Love, etc.

( 1 )

Overview

In Love, etc. Julian Barnes has created a deep, dark feast of human frailties and needs. Love, etc. stars three
characters introduced a decade ago in Talking It Over — to which this novel has an eerie, freestanding relation. Which is precisely what Stuart felt about his wife Gillian, until his witty, feckless, former best friend Oliver stole her away. Fabulously engaging and profoundly unsettling.
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Overview

In Love, etc. Julian Barnes has created a deep, dark feast of human frailties and needs. Love, etc. stars three
characters introduced a decade ago in Talking It Over — to which this novel has an eerie, freestanding relation. Which is precisely what Stuart felt about his wife Gillian, until his witty, feckless, former best friend Oliver stole her away. Fabulously engaging and profoundly unsettling.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
When last we met Stuart, Oliver, and Gillian in Julian Barnes's 1991 Talking It Over, Stuart had met and fallen companionably in love with Gillian, who loved him in return. Alas, on the very day of their nuptials, Oliver, Stuart's superurbane best friend, declared the depths of his not-so-companionable, deeply passionate love for Gillian as well. Gillian, who at first denied her feelings, soon found herself likewise head-over-heels for Oliver, so she left Stuart, and she and Oliver moved abroad.

Now, ten years later, Barnes returns to the scene of the crime in Love, etc. Ten years older, and ostensibly ten years wiser, this desperately entangled threesome resume their tale.

The narrative structure of Love, etc., following that of Talking It Over, allows the reader direct access to the inner thoughts of the characters; each, in turn, speaks directly to the reader, as to an old friend, attempting to explain their version of the inexplicable ways of the heart. Stuart, Oliver, and Gillian are joined in this enterprise by a host of secondary characters -- Gillian's mom, Stuart's second ex-wife, Oliver's former landlady, etc. -- each of whom serves to reflect a piece of the story that the others either aren't privy to or just aren't willing to share.

The story they tell is this: Stuart, devastated by Gillian's betrayal ten years ago, moves to the United States where, in the way of Americans, he prospers, working at a number of professions and ultimately finding himself in the organic food distribution business. Sensing a demand back home, he returns to England and builds a small chain of organic food stores. For their part, Oliver and Gillian set up housekeeping in France, have a daughter, undergo a series of marital crises, and have another daughter, all before returning to England, where Gillian thrives as a picture restorer while Oliver tinkers with various projects.

Now Stuart reenters their lives, determined to help them escape the somewhat reduced circumstances in which he's found them. He hires Oliver, rents the couple the house that he and Gillian so briefly occupied, and is generally helpful -- throwing the threesome into another potential crisis.

The questions that linger for the three of them, the questions that Barnes so beautifully captures in this spare novel, are whether life can accurately be described as "love, etc." -- love in the center, with all of life's other stuff relegated to the et cetera -- or whether love is merely one among many of life's experiences. And can love survive those experiences? Are there people who are destined to love only one person, while others can love many, whether serially or simultaneously? And is there any way to know the truth of our emotions, or are we doomed to hide that truth from ourselves?

The characters that Barnes crafts, using their voices and the voices of others, are vivid and passionate, characters whose lives will resonate with the reader long after the novel has been put down.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is assistant professor of English and Media Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

James Schiff
Conversely cynical and optimistic about romance, Barnes gives yet another dazzling literary performance, which—through its sheer intelligence, word play and wit—reminds one of Vladimir Nabokov and John Updike.
Book Magazine
From The Critics
In Barnes' 1991 novel Talking It Over, flamboyant Oliver Russell steals and marries his best friend's wife, Gillian, then moves with her to France. End of story? Not quite; Ten years later Barnes has returned to his triangular cast. Barnes' new novel begins with all parties back in England after time spent abroad. Betrayed husband Stuart has become a successful grocery entrepreneur. The more impecunious Oliver and Gillian, with two growing daughters, are in the midst of a marriage that, like their sex life, is unexceptional albeit "friendly." Initiating contact with his old friends and pretending to hold no grudge, Stuart assumes the role of benefactor. He provides Oliver with a job and offers Oliver and Gillian the same house in which he and Gillian once lived. Yet Stuart, we assume, has ulterior motives. As in Talking It Over, Barnes' characters speak directly to the reader through a series of monologues that deal mostly with love, marriage and betrayal. Barnes is a shrewd observer of marriage; he understands how couples interact. Conversely cynical and optimistic about romance, Barnes gives yet another dazzling literary performance, which—through its sheer intelligence, word play and wit—reminds one of Vladimir Nabokov and John Updike.
—James Schiff

