England, England

England, England

4.4 9
by Julian Barnes
     
 

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Picture an England where all the pubs are quaint, the Royals behave themselves (more or less), and the cliffs of Dover actually are white. Now imagine that the principal national treasures - from Stonehenge to Buckingham Palace are grouped together on the Isle of Wight. This is precisely the vision that Sir Jack Pitman seeks to realize: a "destination" where tourists… See more details below

Overview

Picture an England where all the pubs are quaint, the Royals behave themselves (more or less), and the cliffs of Dover actually are white. Now imagine that the principal national treasures - from Stonehenge to Buckingham Palace are grouped together on the Isle of Wight. This is precisely the vision that Sir Jack Pitman seeks to realize: a "destination" where tourists can find replicas of Big Ben, Wembley Stadium, the National Gallery, Princess Di's grave, and even Harrods (conveniently located inside the Tower of London), and visit them all in the course of a weekend. As this land of make-believe takes on its own comic and horrible reality, Barnes delights us with a novel that is at once a philosophical inquiry, a burst of mischief, a hilarious romp, and a moving elegy about authenticity and nationality.

Editorial Reviews

Time
Barnes' very funny, very sour new novel, recreates England as a theme park on the Isle of Wight. The park is the brainstorm of Sir Jack Pitman, an overweening press lord, and his staff members, one of whom has doubts.
Michiko Kakutani
Mr. Barnes uses his copious talents as a writer...to turn the saga of England, England into an uproarious farce....and he satirizes the ideas that the English hold about themselves....[and he] tries to link his two narratives by suggesting parallels between a nation's invention of its own mythology and an individual's invention of a self....two finely turned tales... —The New York Times
Richard Eder
The three parts of the novel are told in contrasting tones....[T]he smart and accomplished "England, England" section....is the book's heart....[I]t plays out a lavish satire on Britian today extrapolated into a day or two after tomorrow....This is satire at its best, and there is much...that is ingenious, funny or both.
New York Times Book Review
Roger Kimball
If the word "postmodern" makes your heart go pit-a-pat, you will probably love England, England, Julian Barnes' latest pomo effort...[A] mildly dystopian fantasy full of profundities about the unreliability of memory and the transformation of history into kitsch.
National Review
Library Journal
This playfully outrageous novel is a satirical masterpiece. Built around the premise that Englands best days are behind her, the novel is part Orwellian fantasy, part Swiftian satire, and part cultural elegy. Sir Jack Pitman, the novels wonderful villain, is a shamelessly cynical venture capitalist who is determined to exploit the only thing England has that is still valuableits past. Pitman builds a massive luxury theme park that celebrates English culture of yesteryear, known as England, England, which includes replicas of many famous English landmarks and exhibits that feature live-action performances by quintessential English types, such as Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. Astonishingly, Pitman even manages to persuade the real King and Queen of England to relocate to his park in order to play themselves. By the end of the novel, England, Englandan extraordinarily popular tourist destinationbecomes widely regarded as more authentically English than England itself. A savage romp; enthusiastically recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/99.]Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community-Technical Coll., Canterbury, CT
Kirkus Reviews
A mischievous satire on the marketing of illusion and a trenchant analysis of a rootless woman's interrupted pursuit of authenticity are joined in a highly original way in this consummately entertaining novel, the eighth by the dependably clever British author. The major actions occur in an economically depleted near-future England, which almost gratefully succumbs to the utopian blandishments of Sir Jack Pitman, a visionary entrepreneur (and Falstaffian compound of Rupert Murdoch and billionaire Guy Grand of Terry Southern's The Magic Christian). Sir Jack's "Project" is a reconstruction of places and scenes familiar from English history, populated by actors portraying equally familiar figures (historical and fictional), situated on the Isle of Wight for the pleasure of sightseers who'd otherwise have to visit multiple real places. Barnes (Cross Channel, 1996, etc.) has a fine time devising the unforeseen consequences of Sir Jack's scheme (the current King, on retainer as an incarnation of himself, is an oversexed moron given to harassing the likes of "Nell Gwynn" and "Connie Chatterley"; "Dr. Johnson" is a clinical depressive; "Robin Hood and His Merrie Men" inconsiderately rebel; and so forth). Tables are briefly turned when Sir Jack's "Appointed Cynic" Martha Cochrane uncovers evidence that her employer's monthly visits to his "Auntie May" are in fact sexual adventures during which his infancy is "replicated"—but Barnes's deft plot has several further twists lurking nearby. And, to turn the screw even tighter, the Huxleyan portrayal of "England, England" (Sir Jack's name for his "Project") is framed by extended scenes depicting Martha's troubled childhood (a history she scornsto remember) and her old age after "The Island" has literally replaced England and the question of what is and is not real in her experience remains unanswered. A provocative dystopian fable that's also a superb vehicle for Barnes's unfailingly fiendish riffs on contemporary political, economic, and sexual underhandedness and overkill.

