Staring At The Sun
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Staring At The Sun

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  797 ratings  ·  50 reviews
A fighter pilot, high above the English Channel in 1941, watches the sun rise; he descends 10,000 feet and then, to his amazement, finds the sun beginning to rise again. With this haunting image Julian Barnes' novel begins. It charts the life of Jean Serjeant, from her beginnings as a naive, carefree country girl before the war through to her wry and trenchant old age in t...more
Paperback, 195 pages
Published March 18th 2005 by Picador USA (first published 1986)
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Community Reviews

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Julian Barnes has certainly improved a bit in the last 25 years. I recently read his wonderful latest book, The Sense of an Ending (review here:, and for my second Barnes, turned to this, one of his earliest, from 1986. Both books document a long life, but the style is very different. There is a promising novel struggling to reveal itself here, but this isn't it.

It is the story of Jean, told in three parts: as a late teen on the cusp of marriage at the e...more
Nandakishore Varma
The really important questions do not have answers: and the really important answers do not need questions. Life is itself, not comparable to anything. And all the great miracles are present in the here and the now, if only we can see them... like staring at the sun through the gap between your fingers.

...Some of the things which I took away from this magical, unreviewable book.

Read it.
This is an early Barnes book (1986) which recalled Metroland (1980), one of his first books that got me hooked on Barnes. After reading most of his last books this was both a blast in the past as well as making me realize that some of his subjects such as love, death and existence has never left him and hence, reinforces why I love his books.

This is the story of a very plain woman, Jean Sergeant who, after living through World War II meets a pilot who boasts he can stare at the sun. Intrigued by...more
Ho trovato interessante il progetto di base di questo romanzo, ma il modo in cui lo scrittore ha scelto di svilupparlo mi è sembrato fiacco e disorganico. L'ho letto sulla scia del bellissimo "Il senso di una fine", sperando di trovarvi la stessa densità di contenuti, ma le mie aspettative sono risultate in gran parte deluse.

Le pagine più originali e suggestive sono quelle relative alla vicenda della protagonista, Jean, che, ormai quasi centenaria, ripercorre gli episodi salienti della propria v...more
In his recent Booker Prizewinning The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes' middle-aged character tries to make sense of a pivotal event in his life many years ago. Barnes had written about an elderly character looking back on a life once before in Staring at the Sun, one of his earlier works written in 1985, and the difference between the two books is instructive. Both are massively ambitious. Whereas The Sense of an Ending explores the nature of history, Staring at the Sun tries to tell whether y...more
Jun 25, 2012 Neil rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: owned
One of the most remarkable books I ever read. I'm generally stuck in either whodunit or historical ruts, and it has to be said I'm happy there.
But this is one of the few exceptions that has, as we stuck in the '60s insist on saying, 'blown my mind'. It is such a mixture of tragedy, comedy, trivia and deep philosophy as to keep the reader on his toes throughout. And it's not a page-turner; every so often, you just have to slip in a bookmark and think. Then re-read the chapter that MADE you think....more
Julie Balazs
2.5 stars

Either I'm not smart enough for this book or it's not as good as I hoped it would be. Or both.

The good:
1. I love Jean. She's curious but naive and no one will tell her anything about anything. It's no wonder she agrees that she must be stupid when really she's anything but.

2. Other characters are inconsistently developed, but filtered through Jean and their interactions with Jean, they are interesting, especially Tommy Prosser, Uncle Leslie, and Rachel.

3. There aren't a lot of writer...more
Ďalšia kniha od Juliana Barnesa, v ktorej nechýbajú úvahy o smrti, samovražde, posmrtnom živote a existencii boha. Len si nie som istá, či si autor konkrétne v tomto prípade zvolil najšťastnejšie.
K prvým dvom častiam knihy, ktoré sú venované jednoduchému životu prostej Jean Serjeantovej od detstva po začiatok staroby a nevynikajúcej takmer v ničom, je pripojená časť tretia, kde sa jej syn zamýšľa nad ukončením svojho života a kde vedie rozhovory s akýmsi futuristickým "vševediacim" počítačom, p...more
Stephen Curran
Here is a sentence from towards the end of this roaming philosophical novel, describing a flight taken at dusk: “four broad fingers of cloud stretched across the horizon, and the sun was slipping down the back of them. Several times it popped into bright view and disappeared again, like a juggler's coin spinning slowly through the knuckles.”

