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Letters from London

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Overview

With brilliant wit, idiosyncratic intelligence, and a bold grasp of intricate political realities, the celebrated author of Flaubert's Parrot turns his satiric glance homeward to England, in a sparkling collection of essays that illustrates the infinite variety of contemporary London life.

With brilliant wit, idiosyncratic intelligence, and a bold grasp of intricate political realities, the celebrated author of Flaubert's Parrot turns his satiric glance homeward to ...

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Letters from London

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Overview

With brilliant wit, idiosyncratic intelligence, and a bold grasp of intricate political realities, the celebrated author of Flaubert's Parrot turns his satiric glance homeward to England, in a sparkling collection of essays that illustrates the infinite variety of contemporary London life.

With brilliant wit, idiosyncratic intelligence, and a bold grasp of intricate political realities, the celebrated author of Flaubert's Parrot turns his satiric glance homeward to England, in a sparkling collection of essays that illustrates the infinite variety of contemporary London life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The essays in this collection of the celebrated British author of Flaubert's Parrot were originally published in The New Yorker and span the four years of Barnes's tenure as that magazine's London correspondent. From the debacle of Lloyd's of London's decline to the fatwa declared on Salman Rushdie, Barnes explores his topics with an innate curiosity and a merciless wit, using each event to explore the social and political landscape of modern London. If Letters from London has a shortcoming, it is one inherent in any such collection: lack of timeliness. With entries dating back to 1990, it is inevitable that portions of the book seem a bit stale. Some readers may be tempted to skip such missives as ``Vote Glenda!'' on actress Glenda Jackson's 1992 bid for a Parliamentary seat. But as Barnes notes in his preface, he is admirably ``wary of zeitgeist journalism and decade summarizing,'' and it is this refusal to proselytize or prognosticate that distinguishes Barnes's observations. On the 1994 ceremonial opening of the ``chunnel'' linking Britain and France, and the British anxiety over a possible resulting influx of rabid French animals, he notes, ``It was as if, lining up behind Mitterrand and the Queen as they cut the tricolor ribbons at Calais were packs of swivel-eyed dogs, fizzing foxes and slavering squirrels, all waiting to jump on the first boxcar to Folkestone and sink their teeth into some Kentish flesh.'' Probably of greatest interest to Barnes's many fans (and equally great numbers of Anglophiles), this collection is nonetheless a consistently pleasurable opportunity to watch a razor-sharp mind at work. (July)
From the Publisher
"Julian Barnes digs below the surface sheen to communicate genuine emotion."--The Toronto Star

"An exceptionally accomplished an ingenious stylist."--The New York Review of Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679761617
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/28/1995
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: 1st edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 956,641
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Leicester in 1946, Julian Barnes is the author of nine novels, a book of stories, and a collection of essays. He has won both the Prix Médicis and the Prix Fémina, and in 1988 was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in London.

Biography

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 ex–police 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 1980–82 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.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Dan Kavanagh
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 19, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      Leicester, England
    1. Education:
      Degree in modern languages from Magdalen College, Oxford, 1968

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  • Posted July 7, 2013

    He Took the Pulse of a Nation...

    Julian Barnes was "invited" to be The New Yorker's London reporter in 1989, penning the magazine's Letters from London column. His predecessor, Mollie Panter-Downes, had worked the beat for nearly half a century beginning in 1939--tumultuous days for the island nation and the lady who told their story from a 15th century Tudor house in Surrey, near the capital. Barnes, himself a native Englishman, kept his reportorial notebook fired up for five years before departing in 1994; and then, no mistake about it, he left with notable distinction as this journalistic selection reveals. There is abundant variety in the assignments to engage us, something we naturally expect from a practiced letter writer. Barnes tackles everything from Margaret Thatcher's hard right-wing Tory crusade ("Mrs. Thatcher Remembers"), to Tom Keating's career as England's premier art forger ("Fake!"), to probing the story of the garden maze ("Year of the Maze"). There's also a flash of investigative reporting--and Barnes's indignation--in the Lloyds of London insurance market story ("The Deficit Millionaires"). A quarter century has passed since Barnes worked for The New Yorker and today he is a full-fledged man of letters where English is spoken. This delightful book helps explain why.

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