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"A ferociously funny send-up of England's chattering classes.... England, England not only skewers contemporary Englishness, but reminds us that the novel of ideas still possesses the power to dazzle, provoke, and amuse." The Globe and Mail

"Reading this book is like walking through a hall of mirrors—playfully poised on the one hand, a grotesque myriad of illusions on the other." The London Express

"Dazzling—a novel with mighty themes and a complex structure. This is vintage Barnes." The Toronto Star

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375705502
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/28/2000
Series:
Vintage International Series
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
707,721
Product dimensions:
5.11(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.56(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One

Pitman house had been true to the architectural principles of its time. Its tone was of secular power tempered by humanitarianism: glass and steel were softened by ash and beech; licks of eau-de-nil and acid yellow gave hints of controlled passion; in the vestibule a dusty-red Corb drum subverted the dominion of hard angles. The supernal atrium objectified the aspirations of this worldly cathedral; while passive ventilation and energy-saving showed its commitment to society and the environment. There was flexibility of spatial use and candid ductwork: according to the architectural team of Slater, Grayson & White, the building combined sophistication of means with transparency of intent. Harmony with nature was another key commitment: behind Pitman House was an area of specially-created wetland. Staff on the decking (hardwood from renewable sources) could eat their sandwiches while inspecting the transient birdlife of the Hertfordshire borders.

        The architects were accustomed to client intervention; but even they lost a little fluency when glossing Sir Jack Pitman's personal contribution to their design: the insertion at boardroom level of a double-cube office with moulded cornices, shagpile carpet, coal fires, standard lamps, flock wallpaper, oil paintings, curtained faux windows and bobble-nosed light switches. As Sir Jack musingly proposed, 'Rightly though we glory in the capabilities of the present, the cost should not, I feel, be paid in disdain for the past.' Slater, Grayson & White had tried to point out that building the past was, alas, nowadays considerably more expensivethan building the present or the future. Their client had deferred comment, and they were left to reflect that at least this sealed sub-baronial unit would probably be considered Sir Jack's personal folly rather than an element in their own design statement. As long as no-one congratulated them on its ironic post-post-modernism.

        Between the airy, whispering space created by the architects and the snug den demanded by Sir Jack lay a small office -- no more than a transitional tunnel -- known as the Quote Room. Here Sir Jack liked to keep visitors waiting until summoned by his PA. Sir Jack himself had been known to linger in the tunnel for more than a few moments while making the journey from outer office to inner sanctum. It was a simple, austere, underlit space. There were no magazines, and no TV monitors dispensing promo clips about the Pitman empire. Nor were there gaudily comfortable sofas covered with the hides of rare species. Instead, there was a single high-backed Jacobethan oak settle facing a spotlit slab. The visitor was encouraged, indeed obliged, to study what was chiselled in Times roman:


JACK PITMAN
is a big man in every sense of the word.
Big in ambition, big in appetite, big in generosity.
He is a man whom it takes a leap
of the imagination fully to come to terms with.
From small beginnings, he has risen like a meteor
to great things. Entrepreneur, innovator,
ideas man, arts patron, inner-city revitaliser.
Less a captain of industry than a very admiral,
Sir Jack is a man who walks with presidents
yet is never afraid to roll up his sleeves
and get his hands dirty.
For all his fame and wealth, he is yet
intensely private, a family man at heart.
Imperious when necessary, and always forthright,
Sir Jack is not a man to be trifled with;
he suffers neither fools nor busybodies.
Yet his compassion runs deep.
Still restless and ambitious,
Sir Jack makes the head spin with his energy,
dazzles with his larger-than-life charm.