Every image echoes something that has gone before in the life of centenarian Jean Serjeant: the four fingers of cloud are a reminder of WWII pilot Tommy Pros...more
Scott Liddell
I'd like to think I'd have been brave enough to be a woman, but somehow I doubt it. It remains to be seen how I'll cope with the tedious matter of death but I'm no rush to sit that test.

Dazzlingly thought provoking, brilliantly written (as always) and with a charming foretelling of our world of Google, Wikipedia and Siri - imagination, pathos and a morbid honesty.

I will read everything Julian Barnes has written because failing to do so would be unforgiveable.
Apr 11, 2012 Megan added it
We could never be married, me and Julian Barnes. His point of view is too foreign to me, we would be discussing the same thing and scarcely able to understand each other. Separated by a common language, as it were. It's not to say that I didn't like, or find sympathy with, or relate to this book, or any of his books, for that matter; I'm just not sure I understand where he's coming from, or where he's going. At the end, what I feel most of is perplexity.
A NY Times Best Book of 1987. The novel charts the life of Jean Serjeant, a lower middle-class English woman, from girlhood through WW II, marriage, separation, motherhood and travel to the age of 99 in the 21st century. The underlying question is whether ordinary people must lead ordinary lives or if magic is possible. Jean leads an everyday life with glimpses of enchantment and therein lies the beauty of the novel.
Suzanne Arcand
Another brilliant book by Julian Barnes. With "Flaubert's Parrot" and "The Story of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters" they are my three favorite books by Julian Barnes and all of them make it in my top 10 books of all times.

This book is hugely surprising. I find it hard to say more without giving away the plot. Let's say that it asks Very Important question in a very original way.
The blurb of this edition is plastered with enthusiastic reviews which I struggle to endorse.

The book begins promisingly in the cockpit of a WW2 aircraft, with images from the English channel. We move on to explore the youth of our heroine, Jean, an undereducated and sheltered woman, her relationship with her uncle Leslie and her repressed courtship and marriage. We leap to her middle age, her life with her son, and her sudden discovery of travel. The last section deals ostensibly with her old...more
Denise Kruse
Philosophical musings about life, God and death in the context of the ordinary, mostly solitary life and memories of Jean:
It seemed to Jean that intelligence wasn’t as pure and unalterable a characteristic as people believed. Being intelligent was like being good: you could be virtuous in one person’s company and yet wicked in another’s. You could be intelligent with one person and stupid with another. It was partly to do with confidence.
and of her born-late-in-life son, Gregory:
… perhaps he was...more
"why is the mink tenacious of life?"
“…the crew would be thinking of hot coffee fierce with chicory…” (4).
“Adults were always throwing things out. That was clearly one of the big differences. Children liked keeping things” (8).
“ ‘That’s one of the funny things you notice. You can’t get better without experience, but it’s while you’re getting the experience that you’re most likely to get knocked down. It’s always the youngest chaps that you might not see again at the end of an op. So as the war goes on, what happens in a squadron is...more
The author attempts an intellectually complex work that tries to incorporate several weighty political, humanist and existential issues into the simple narrative of Jean Serjeant through her childhood in 1920s to her final moments in 2020s. I found the book a little ambitious and sprinkled with too many metaphorical allusions. However, it is a fairly interesting philosophical comment on modern life, sectioned very well into three parts as the past (around WW2), the present (the book was written...more
Staring at the Sun sat on my shelf for close to two years before I even cracked the binding. I found it at a used book store with an ex boyfriend which could have something to do with it or perhaps it was the truly unfortunate cover art on my copy that really held me back. Either way, after really pushing myself to get into this story that spans one woman's hundred year life span, once I got through early adolescence and into her teenage years the novel became a very beautiful read. There was a...more
The first e-book I have read, usually on the train to work in the morning.

