In his first collection of short stories, Barnes explores the narrow body of water containing the vast sea of prejudice and misapprehension which lies between England and France with acuity humor, and compassion. For whether Barnes's English characters come to France as conquerors or hostages, laborers, athletes, or aesthetes, what they discover, alongside rich food and barbarous sexual and religious practices, is their own ineradicable Englishness. The ten stories that make up Cross Channel introduce us to a ...
In his first collection of short stories, Barnes explores the narrow body of water containing the vast sea of prejudice and misapprehension which lies between England and France with acuity humor, and compassion. For whether Barnes's English characters come to France as conquerors or hostages, laborers, athletes, or aesthetes, what they discover, alongside rich food and barbarous sexual and religious practices, is their own ineradicable Englishness. The ten stories that make up Cross Channel introduce us to a plethora of intriguing, original, and sometimes ill-fated characters. Elegantly conceived and seductively written, Cross Channel is further evidence of Barnes's wizardry.
To label this book a short-story collection is to considerably shortchange it. True, Cross Channel does consist of ten discrete narratives, each of which could stand on its own. In the end, though, this superb book functions as a single, unified work about the relationship of England with its nearest neighbor, France. As Barnes makes clear, the citizens of both countries have tended to regard each other with scornful fascination, and the author has ransacked three centuries of history to document this cross-channel rapport. In "Dragons," for example, British mercenaries descend upon a 17th-century village in southern France to forcibly convert the population to Catholicism. A hundred years later, when "Melons" takes place, the two nations still haven't kissed and made up: an international cricket tournament is hastily scuttled when the French Revolution begins. This tradition of mutual incomprehension continues clear through to 2015. At that point, the aging protagonist of "Tunnel" travels to France by train, recalling dozens of earlier trips across the channel. His ruminations contain the germs of all the preceding stories -- a typical bit of Barnesian trickery -- and they reveal, too, what the English finally have to gain from their French counterparts: "It was unhealthy to be idealistic about your own country, since the least clarity of vision led swiftly to disenchantment. Other countries therefore existed to supply the idealism: they were a version of pastoral." The existence of some Other Country, then, is not merely a headache, an escape, an enticement, but also an imaginative necessity. -- Salon
From the Publisher
"Barnes is a witty, playful and ironic writer at the top of his form...Cross Channel is in the best sense an artful book." —San Francisco Chronicle
"Fluently written, finely observed...delicately patterned." —New York Times
From Barnes & Noble
In his first book of short stories, Julian Barnes explores the striking theme of the British experience in France spanning a 300 year timeframe. These ten stories delve into the insistent attraction between these two countries spanning from the late 17th century to the year 2015.
Julian Barnes was born in Leicester in 1946 and educated in London and Oxford. He worked as a lexicographer on the Oxford English Dictionary, then as a journalist for the New Statesman, the Sunday Times and the Observer. He is the author of eight novels, a collection of essays, a book of short stories, and is the first Englishman to have won both the Prix Medicis and the Prix Femina. In 1988 he was made a Chevalier and in 1995 he became an Officier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Julian Barnes once told London's Observer that he writes fiction "to tell beautiful, exact, and well-constructed lies which enclose hard and shimmering truths." Indeed, this is what Barnes does, sometimes spiking his lies with fact -- most notably in Flaubert's Parrot, the novel that became his breakthrough book. The story of a retired doctor obsessed with the French author, it combines a literary detective story with a character study of its detective, including facts about Flaubert along the way.
Before Flaubert's Parrot propelled him into the company of Ian McEwan and Martin Amis in British authordom, Barnes had been moderately successful with the novels Metroland (which later became the 1997 movie starring Emily Watson and Christian Bale) and Before She Met Me. He was also known to Brits as a newspaper TV critic. Parrot and Barnes's subsequent "Letters from London" in The New Yorker helped expand the author's Stateside following.
"A lot of novelists set up a kind of franchise, and turn out a familiar product," friend and fellow author Jay McInerney told the Guardian in 2000. "But what I like about Jules's work is that he's like an entrepreneur who starts up a new company every time out." Among other ambitious themes, Barnes has explored the collapse of communism (The Porcupine) the Disneyfication of culture (England, England), the simple dynamics of relationships (Talking It Over and its sequel, Love, Etc.), and the connections between art, religion, and death (The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters).
Barnes has also produced collections of essays, a translation of Alphonse Daudet's In the Land of Pain, and a family memoir (Nothing to Be Frightened Of) that also serves as a meditation on mortality.
Good To Know
In 2000, a cybersquatting professor acquired the Internet rights to julianbarnes.com and several other authors' domain names; Barnes later won his name back, and the domain is now an informational site run by a fan with Barnes's permission. Barnes had protested the professor's actions, accusing him of usurpation; but his opponent might have responded by quoting from Barnes's own (albeit satirical) England, England: "Indeed, wasn't there something old-fashioned about the whole concept of ownership, or rather its acquisition by formal contract, in which title is received in exchange for consideration given?.... It would have been unfair to call Sir Jack Pitman a barbarian, though some did; but there stirred within him a longing to revisit pre-classical, pre-bureaucratic methods of acquiring ownership. Methods such as theft, conquest and pillage, for example."
Barnes wrote four mystery novels under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh, all of which are now out of print; the novels starred Duffy, a bisexual expolice officer. Kavanagh's bio read in part: "Having devoted his adolescence to truancy, venery and petty theft, he left home at seventeen and signed on as a deckhand on a Liberian tanker." Kavanagh also happens to be the last name of Barnes's agent and wife, Pat.
Barnes was a deputy literary editor under Martin Amis at the New Statesman from 198082 and was also a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. Amis and Barnes later had a falling-out that became fodder for the press when Amis wrote about it in his memoir, Experience; Barnes is mum on the subject, but the disagreement arose when Amis defected from Barnes's wife to another agent.
Barnes has a cameo in the film Bridget Jones's Diary as himself, but in a lesser role than he has in Helen Fielding's book. In the book, Bridget is flummoxed upon encountering Barnes and embarrasses herself; but the more recognizable Salman Rushdie was substituted for Barnes in the film version.