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The ever-brilliant Barnes concocts a mordant sexual comedy for his latest novel, taking over the later lives of three characters he introduced in the earlier Talking It Over. Straight, rather stuffy organic-food kingpin Stuart; his former best friend, the ebulliently witty layabout Oliver; and Gillian, whom Oliver stole from Stuart, address the reader in turns about just what happened (or in Oliver's case, show off for the reader in a dazzling display of verbal pyrotechnics that would bring down the house if this were a play). There's no doubt that in most ways Stuart deserves Gillian more than Oliver does, and the latter's attraction for her seems odd. On the other hand, Oliver is, unexpectedly, quite a good father, and there are hints of obtuseness and brutality about Stuart's bluff self-satisfaction. Poor Gillian, whose French-born mother also comments on the proceedings from a cynical distance, seems quite unable to decide between the two men when Stuart forcibly reenters her life. Out of their often self-serving, sometimes touchingly self-aware accounts of a handful of encounters emerges a funny, occasionally poignant look at the strange confusion between friendship and love--as well as more than a hint that nobody truly knows just who they really are and what they are capable of. It's slight but telling and, except for Oliver's wonderful and witty set pieces, oddly subdued for Barnes, but it would make an excellent play, in the Tom Stoppard vein. (Feb. 13) Forecast: Although Barnes's succession of clever novels have won him a following here, the strongly English domesticity portrayed in Love, Etc. seems unlikely to gather him many new adherents. For connoisseurs of brilliant invective, however, it's a treat, and Knopf is anticipating that interest with a 40,000 first printing. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Barnes introduced the love triangle of wife Gillian, ex-husband Stuart, and current husband Oliver in his 1991 novel Talking It Over, in which Gillian leaves Stuart for his best friend, Oliver. This sequel (which can stand on its own) picks up a decade later with Stuart returning from a successful business sojourn in America and insinuating himself into Gillian and Oliver's life. Stuart uses his wealth as a foothold for his secret goal of winning Gillian back, cloaking it as a temporary stopgap for the family's privation under unpublished writer Oliver. Reminiscent of a radio play, the plot unfolds through soliloquies, often providing conflicting versions of the same incidents. Read with British accents and theatrical nuance by a cast with theater, TV, and radio credits, this is a case where audio surpasses the printed page. The lilting and witty dialog knit into a compelling tale that is highly recommended for adult fiction collections.-Judith Robinson, Univ. at Buffalo, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Although married and proud of his wife, the successful businessman Stuart never forgot the betrayal in which his witty friend Oliver stole his wife Gillian. Over the past few years, Oliver and Gillian seem to have forged a happy life together while Stuart, though successful, never found happiness. Oliver and Gillian have had children and shockingly he is a good father. However, that does not stop the "partially Americanized" upper crust Englishman Stuart from obsessing over paradise lost and his plan to regain paradise. Stuart covets Gillian and he will be as methodically successful with regaining her as he has been with the organic food distribution business. The cost to others no longer matters. Love, Etc., the sequel to Talking It Over, is a strange relationship tale because the characters (including support players) talk in asides to the reader and not to each other. Thus the entertaining and often humorous (especially when Oliver provides a soliloquy) story reads more like a play than a novel. Julian Barnes invites the audience to come inside the heads of the cast to see varying perspectives on the same events. This ingenious book is for those fans of relationship dramas that like their literature a bit different as Mr. Barnes shows why he is so amusingly good.
From the Publisher
“Barnes’s delicate balance between laughter and despair lifts his entertainment into art.” — The Times (London)

Love, etc. is a bracing meditation on memory and forgiveness and, most important, on the simultaneously primitive and sophisticated, self-serving, and self-revealing ways in which we tell the stories of our lives." — Elle Magazine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375725883
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/11/2002
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 679,553
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 8.03 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet 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.

