In ''Cross Channel,'' Barnes began warming up to this geriatric material with stories like ''Experiment'' and ''Tunnel.'' Now 58, he may be ideally positioned for the subject matter, just close enough to be agitated by its looming personal relevance and still far enough away for it to require the imaginative feats he performs in this compact book. The Lemon Table, in ways both modest and grand, helps sustain a reader's faith in literature as the truest form of assisted living.
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
The best of these tales are beautifully wrought elegies for lost youth, lost promises and lost loves. They are stories that reveal an emotional depth new to the writings of the usually cerebral Mr. Barnes, who has been best known in the past for dazzling literary entertainments like Flaubert's Parrot and sly comedies of manners like Talking It Over.
The New York Times
Polished and classically structured, the 11 exquisite stories in this collection are as stylish as any of Barnes's creations, while also possessed of a pleasing heft. Told from a dazzling array of viewpoints, each is underpinned with a familiar Barnes concern: death. In "The Revival," the Russian writer Turgenev ruminates on lost love at the end of his life (as Tolstoy looks on), while in "Hygiene" a WWII vet revisits more than just his old mates during an annual trip to London for his regimental dinner. The past is seen from the perspective of the barber's chair in "A Short History of Hairdressing," and from two entirely separate angles in "The Things You Know," about a pair of widows who mentally savage each other over the course of a polite breakfast. Fans of Barnes's conversational novels, such as Love, Etc. and Talking It Over, may be nonplussed by the Dinesen-like sonority of the prose in "The Story of Mats Israelson" ("When Havlar Berggren succumbed to akvavit, frivolity and atheism, and transferred ownership of the third stall to an itinerant knife-grinder, it was on Berggren, not the knife-grinder, that disapproval fell, and a more suitable appointment was made in exchange for a few riksdaler"), but readers willing to follow Barnes's imagination will not be disappointed. With the exception of the plodding last story, "The Silence" (in which the title phrase is explained: "Among the Chinese, the lemon is the symbol of death"), the author handles his dark subject matter with grace and humor. This is not a morbid trip. Instead, Barnes always has his eye on something unusual, and the reader is taken for a delightful ride. Agent, Helen Brann. (July 9) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Booker Prize-nominated Barnes's new collection is on audio for the first time. Read by British actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales. (Print review: LJ 6/1/04) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Eleven old-fashioned stories that take their time but are riveting, muscular, and real. The ever-capable Barnes (Love, Etc., 2001; the nonfiction Something to Declare, 2002, etc., etc.) is able to write knowingly on an extraordinary range of subjects-from, say, an aristocratic tale of 19th-century French stoicism and sexuality ("Bark") to the story of a married British military pensioner who falls in love-depending on how you define that-with the London prostitute he sees once a year ("Hygiene"). The approaching death of a great modern composer-on personal terms with Stravinsky and Ralph Vaughn Williams-is every bit as incisive, observant, and moving in its way ("The Silence") as is the tale of long-ago Sweden and a 23-year love affair that goes unconsummated, unrecognized, and, in the end, pathetically misunderstood ("The Story of Mats Israelson"). Stories that might be merely topical or trendy in lesser hands bear real fruit in Barnes's, as witness "Appetite," a tale about the ravages of Alzheimer's that never comes even close to the dread magazine-article tone that so often haunts and diminishes such efforts; or "The Fruit Cage," the genuinely compelling story of an aging woman (her grown son narrates) who may indeed actually be a physical abuser of her husband. Even prospectively lesser material can grow authoritative and large with Barnes's treatment-like his look at hair-cutting then and now ("A Short History of Hairdressing"), or his one-act-playlike portrayal of two widows, each thinking she has the goods on the other ("The Things You Know"). Most moving of all may be "Knowing French," made up of letters written by an octogenarian to "Mr. Novelist Barnes." The writer is living inan old folks' home (an "Old Folkery"), but she demonstrates such brio, pizzazz, introspection, and natural learnedness-all as she's about to die-that no reader can help but love her. Fine stories, well rounded and grounded. Six of the eleven have appeared in The New Yorker. Agent: Helen Brann/Helen Brann Agency
"A master at work, a writer in absolute control of his material. . . . Sweet, sour, bitter, wistful, ruminative, comic, elegiac–The Lemon Table is . . . a joy to read." –San Francisco Chronicle"Beautifully wrought elegies for lost youth, lost promises and lost loves [that] attest to Mr. Barnes's growing depth as a writer, his newly embraced ability to create stories that are as affecting as they are cunning, as emotionally resonant as they are prettily fashioned." –New York Times"Filled with emotional resonance and hard-won wisdom, The Lemon Table is a virtuoso performance of remarkable clarity and insight." –Los Angeles Times Book Review"Mr. Barnes handles his somber material with compassion, verve, shrewd intelligence and a sharp sense of irony. . . . Reading [these stories] is an experience more enlivening than depressing, [even as] mortality itself is ever present and truthfully confronted. –The Wall Street Journal"Barnes is a top-flight precisionist, [with] the steady, pleasing wit of English comic realism, in which sheer intelligence and acute observation carry the whole production, line after line, page after page . . . The Lemon Table, in ways both modest and grand, helps sustain a reader's faith in literature as the truest form of assisted living." –New York Times Book Review
"These gracefully constructed stories are subtle, erudite, and wise; they elevate us because there are few such generous observers of humanity. In a word: The Lemon Table is Barnes at his profound, dexterous best." –Esquire"[Julian Barnes is] one of the most gifted contemporary shapers of prose, possessed of a remarkable limberness of form and voice, and an unconstrained literary imagination." –The New Republic
"The stories in The Lemon Table are quite old-fashioned–in the best sense of the word. They remind one of the deceptive simplicity of the stories of Chekhov or that prodigy of the absurd, Nikolai Gogol. With their underlying classicism, their commitment to truth and beauty, Barnes's stories also harken back to a pre-existential time in which hope was still, in a tragic sort of way, possible." –Boston Globe
"Barnes can telescope the whole world through a single lens . . . Each story unfolds with masterly speed, diving quickly to the heart of the matter." –Louisville Courier-Journal“Remarkable meditations on loneliness and aging.” –St. Petersburg Times
“Julian Barnes has many interests [and] a variety of talents that enable him to manage them all . . . The Lemon Table leaves one in no doubt as to Barnes's virtuosity.”–The Guardian
"[A] brave, well-crafted book . . . Barnes describes the realities of aging with precision and a knack for matching narrative device to psychological reality." –People
"'Were you as young as you felt, or as old as you looked?' This is the conundrum at the heart of The Lemon Table, [with] assorted pensioners, catty widows, randy old army majors, and noise-sensitive concertgoers forcefully exercising their right not to go gently into that good night." –Vogue