Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story [NOOK Book]

Overview

From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending and one of Britain?s greatest writers: a brilliant collection of essays on the books and authors that have meant the most to him throughout his illustrious career.
 
In these seventeen essays (plus a short story and a special preface, ?A Life with Books?), Julian Barnes examines the British, French and American writers who have shaped his writing, as well as the ...
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Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story

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Overview

From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending and one of Britain’s greatest writers: a brilliant collection of essays on the books and authors that have meant the most to him throughout his illustrious career.
 
In these seventeen essays (plus a short story and a special preface, “A Life with Books”), Julian Barnes examines the British, French and American writers who have shaped his writing, as well as the cross-currents and overlappings of their different cultures. From the deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald to the directness of Hemingway, from Kipling’s view of France to the French view of Kipling, from the many translations of Madame Bovary to the fabulations of Ford Madox Ford, from the National Treasure status of George Orwell to the despair of Michel Houellebecq, Julian Barnes considers what fiction is, and what it can do. As he writes, “Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, and how we lose it.”
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this anthology, Man Booker Prize-winning British novelist Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) takes us through a life lived in literature. The 17 essays, previously published in newspapers and magazines, pay tribute to writers beloved of Barnes; the one piece of fiction is called "Homage to Hemingway: A Short Story." There is a lack of unity among the essays, which is to be expected from a showcase of disparate pieces spanning more than 15 years and presented non-chronologically. Many of the pieces shine individually, the anthology is at its best when Barnes writes historically (the detailed account and analysis of the difficulties encountered by generations of translators of Madame Bovary is especially illuminating, or biographically (the essay "George Orwell and the Fucking Elephant" a deeper perspective about how large Orwell looms in British culture and why). However, some of the most personal compositions devolve into unadulterated love-fests, like the opening essay about Penelope Fitzgerald, and the remembrance of John Updike. As a whole, though, most avid readers will find more here to like than to dislike; unsurprisingly, one's mileage may vary based on enthusiasm for, and familiarity with, the books and poems Barnes discusses. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
The focus on books and literature makes this more cohesive than the usual collection of journalistic miscellany. Barnes deserves a breather after hitting his novelistic peak with the Man Booker Prize–winning The Sense of an Ending (2011), preceded by a best-selling meditation on mortality (Nothing to Be Frightened Of, 2008). The preface to these critical pieces on individual authors or works (plus one short story, "Homage to Hemingway") should strike a responsive chord in anyone who loves books. As Barnes writes, "I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books." He then makes a series of deep, loving plunges into the world of literature, into posthumous celebrations of Penelope Fitzgerald (who had been, in his estimation, "the best living English novelist") and John Updike (whose Rabbit Quartet, he writes, constitutes "the greatest post-war American novel"). Many of the essays concern those who Barnes thinks should be better known, or at least more often read, including three pieces on Ford Madox Ford that explore "his past and continuing neglect" and one on the "marginal" poet Arthur Hugh Clough. Barnes' celebration of the "virtually unknown" 17th-century French author Nicolas-Sébastien Roch de Chamfort ranks with the most interesting here, as does his assessment of the notorious Michel Houellebecq: "There are certain books--sardonic and acutely pessimistic--which systematically affront all our current habits of living, and treat our presumptions of mind as the delusions of the cretinous." Not every piece will connect with every reader, but Barnes is a fine literary companion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345805515
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/20/2012
  • Series: Vintage International
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 822,337
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Julian Barnes is the author of ten previous novels, three books of short stories, and three collections of journalism. In addition to the Booker Prize, his other honors include the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 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

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the preface
 
I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. And it was through books that I first realized there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer’s voice gets inside a reader’s head. I was perhaps lucky that for the first ten years of my life there was no competition from television; and when one finally arrived into the household, it was under the strict control of my parents. They were both schoolteachers, so respect for the book and what it contained were implicit. We didn’t go to church, but we did go to the library.
 
My maternal grandparents were also teachers. Grandpa had a mail-order set of Dickens and a Nelson’s Encyclopaedia in about twenty-five small red volumes. My parents had classier and more varied books, and in later life became members of the Folio Society. I grew up assuming that all homes contained books; that this was normal. It was normal, too, that they were valued for their usefulness: to learn from at school, to dispense and verify information, and to entertain during the holidays. My father had collections of Times Fourth Leaders; my mother might enjoy a Nancy Mitford. Their shelves also contained the leather-bound prizes my father had won at Ilkeston County School between 1921 and 1925, mostly for ‘General Proficiency’ or ‘General Excellence’: The Pageant of English Prose, Goldsmith’s Poetical Works, Cary’s Dante, Lytton’s Last of the Barons, Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth.
 