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

Read an Excerpt

i remember you

Stuart  Hello!

We’ve met before. Stuart. Stuart Hughes.

Yes, I am sure. Positive. About ten years ago.

It’s all right—it happens. You don’t have to pretend. But the point is, I
remember you. I remember you. I’d hardly forget, would I? A bit over ten
years, now I come to think of it.

Well, I’ve changed. Sure. This is all grey for a start. Can’t even call it
pepper-and-salt any more, can I?

Oh, and by the way, you’ve changed too. You probably think you’re pretty
much the same as you were back then. Believe me, you aren’t.

Oliver  What’s that companionable warble from the neighbouring wankpit,
that snuffle and stamp from the padded loose-box? Could it be my dear, my
old—old as in the sense of former—friend Stuart?

‘I remember you.’ How very Stuart. He is so old-, so former-fashioned that
he likes naff songs which actually predate him. I mean, it’s one thing to
be hung up on cheap music synchronous with the primal engorgement of your
own libidinous organs, be it Randy Newman or Luigi Nono. But to be hung up
on the sun-lounger singalongeries of a previous generation—that’s so very,
so touchingly Stuart, don’t you find?

Lose that puzzled expression. Frank Ifield. ‘I Remember You.’ Or rather, I
remember yoo-oo, / You’re the one that made my dreams come troo-oo. Yes?
1962. The Australian yodeller in the sheepskin car-coat? Indeed.
Indeedy-doo-oo. And what a sociological paradox he must have represented.
No disrespect to ourbronzed and Bondi’d cousins, of course. In the
world’s fawning obeisance before every cultural sub-grouping, let it not
be said that I have anything against an Australian yodeller per se. You
might be one yourself. If I prod you, do ye not yodel? In which case, I
would give you honest eye-contact and an undiscriminatory handshake. I
would welcome you into the brotherhood of man. Along with the Swiss
cricketer.

And if—by some happy whim—you actually are a Swiss cricketer, an
off-spinner from the Bernese Oberland, then let me just say, simply: 1962
was the very year of the Beatles’ first revolution at forty-five turns per
minute, and Stuart sings Frank Ifield. I rest my case.

I’m Oliver, by the way. Yes, I know you know. I could tell you remembered
me.

Gillian  Gillian. You may or may not remember me. Is there some problem?

What you have to understand is that Stuart wants you to like him, needs
you to like him, whereas Oliver has a certain difficulty imagining that
you won’t. That’s a sceptical look you’re giving me. But the truth is,
over the years I’ve watched people take against Oliver and fall under his
spell almost at the same time. Of course, there’ve been exceptions. Still,
be warned.

And me? Well, I’d prefer you to like me rather than the reverse, but
that’s normal, isn’t it? Depending on who you are, of course.

Stuart  I wasn’t actually referring to the song at all.

Gillian  Look, I actually haven’t the time. Sophie’s got music today. But
I’ve always thought of Stuart and Oliver as opposite poles of something .
. . of growing up, perhaps. Stuart believed that growing up was about
fitting in, about pleasing people, becoming a member of society. Oliver
didn’t have that problem, he always had more self-confidence. What’s that
word for plants which move in relation to the sun? Helio something. That’s
what Stuart was like. Whereas Oliver—

Oliver  —was le roi soleil, right? The nicest spousal compliment I’ve had
in some time. I’ve been called some things in this sublunary smidgeon
which goes by the name of life, but King Sol is a new one. Phoebus.
Phoe-Phi-Pho-Phumbus—

Gillian  —tropic. Heliotropic, that’s the word.