        These words, or most of them, had been written a few years previously by a Times profiler to whom Sir Jack had subsequently given brief employment. He had deleted references to his age, appearance and estimated wealth, had the whole thing pulled together by a rewrite man, and ordered the final text to be carved on a swathe of Cornish slate. He was content that the quote was no longer sourced: a few years ago the acknowledgment 'The Times of London' had been chiselled out and a filler rectangle of slate inserted. This made the tribute more authoritative, and more timeless, he felt.

        Now he stood in the exact centre of his double-cube snuggery, beneath the Murano chandelier and equidistant from the two Bavarian hunting-lodge fireplaces. He had hung his jacket on the Brancusi in a way that -- to his eye, at least -- implied joshing familiarity rather than disrespect, and was displaying his roundedly rhomboid shape to his PA and his Ideas Catcher. There had been some earlier institutional name for this latter figure, but Sir Jack had replaced it with 'Ideas Catcher'. Someone had once compared him to a giant firework, throwing out ideas as a Catherine wheel throws out sparks, and it seemed only proper that those who pitched should have someone to catch. He pulled on his after-lunch cigar and snapped his MCC braces: red and yellow, ketchup and egg-yolk. He was not a member of the MCC, and his brace-maker knew better than to ask. For that matter, he had not been to Eton, served in the Guards, or been accepted by the Garrick Club; yet he owned the braces which implied as much. A rebel at heart, he liked to think. A bit of a maverick. A man who bends the knee to no-one. Yet a patriot at heart.

        'What is there left for me?' he began. Paul Harrison, the Ideas Catcher, did not immediately activate the body-mike. This had become a familiar trope in recent months. 'Most people would say that I have done everything a man is capable of in my life. Many, indeed, do. I have built businesses from the dust up. I have made money, few would deny that. Honours have come my way. I am the trusted confidant of heads of state. I have been the lover, if I may say so, of beautiful women. I am a respected but, I must emphasize, not too respected member of society. I have a title. My wife sits at the right hand of presidents. What is there left?'

        Sir Jack exhaled, his words swirling in the cigar smoke which fogged the lower droplets of the chandelier. Those present knew the question to be strictly rhetorical. An earlier PA had naively imagined that at such moments Sir Jack might be in search of useful suggestions, or, even more naively, consolation; she had been found less demanding employment elsewhere in the group.

        'What is real? This is sometimes how I put the question to myself. Are you real, for instance -- you and you?' Sir Jack gestured with mock courtesy to the room's other occupants, but did not turn his head away from his thought. 'You are real to yourselves, of course, but that is not how these things are judged at the highest level. My answer would be No. Regrettably. And you will forgive me for my candour, but I could have you replaced with substitutes, with . . . simulacra, more quickly than I could sell my beloved Brancusi. Is money real? It is, in a sense, more real than you. Is God real? That is a question I prefer to postpone until the day I meet my Maker. Of course I have my theories, I have even, as you might say, plunged a little into futures. Let me confess -- cut your throat and hope to die, as I believe the saying goes -- that I sometimes imagine such a day. Let me share my suppositions with you. Picture the moment when I am invited to meet my Maker, who in His infinite wisdom has followed with interest our trivial lives in this vale of tears. What, I ask you, might He have in store for Sir Jack? If I were He -- presumptuous thought I admit -- I would naturally be obliged to punish Sir Jack for his many human faults and vanities. No, no!' Sir Jack held up his hands to quell the likely protests of his employees. 'And what would I -- He -- do? I -- He -- might be tempted to keep me -- oh, for not too long a stretch, I trust -- in a Quote Room of my own. Sir Jack's very personal limbo. Yes, I would give him -- me! -- the hard settle and spotlight treatment. A mighty tablet. And no magazines, not even the holiest!'