I chose the title having just read Irvin Yalom's Staring at the Sun which is subtitled overcoming the terror of death; I don't know if Julian Barnes had the same subtitle in mind when he wrote this tale but there is plenty of terror and death. The writing and the story telling are excellent, and though it is a 4-star read for me, I can't say what could be changed to make it a 5-star read. Whereas Yalom's book is in a sense...more
I finished this a couple of weeks ago and I just can't seem to get up the energy to write a review of it. (I know, I know, I'm not hyped up about writing a review of a book I read for free so that no one can get on with reading it, weird right?)

Hasn't aged that well. I thought I was reading a book about English people in the '40s and '50s and suddenly it's way, way later and everything's so boring. I liked the first third well enough, the war bits.

He kind of predicts the Internet, but in his ver...more
A puzzling book - a study of what I might describe as "the shape of life," death, the death of God... I enjoyed the final third the most (even though it seems most readers liked it least), with its Camus-inflected series of propositions and questions concerning God, suicide, meaning-of-life etc. He also almost anticipates the Internet (and the rising popularity and acceptance of euthanasia in the West). I (unsurprisingly) find myself frustrated with the ways in which Barnes sets up some of his q...more
Adam McGrath
Barnes eventually guides this novel into a philosophical examination of life and death, but the early sections dealing with gender politics were much more interesting to me.
Bill Lalonde
The writing itself-- the style, the choice of words-- was excellent, and one might read the book solely for that. However, if one is attracted to books with a plot or interesting characters, one might want to look elsewhere. I made it through 70 pages or so before cutting my losses, so it's always possible that at page 100 or thereafter the book becomes a scintillating adventure, or the main character gets hit on the head by a coconut and gains a personality, or some such. But I doubt it.
It seemed to ask the right questions even when the narrative restraints said otherwise. There was something magical about the story of a woman who is mystified by simple miracles in life: seeing the sun rise or set twice, how to smoke a cigarette without having any of the ash fall. The dynamic and the conversations the characters have are strong and ponderous.

This one sat on the bookshelf because of its hideous American cover. Glad I took it down finally.
Mikhail Korneenkov
Touching story, good language. Sometimes author goes to philosophical state of mind and fill reader's brain with a lot of information, which you do not expect to meet in a novel about friendship, love and meaning of life, but he went back every time and you continue to enjoy the characters with relief. The end is a little bit puzzling and I guess there is double meaning in it, but it is nice anyway
After a mildly interesting set up for the first half of the novel, I completely loss interest when Barnes left behind the keenly observed world of human relationships for an endless, acronym filled sci-fi scenario replete with pages of sophomoric metaphysics. Gack. Like a warm beer, you just can't stomach the last few swallows...setting a record this year for unfinishable books...
Siskoid Albert
It's the story of an ordinary woman across her 100 years of life, and was interesting to me as a depiction of a rather unintelligent woman who grows into a sort of clueless wisdom. Not an easy thing to do while retaining a strong literary style, but Barnes manages it. The third act delves into some strange science-fiction (she lives to the year 2021), but by then, you're well engrossed.
The first two parts were five-star. The quiet humour, childlike inquisition and naivety, and beautiful descriptions gave this haphazard history of a woman's life something really special and readable. Unfortunately the sci fi third section seemed dated and difficult to get into, and although it picked up at the end, I would have been happier had I read the first two parts only.
Nominally the story of one English lady's life, this is a bit of mess. It reads like a patchwork of so-so short stories, occasionally diverting anecdotes and mostly banal discussions of religion and suicide. It wasn't terrible but I couldn't really get into it, and despite the excellence of Flaubert's Parrot I'm in no rush to buy another Barnes novel.
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Julian Patrick Barnes is a contemporary English writer of postmodernism in literature. He has been shortlisted three times for the Man Booker Prize--- Flaubert's Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005), and won the prize for The Sense of an Ending (2011). He has written crime fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh.

Following an education at the City of London School...more
More about Julian Barnes...
The Sense of an Ending Arthur & George A History of the World in 10½  Chapters Flaubert's Parrot Talking It Over

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“The dangerous charm of GPC was that everything in the world could be called up; if you didn't look out, a couple of sessions might turn you from a serious enquirer into a mere gape-mouthed browser.” 0 likes
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