Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Book Review - Love, etc by Julian Barnes

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, September 02, 2009 | Category: |

Love, etc by Julian Barnes

Some time ago I read Julian Barnes's Talking It Over. Published in the early 90s it made a fair dent on contemporary literature by simultaneously maintaining entertainment and fun, with the interesting and semi-postmodern gimmick of switching between narrators. I reviewed (in the earlier days of my reviews - it was brief indeed) Talking It Over in December of 2008 - take a look if you want to get the gist.

Anyway, on my recent flight to Cape Town, having divested myself of many books because of our move from Italy to London, I needed something to keep my going during the flight and during the layover in Qatar. I purchased Love, etc by Julian Barnes and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (review to follow shortly). I finished Love, etc easily during the flight and thoroughly enjoyed it.

What does Love, etc offer? It's the sequel to Talking It Over - and it involves the same characters. Barnes decided to set it ten years on - Stuart, Oliver and Gillian are our main narrators, along with Gillian's mum, Stuart's 'bit of crumpet' who also happens to be Gillian's assistant, and one or two others. Apart from characters, expect symmetry. The idea behind Love, etc seems to be a symmetricality of narrative - creating symmetry in the ideas of marriage and infidelity, memory and recall, perception and interpretation, similar to those that pervaded Talking It Over. In Talking It Over, however, those ideas were new. I understand why Barnes would want to create symmetry with what happened to his characters - and what his character think and believe - in middle age. But, in Love, etc the techniques don't work as well, nor are the characters as likeable or as easy to sympathise with as they felt in Talking It Over.

Nevertheless, Love, etc is still an entertaining, amusing, and generally occupying book. Barnes fills it with wit, intelligence and clever commentary. The book generally pleased me, and I especially appreciated the diversion on a plane filled with Chinese pre-adolescents kicking the back of my chair, with air hosts and hostesses (what is the PC name for these people nowadays? air assistants? aircraft personnel?) who kept on bumping my knees with their trolleys, and with someone in front of me who insisted on always having their seat as far down as possible after the captain allowed them to do so. Love, etc was calmness and sanity in a sea of annoyance. So yes, perfectly suitable, funny and good, just not as good as Talking It Over.

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