None of these works excited me as a boy. I first started investigating my parents’ shelves (and those of my grandparents, and of my older brother) when awareness of sex dawned. Grandpa’s library contained little lubricity except a scene or two in John Masters’s Bhowani Junction; my parents had William Orpen’s The Outline of Art with several important black-and-white illustrations; but my brother owned a copy of Petronius’s Satyricon, which was the hottest book by far on the home shelves. The Romans definitely led a more riotous life than the one I witnessed around me in Northwood, Middlesex. Banquets, slave girls, orgies, all sorts of stuff. I wonder if my brother noticed that after a while some of the pages of his Satyricon were almost falling from the spine. Foolishly, I assumed that all his ancient classics must have similar erotic content. I spent many a dull day with his Hesiod before concluding that this wasn’t the case.
 
The local high street included an establishment we referred to as ‘the bookshop’. In fact, it was a fancy-goods store plus stationer’s with a downstairs room, about half of which was given over to books. Some of them were quite respectable—Penguin classics, Penguin and Pan fiction. Part of me assumed that these were all the books that there were. I mean, I knew there were different books in the public library, and there were school books, which were again different; but in terms of the wider world of books, I assumed this tiny sample was somehow representative. Occasionally, in another suburb or town, we might visit a ‘real’ bookshop, which usually turned out to be a branch of W. H. Smith.
 
The only variant book-source came if you won a school prize (I was at City of London School, then on Victoria Embankment next to Blackfriars Bridge). Winners were allowed to choose their own books, usually under parental supervision. But again, this was somehow a narrowing rather than a broadening exercise. You could choose them only from a selection available at a private showroom in an office block on the South Bank: a place both slightly mysterious and utterly functional. It was, I later discovered, yet another part of W. H. Smith. Here were books of weight and worthiness, the sort to be admired rather than perhaps ever read. Your school prize would have a particular value, you chose a book for up to that amount, whereupon it vanished from your sight, to reappear on Lord Mayor’s Prize Day, when the Lord Mayor of London, in full regalia, would personally hand it over to you. Now it would contain a pasted-in page on the front endpaper describing your achievement, while the cloth cover bore the gilt-embossed school arms. I can remember little of what I obediently chose when guided by my parents. But in 1963 I won the Mortimer English prize, and, being now seventeen, must have gone by myself to that depository of seriousness, where I found (whose slip-up could it have been?) a copy of Ulysses. I can still see the disapproving face of the Lord Mayor as his protectively gloved hand passed over to me this notoriously filthy novel.
 
By now, I was beginning to view books as more than just utilitarian: sources of information, instruction, delight or titillation. First there was the excitement and meaning of possession. To own a certain book—and to choose it without help—was to define yourself. And that self-definition had to be protected, physically. So I would cover my favourite books (paperbacks, inevitably, out of financial constraint) with transparent Fablon. First, though, I would write my name—in a recently acquired italic hand, in blue ink, underlined with red—on the edge of the inside cover. The Fablon would then be cut and fitted so that it also covered and protected the ownership signature. Some of these books—for instance, David Magarshak’s Penguin translations of the Russian classics—are still on my shelves.
 
Self-definition was one kind of magic. And then I was slowly introduced to another kind: that of the old, the secondhand, the non-new book. I remember a line of Auden first editions in the glass-fronted bookcase of a neighbour: a man, moreover, who had actually known Auden decades previously, and even played cricket with him. These facts seemed to me astonishing. I had never set eyes on a writer, or known anyone who had known a writer. I might have heard one or two on the wireless, seen one or two on television in a ‘Face to Face’ interview with John Freeman. But our family’s nearest connection to Literature was the fact that my father had read modern languages at Nottingham University, where the Professor was Ernest Weekley, whose wife had run off with D. H. Lawrence. Oh, and my mother had once seen R. D. Smith, husband of Olivia Manning, on a Birmingham station platform. Yet here were the ownership copies of someone who had known one of the country’s most famous living poets. Further, these books contained Auden’s still-echoing words in the form in which they had first come into the world. I sensed this magic sharply, and wanted part of it. So, from my student years, I became a book-collector as well as a book-user, and discovered that bookshops weren’t all owned by W. H. Smith.
 