Oliver  Have you noticed this change in Gillian? The way she puts people
into categories? It’s probably her French blood. She’s half French—you
remember that? ‘Half French on her mother’s side’: that ought to mean
quarter French, logically, don’t you think? Yet what, as all the great
moralists and philosophers have noted, has logic got to do with life?

Now, had Stuart been half French, in 1962 he would have been whistling
Johnny Hallyday’s Gallic version of ‘Let’s Twist Again.’ That’s a thought,
isn’t it? A pungent pensée. And here’s another: Hallyday was half Belgian.
On his father’s side.

Stuart  In 1962 I was four years old. Just for the record.

Gillian  Actually, I don’t think I do put people into categories. It’s
just that if there are two people in the world I understand, they’re
Stuart and Oliver. After all, I have been married to both of them.

Stuart  Logic. Did someone use the word? I’ll give you logic. You go away,
and people think you’ve stayed the same. That’s the worst piece of logic
I’ve come across in years.

Oliver  Misprise me not about les Belges, by the way. When some jaunty
little dinner-table patriot ups and demands ‘Name me six famous Belgians,
I’m the one with his hand in the air. Undeterred by the words ‘Apart from
Simenon.

It may not be to do with her being French at all. It could be middle-age.
A process that happens to some, if not necessarily all of us. With Gill
the train is coming into the station roughly on time, steam activating its
beloved whistle and the boiler a tad hot and bothered. But ask yourself
when Stuart became middle-aged and the only area for debate is whether it
was before or after his testicles descended. Have you seen that photo of
him in his pram wearing a little three-piece suit and pinstripe nappies?

Whereas Oliver? Oliver long ago decided—no, knew instinctively—that
middle-age was infra dig, déclassé and generally below the salt as a
condition. Oliver is planning to compress middle-age into a single
afternoon of lying down with a migraine. He believes in youth, and he
believes in wisdom, and plans to pass from wise youth to young wisdom with
the help of a palmful of paracetamol and an eye mask from some exotic airline.

Stuart  Someone once pointed out that you can recognise a complete
egomaniac by the way they refer to themselves in the third person. Even
royalty doesn’t use the royal plural any more. But there are sportsmen and
rock stars who talk about themselves like that, as if it was normal. Have
you noticed? Bobby So-and-So’s accused of cheating, to win a penalty or
something, and he replies, ‘No, that’s not the sort of thing Bobby
So-and-So would do.’ As if there’s some separate figure out there, under
the same name, taking the flak, or shouldering the responsibility.

Which is hardly the case with Oliver. You couldn’t exactly
call him famous, could you? Yet he refers to himself as ‘Oliver,’ as if he
was an Olympic gold medallist. Or a schizophrenic, I
suppose.

Oliver  What do you think of North-South debt restructuring? The future
prospects of the euro? The smile on the face of the tiger economies? Have
metal traders exorcised the ghost of the meltdown scare? I’m sure Stuart has robust and portly opinions on all
such matters. He will be not so much grave as positively gravid. I’ll bet
you six famous Belgians he doesn’t know the difference between the two
words. He’s the sort of person who expects the word gravid to be followed
by lax, silly old fishface that he is. A billboard for probity, and all
that. But a little, shall we say, lacking in irony?

Gillian  Look, stop it, you two. Just stop it. This isn’t working.

What sort of impression do you think you’re giving?

Oliver  What did I tell you? The train is coming into the station, puff
puff, huff huff . . .

Gillian  If we’re getting into this again, we have to play by the rules.
No talking amongst ourselves. Anyway, who’s going to take Sophie to music?

Oliver:  Gillian, in case you’re wondering, is an honorary representative
of The Men Who Guess.

Stuart  Are you interested in pork? Real pork, with real taste? Where do
you stand on GM?

Oliver  Six, apart from Simenon? Easy-peasy. Magritte, César Franck,
Maeterlinck, Jacques Brel, Delvaux and Hergé, creator of Tintin. Plus fifty percent of Johnny Hallyday, I add as a pourboire.

Gillian  Stop it! You’re as bad as one another. No-one knows what you’re
talking about. Look, I just think we ought to explain things.