        Sotto chuckles were appropriate, and were duly provided. Sir Jack walks with the deity, Lady Pitman dines at the right hand of God.

        Sir Jack strolled heavily across to Paul's desk and leaned towards him. The Ideas Catcher knew the rules: eye contact was now required. Mostly, you preferred to pretend that working for Sir Jack required hunched shoulders, lowered lids, unbreakable concentration. Now, he panned upwards to his employer's face: the wavy, boot-black hair; the fleshy ears, the left lobe pulled long by one of Sir Jack's negotiating tics; the smooth convexity of jowl which buried the Adam's apple; the clarety complexion; the slight pock-mark where a mole had been removed; the mattressy eyebrows with their threads of grey; and there, waiting for you, timing how long it took to get your courage up, the eyes. You saw so many things in those eyes -- benign contempt, cold affection, patient irritation, logical anger -- though whether such complexities of emotion in fact existed was another matter. Reason told you that Sir Jack's technique of personnel-management consisted in never offering the mood or expression obvious to the occasion. But there were also times when you wondered if Sir Jack was merely standing before you holding in his face a pair of small mirrors, circles in which you read your own confusion.

        When Sir Jack was satisfied -- and you never quite knew what did satisfy Sir Jack -- he took his bulk back to the middle of the room. Murano glass above his head, shagpile lapping his laces, he swilled another grave question around his palate.

        'Is my name . . . real?' Sir Jack considered the matter, as did his two employees. Some believed that Sir Jack's name was not real in a straightforward sense, and that a few decades earlier he had deprived it of its Mitteleuropäisch tinge. Others had it on authority that, though born some way east of the Rhine, little Jacky was in fact the result of a garage liaison between the shire-bred English wife of a Hungarian glass manufacturer and a visiting chauffeur from Loughborough, and thus, despite his upbringing, original passport, and occasional fluffed vowel, his blood was one hundred percent British. Conspiracy theorists and profound cynics went further, suggesting that the fluffed vowels were themselves a device: Sir Jack Pitman was the son of a humble Mr and Mrs Pitman, long since paid off, and the tycoon had allowed the myth of continental origin slowly to surround him; though whether for reasons of personal mystique or professional advantage, they could not decide. None of these hypotheses received support on this occasion, as he supplied his own answer. 'When a man has sired nothing but daughters, his name is a mere trinket on loan from eternity.'

        A cosmic shudder, which may have been digestive in origin, ran through Sir Jack Pitman. He swivelled, puffed smoke, and eased into his peroration.

        'Are great ideas real? The philosophers would have us believe so. Of course, I have had great ideas in my time, but somehow -- do not record this, Paul, I am not certain it is for the archive -- somehow, sometimes I wonder how real they were. These may be the ramblings of a senile fool -- I do not hear your cries of contradiction so I presume you agree -- but perhaps there is life in the old dog yet. Perhaps what I need is one last great idea. One for the road, eh, Paul? That you may record.'

        Paul tapped in, 'Perhaps what I need is one last great idea', looked at it on the screen, remembered that he was responsible for rewrites as well, that he was, as Sir Jack had once put it, 'my personal Hansard', and deleted the wimpish 'Perhaps'. In its more assertive form the statement would enter the archive, timed and dated.

        Sir Jack good-humouredly lodged his cigar in the stomach-hole of a Henry Moore maquette, stretched and pirouetted lightly. 'Tell Woodie it's time,' he said to his PA, whose name he could never remember. In one sense, of course, he could: it was Susie. This was because he called all his PAs Susie. They seemed to come and go at some speed. So it was not really her name he was unsure of, but her identity. Just as he'd been saying a moment ago -- to what extent was she real? Quite.

        He retrieved his jacket from the Brancusi and shrugged it past his MCC braces. In the Quote Room he paused to read again the familiar citation. He knew it by heart, of course, but still liked to linger over it. Yes, one last great idea. The world had not been entirely respectful in recent years. Well then, the world needed to be astonished.

        Paul initialled his memorandum and stored it. The latest Susie rang down to the chauffeur and reported on their employer's mood. Then she picked up his cigar, and returned it to Sir Jack's desk drawer.

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