Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

I've never been able to finish a book by Julian Barnes. I had hoped that Arthur and George would be my opportunity to finally break this streak, but alas. Once again, I have given up at page 115, which is about my average for his books. The other two I have tried are Flaubert's Parrot and A History of the World in 10½ Chapters. Both started off well (as did Arthur and George) but neither seemed to work for me past a certain point.

I can't really put my finger on why I don't succeed. The books always begin in an interesting way. But there seems to be a point at which I cease to care about the characters or the events. That's what happened in this book. I didn't care about Arthur very much, and I cared even less about George. And I couldn't figure out where the connection came between these two characters; by page 115 they hadn't yet met, and the book was continuing to use the formula of alternating chapters, one about Arthur, the next about George, etc. I was getting tired of that structure; like reading two books at once, both of which were dull.

The fact that Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was moderately interesting. Were his chapters a fictionalized account of his life? I'm not sure. George, as far as I could tell, is wholly fictional. Do these guys ever meet? I think they must, but I guess I'll never know for sure.

A look at Barnes's web site reveals that he's written all kinds of books, not just novels. I like the way he writes, so maybe I should try some of his essays or short stories, since they probably end before they get boring. Letters from London looks good, and Cross Channel.


Anonymous said...

"Flaubert's Parrot" is the one book of his that I really love. I too have tried others, including "The Lemon Table," which I reviewed. Actually, you might like that one more: It's a collection of short stories and there are a couple of good ones therein.

I think his problem is that he's too clever. Witty as all get out, but somehow a bit lacking in emotion, gravitas. Of course, I feel exactly the same way about Martin Amis.

Anonymous said...

When I was in graduate school, I took a course with a professor who, on the first day of class, said that he wanted to read every book ever written but "the bastards keep gaining on me."

That was the only class we got with him. He was dead 48 hours later, killed in a head-on collision with a young man who was on heroin. Ever since then, I decided that life is too short to waste on books that don't grab you. What if his last book was something awful, that he was pushing through just to cross off his list, or just because he didn't want to admit defeat? So I think you did the right thing by giving up on a book you don't like. It's depressing to have to do, but at least you satisfied your curiousity.

Anonymous said...

I read Flaubert's Parrot, Talking it Over, Cross Channel (short stories) and England, England. After that last one, I'd had enough. Not bad by any means, and he can write (not as well as McEwan), but just not good enough to tempt me more.
I have had 10 and a half chapters for ages, but have somehow never worked up the enthusiasm for it.

jaycee said...

I took Arthur and George on holiday with me last year as a holiday read and enjoyed it; previously I'd only read some of Julian Barnes non-fiction, such as Pedant in the Kitchen and Cross Channel, both of which are really collections of essays.

Susie said...

Read Love, Etc. and Talking it Over! These are by far his most engaging and entertaining books. I am personally partial to Flaubert's Parrot, but the first time I read it, I wasn't a fan. I had to read it a couple times before I realized I couldn't stop thinking about a good way!

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I've tried startng this one two or three times but now I think I might take your experience as permission to pass it along to someone else.

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