Stuart  As bad as one another. That’s open to question, I think. In the
present circumstances.

All right, I’d like to explain something. Frank Ifield actually wasn’t an
Australian. He may have lived there, but he was born in England. Coventry,
if you must know. Also, while we’re on the subject, ‘I Remember You’ was
in point of fact a Johnny Mercer song written twenty years previously. Why
do culture snobs always sneer about things they’re completely ignorant of?

Oliver  Explain things? Can’t we leave that until we reach the Dies Irae,
until some hydra-cocked Pandaemonian prods us with his dipstick and a
bat-headed lizard unwinds our guts on a windlass? Explain things? You
really think we ought? This isn’t daytime TV, let alone the Roman Senate.
Oh, very well, then. I’ll go first.

Stuart  I don’t see why he should. That’s absolutely typical Oliver.
Besides, everyone in marketing knows it’s always the first story that
sticks in the mind.

Oliver  Baggies I first. Baggies baggies baggies.

Gillian  Oliver, you’re forty-two. You can’t say baggies.

Oliver  Then don’t smile at me like that. Baggies. Baggy baggy baggy and
another baggy. Go on, give us a laugh. You know you want to. Please.
Pretty please.

Stuart  If this is the alternative, I’d rather be middle-aged. Officially
or unofficially.

Oliver  Ah, marketing! Always my Achilles heel. Very well, Stuart can be
our lead-off man if he wishes, pattering round the first bend bearing the
baton of truth. Don’t drop it, Stu-baby! And don’t run out of your lane.
You wouldn’t want to get the lot of us disqualified. Not this early.

I don’t care if he goes first. I merely have one request, made on grounds
not of egomania, self-interest or marketing, but of decorum, art and a
general horror of the banal. Please don’t call this next bit ‘The Story So
Far.’ Please don’t. Please. Pretty please?


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Copyright 2001 by Julian Barnes
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First Chapter

1: I Remember You

Stuart

Hello!

We've met before. Stuart. Stuart Hughes.

Yes, I am sure. Positive. About ten years ago.

It's all right—it happens. You don't have to pretend. But the point is, I remember you. I remember you. I'd hardly forget, would I? A bit over ten years, now I come to think of it.

Well, I've changed. Sure. This is all grey for a start. Can't even call it pepper-and-salt any more, can I?

Oh, and by the way, you've changed too. You probably think you're pretty much the same as you were back then. Believe me, you aren't.

Oliver

What's that companionable warble from the neighbouring wankpit, that snuffle and stamp from the padded loose-box? Could it be my dear, my old—old as in the sense of former—friend Stuart?

`I remember you.' How very Stuart. He is so old-, so former-fashioned that he likes naff songs which actually predate him. I mean, it's one thing to be hung up on cheap music synchronous with the primal engorgement of your own libidinous organs, be it Randy Newman or Luigi Nono. But to be hung up on the sun-lounger singalongeries of a previous generation—that's so very, so touchingly Stuart, don't you find?

Lose that puzzled expression. Frank Ifield. `I Remember You.' Or rather, I remember yoo-oo,/ You're the one that made my dreams come troo-oo. Yes? 1962. The Australian yodeller in the sheepskin car-coat? Indeed. Indeedy-doo-oo. And what a sociological paradox he must have represented. No disrespect to our bronzed and Bondi'd cousins, of course. In the world's fawning obeisance before every cultural sub-grouping, let it not be said that Ihave anything against an Australian yodeller per se. You might be one yourself. If I prod you, do ye not yodel? In which case, I would give you honest eye-contact and an undiscriminatory handshake. I would welcome you into the brotherhood of man. Along with the Swiss cricketer.

And if—by some happy whim—you actually are a Swiss cricketer, an off-spinner from the Bernese Oberland, then let me just say, simply: 1962 was the very year of the Beatles' first revolution at forty-five turns per minute, and Stuart sings Frank Ifield. I rest my case.

I'm Oliver, by the way. Yes, I know you know. I could tell you remembered me.