Over the next decade or so—from the late Sixties to the late Seventies—I became a furious book-hunter, driving to the market towns and cathedral cities of England in my Morris Traveller and loading it with books bought at a rate which far exceeded any possible reading speed. This was a time when most towns of reasonable size had at least one large, long-established secondhand bookshop, often found within the shadow of the cathedral or city church; as I remember, you could usually park right outside for as long as you wanted. Without exception these would be independently owned shops—sometimes with a selection of new books at the front—and I immediately felt at home in them. The atmosphere, for a start, was so different. Here books seemed to be valued, and to form part of a continuing culture. By now, I probably preferred secondhand books to new ones. In America such items were disparagingly referred to as ‘previously owned’; but this very continuity of ownership was part of their charm. A book dispensed its explanation of the world to one person, then another, and so on down the generations; different hands held the same book and drew sometimes the same, sometimes a different wisdom from it. Old books showed their age: they had fox-marks the way old people had liver-spots. They also smelt good—even when they reeked of cigarettes and (occasionally) cigars. And many might disgorge pungent ephemera: ancient publishers’ announcements and old bookmarks—often for insurance companies or Sunlight soap.
 
So I would drive to Salisbury, Petersfield, Aylesbury, Southport, Cheltenham, Guildford, getting into back rooms and locked warehouses and storesheds whenever I could. I was much less at ease in places which smelt of fine buildings, or which knew all too well the value of each item for sale. I preferred the democratic clutter of a shop whose stock was roughly ordered and where bargains were possible. In those days, even in shops selling new books, there was none of the ferociously fast turnaround that modern central management imposes. Nowadays, the average shelf life of a new hardback novel—assuming it can reach a shelf in the first place—is four months. Then, books would stay on the shelves until someone bought them, or they might be reluctantly put into a special sale, or moved to the secondhand department, where they might rest for years on end. That book you couldn’t afford, or weren’t sure you really wanted, would often still be there on your return trip the following year. Secondhand shops demonstrated how severe posterity’s judgment often turns out to be. Charles Morgan, Hugh Walpole, Dornford Yates, Lord Lytton, Mrs Henry Wood—there would be yards and yards of them out there, waiting for fashion to turn again. It rarely did.
 
I bought with a hunger which I recognise, looking back, was a kind of neediness: well, bibliomania is a known condition. Book-buying certainly consumed more than half of my disposable income. I bought first editions of the writers I most admired: Waugh, Greene, Huxley, Durrell, Betjeman. I bought first editions of Victorian poets like Tennyson and Browning (neither of whom I had read) because they seemed astonishingly cheap. The dividing line between books I liked, books I thought I would like, books I hoped I would like, and books I didn’t like now but thought I might at some future date was rarely distinct. I collected King Penguins, Batsford books on the countryside, and the Britain in Pictures series produced by Collins in the 1940s and 1950s. I bought poetry pamphlets and leather-backed French encyclopaedias published by Larousse; cartoon books and Victorian keepsakes; out-of-date dictionaries and bound copies of magazines from the Cornhill to the Strand. I bought a copy of Sensation!, the first Belgian edition of Waugh’s Scoop. I even made up a category called Odd Books, used to justify the eccentric purchases such as Sir Robert Baden-Powell’s Pig-Sticking or Hog-Hunting, Bombadier Billy Wells’s Physical Energy, Cheiro’s Guide to the Hand, and Tap-Dancing Made Easy by ‘Isolde’. All are still on my shelves, if rarely consulted. I also bought books it made no sense to buy, either at the time or in retrospect— like all three volumes (in first edition, with dust-wrappers, and definitely unread by the previous owner) of Sir Anthony Eden’s memoirs. Where was the sense in that? My case was made worse by the fact that I was, in the jargon of the trade, a completist. So, for instance, because I had admired the few plays of Shaw that I’d seen, I ended up with several feet of his work, even down to obscure pamphlets about vegetarianism. Since Shaw was so popular, and his print-runs accordingly vast, I never paid much for any of this collection. Which also meant that when, thirty years later, having become less keen on Shaw’s didacticism and self-conscious wit, I decided to sell out, a clear minus profit was made.
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Table of Contents

Preface

The Deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald
The ‘Unpoetical’ Clough
George Orwell and the Fucking Elephant
Ford’s The Good Soldier
Ford and Provence
Ford’s Anglican Saint
Kipling’s France
France’s Kipling
The Wisdom of Chamfort
The Man Who Saved Old France
The Profile of Félix Fénéon
Michel Houellebecq and the Sin of Despair
Translating Madame Bovary
Wharton’s The Reef
Homage to Hemingway: a Short Story
Lorrie Moore Takes Wing
Remembering Updike, Remembering Rabbit
Regulating Sorrow

Acknowledgements
Index

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