Staring at the Sun

Overview

Jean Serjeant, the heroine of Julian Barnes's wonderfully provocative novel, seems ordinary, but has an extraordinary disdain for wisdom. And as Barnes--author of The Porcupine and Talking It Over--follows her from her childhood in the 1920s to her flight into the sun in the year 2021, he confronts readers with the fruits of her relentless curiosity: pilgrimages to China and the Grand Canyon; a catalog of 1940s sexual euphemisms; and a glimpse of technology in the twenty-first century (when The Absolute Truth can...
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Staring at the Sun

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Overview

Jean Serjeant, the heroine of Julian Barnes's wonderfully provocative novel, seems ordinary, but has an extraordinary disdain for wisdom. And as Barnes--author of The Porcupine and Talking It Over--follows her from her childhood in the 1920s to her flight into the sun in the year 2021, he confronts readers with the fruits of her relentless curiosity: pilgrimages to China and the Grand Canyon; a catalog of 1940s sexual euphemisms; and a glimpse of technology in the twenty-first century (when The Absolute Truth can be universally accessed).

"With this exceptional major novel...Julian Barnes establishes himself as a writer of the caliber of Mario Vargas Llosa, Salman Rushdie, and Thomas Pynchon..."--Boston Globe

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From guileless child to implausibly innocent adolescent and young woman, Jean Serjeantthe central figure in this wonderfully imagined novel by the gifted author of Flaubert's Parrotunaccountably and perhaps a mite too easily becomes a mature woman who, without losing her endearing, wide-eyed qualities, acquires a wisdom that lies beyond reason. The narrative of her unremarkable life would otherwise seem drab: she marries the village policeman and stays unhappily married for 20 years, whenseemingly beyond childbearingshe brings forth a son and thereupon leaves her marriage to enter the wider world. A grounded RAF pilot who cracked under the strain of combat tells her that he ``stared at the sun'' flying a combat mission in 1941, on the day it had risen twice in what he calls an ``ordinary miracle.'' What is astonishing and moving about Jean's life is its very conventionality and ordinariness; it is as though the author had challenged himself to make poetry out of dust. At the venerable age of 100 in the year 2021, Jean is able to give her son definitive answers to the ultimate questions about death it is ``absolute'', religion ``nonsense'', suicide not ``permissible'' while retaining an undiminished sense of awe in the face of a mysterious universe, as she herself, with the fitting grandeur of her unspoiled simplicity, flies up and up into the sky, staring at the sun. April 2
Library Journal
This ``gentle novel'' LJ 4/1/87 by the author of the acclaimed Flaubert's Parrot follows the life of protagonist Jean from childhood to age 100. Throughout, Jean searches for truths in her life, eventually finding the answers she seeks. For all fiction collections.
Carlos Fuentes
"Brilliant...a marvelous literary ephemy." -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679748205
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1993
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: REISSUE
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 465,708
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.50 (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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