Gillian

Gillian. You may or may not remember me. Is there some problem?

What you have to understand is that Stuart wants you to like him, needs you to like him, whereas Oliver has a certain difficulty imagining that you won't. That's a sceptical look you're giving me. But the truth is, over the years I've watched people take against Oliver and fall under his spell almost at the same time. Of course, there've been exceptions. Still, be warned.

And me? Well, I'd prefer you to like me rather than the reverse, but that's normal, isn't it? Depending on who you are, of course.

Stuart

I wasn't actually referring to the song at all.

Gillian

Look, I actually haven't the time. Sophie's got music today. But I've always thought of Stuart and Oliver as opposite poles of something ... of growing up, perhaps. Stuart believed that growing up was about fitting in, about pleasing people, becoming a member of society. Oliver didn't have that problem, he always had more self-confidence. What's that word for plants which move in relation to the sun? Helio something. That's what Stuart was like. Whereas Oliver -

Oliver

—was le roi soleil, right? The nicest spousal compliment I've had in some time. I've been called some things in this sublunary smidgeon which goes by the name of life, but King Sol is a new one. Phoebus. Phoe-Phi-Pho-Phumbus -

Gillian

—tropic. Heliotropic, that's the word.

Oliver

Have you noticed this change in Gillian? The way she puts people into categories? It's probably her French blood. She's half French—you remember that? `Half French on her mother's side': that ought to mean quarter French, logically, don't you think? Yet what, as all the great moralists and philosophers have noted, has logic got to do with life?

Now, had Stuart been half French, in 1962 he would have been whistling Johnny Hallyday's Gallic version of `Let's Twist Again'. That's a thought, isn't it? A pungent pensee. And here's another: Hallyday was half Belgian. On his father's side.

Stuart

In 1962 I was four years old. Just for the record.

Gillian

Actually, I don't think I do put people into categories. It's just that if there are two people in the world I understand, they're Stuart and Oliver. After all, I have been married to both of them.

Stuart

Logic. Did someone use the word? I'll give you logic. You go away, and people think you've stayed the same. That's the worst piece of logic I've come across in years.

Oliver

Misprise me not about les Belges, by the way. When some jaunty little dinner-table patriot ups and demands `Name me six famous Belgians', I'm the one with his hand in the air. Undeterred by the words `Apart from Simenon'.

It may not be to do with her being French at all. It could be middle-age. A process that happens to some, if not necessarily all of us. With Gill the train is coming into the station roughly on time, steam activating its beloved whistle and the boiler a tad hot and bothered. But ask yourself when Stuart became middle-aged and the only area for debate is whether it was before or after his testicles descended. Have you seen that photo of him in his pram wearing a little three-piece suit and pinstripe nappies?

Whereas Oliver? Oliver long ago decided—no, knew instinctively—that middle-age was infra dig, declasse and generally below the salt as a condition. Oliver is planning to compress middle-age into a single afternoon of lying down with a migraine. He believes in youth, and he believes in wisdom, and plans to pass from wise youth to young wisdom with the help of a palmful of paracetamol and an eye mask from some exotic airline.

Stuart

Someone once pointed out that you can recognise a complete egomaniac by the way they refer to themselves in the third person. Even royalty doesn't use the royal plural any more. But there are sportsmen and rock stars who talk about themselves like that, as if it was normal. Have you noticed? Bobby So-and-So's accused of cheating, to win a penalty or something, and he replies, `No, that's not the sort of thing Bobby So-and-So would do.' As if there's some separate figure out there, under the same name, taking the flak, or shouldering the responsibility.

Which is hardly the case with Oliver. You couldn't exactly call him famous, could you? Yet he refers to himself as `Oliver', as if he was an Olympic gold medallist. Or a schizophrenic, I suppose.

Oliver

What do you think of North-South debt restructuring? The future prospects of the euro? The smile on the face of the tiger economies? Have metal traders exorcised the ghost of the meltdown scare? I'm sure Stuart has robust and portly opinions on all such matters. He will be not so much grave as positively gravid. I'll bet you six famous Belgians he doesn't know the difference between the two words. He's the sort of person who expects the word gravid to be followed by lax, silly old fishface that he is. A billboard for probity, and all that. But a little, shall we say, lacking in irony?

