fact, would be perfectly happy for the rest of our lives if we could avoid anything more than infrequent passing references to Flaubert. Simply put, the title does not fairly represent the major part of what is in the book. If you are looking for a book on France and French culture, you can do much, much better with your reading time and money. Moreover, the essays that are not general in nature assume an intimate, detailed knowledge of Flaubert and his writing.Read more ›
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