Gillian

Look, stop it, you two. Just stop it. This isn't working.

What sort of impression do you think you're giving?

Oliver

What did I tell you? The train is coming into the station, puff puff, huff huff ...

Gillian

If we're getting into this again, we have to play by the rules. No talking amongst ourselves. Anyway, who's going to take Sophie to music?

Oliver

Gillian, in case you're wondering, is an honorary representative of The Men Who Guess.

Stuart

Are you interested in pork? Real pork, with real taste? Where do you stand on GM?

Oliver

Six, apart from Simenon? Easy-peasy. Magritte, Cesar Franck, Maeterlinck, Jacques Brel, Delvaux and Herge, creator of Tintin. Plus fifty per cent of Johnny Hallyday, I add as a pourboire.

Gillian

Stop it! You're as bad as one another. No-one knows what you're talking about. Look, I just think we ought to explain things.

Stuart

As bad as one another. That's open to question, I think. In the present circumstances.

All right, I'd like to explain something. Frank Ifield actually wasn't an Australian. He may have lived there, but he was born in England. Coventry, if you must know. Also, while we're on the subject, `I Remember You' was in point of fact a Johnny Mercer song written twenty years previously. Why do culture snobs always sneer about things they're completely ignorant of?

Oliver

Explain things? Can't we leave that until we reach the Dies Irae, until some hydra-cocked Pandaemonian prods us with his dipstick and a bat-headed lizard unwinds our guts on a windlass? Explain things? You really think we ought? This isn't daytime TV, let alone the Roman Senate. Oh, very well, then. I'll go first.

Stuart

I don't see why he should. That's absolutely typical Oliver. Besides, everyone in marketing knows it's always the first story that sticks in the mind.

Oliver

Baggies I first. Baggies baggies baggies.

Gillian

Oliver, you're forty-two. You can't say baggies.

Oliver

Then don't smile at me like that. Baggies. Baggy baggy baggy and another baggy. Go on, give us a laugh. You know you want to. Please. Pretty please.

Stuart

If this is the alternative, I'd rather be middle-aged. Officially or unofficially.

Oliver

Ah, marketing! Always my Achilles heel. Very well, Stuart can be our lead-off man if he wishes, pattering round the first bend bearing the baton of truth. Don't drop it, Stu-baby! And don't run out of your lane. You wouldn't want to get the lot of us disqualified. Not this early.

I don't care if he goes first. I merely have one request, made on grounds not of egomania, self-interest or marketing, but of decorum, art and a general horror of the banal. Please don't call this next bit `The Story So Far'. Please don't. Please. Pretty please?

Excerpted from Love, etc. by Julian Barnes. Copyright © 2000 by Julian Barnes. Excerpted by permission of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Insightful relationship drama

    Although married and proud of his wife, the successful businessman Stuart never forgot the betrayal in which his witty friend Oliver stole his wife Gillian. Over the past few years, Oliver and Gillian seem to have forged a happy life together while Stuart, though successful, never found happiness. Oliver and Gillian have had children and shockingly he is a good father. <P> However, that does not stop the ¿partially Americanized¿ upper crust Englishman Stuart from obsessing over paradise lost and his plan to regain paradise. Stuart covets Gillian and he will be as methodically successful with regaining her as he has been with the organic food distribution business. The cost to others no longer matters. <P> LOVE, ETC., the sequel to TALKING IT OVER, is a strange relationship tale because the characters (including support players) talk in asides to the reader and not to each other. Thus the entertaining and often humorous (especially when Oliver provides a soliloquy) story reads more like a play than a novel. Julian Barnes invites the audience to come inside the heads of the cast to see varying perspectives on the same events. This ingenious book is for those fans of relationship dramas that like their literature a bit different as Mr. Barnes shows why he is so amusingly good. <P>Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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