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The Porcupine

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  542 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Stoyo Petkanov, the deposed Party leader of a former Soviet satellite country, is on trial. His adversary stands for the new ideals, the leader for the old - or so one would think. But Petkanov is different. He has been given his day in court and he takes it with a vengeance, to the increasing discomfort and surprise of those around him.
Published March 18th 2005 by Picador (first published November 5th 1992)
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'Could a nation lose its capacity for scepticism for useful doubt? What if the muscle of contradiction simply atrophied from lack of exercise?'

This is a very short novel, it took me about two hours or so pootling along the Shropshire Union Canal during the break between lifting bridges and one or two locks on holiday last month. In fact, it was quite surreal. Reading a novel about the trial of an imaginary Party leader of a former Soviet satellite country, a country riven with hatred, mistrust a...more
What I liked about this book was the complexity of its characters. It tells the story of a former Communist dictator being put on trial by the new democratic government. In another author's hands, it could have been unbearable. The Cold War is often viewed in simplistic terms: we won, they lost, democracy=good, communism=evil. It would have been easy to make the characters into cardboard cutouts, the dictator into some kind of James Bond villain.

The reality, of course, is that nobody thinks of h...more
Ima tih knjiga koje su dosadne ali su dobro napisane, pa ih ne možeš odbaciti. E, pa, Bodljikavo prase nije dosadno (ok, jeste na momente) ali sama tema (post socijalističko društvo i suđenje bivšem predsedniku) mi nije naročito privlačna. Međutim, Barns je užasno dobar pisac. I Paunović je isto toliko dobar prevodilac. Lepe rečenice, proste i složene u isto vreme, predivan stil. Plus, svaki put kad čitam Barnsa imam osećaj da nema oblasti koju taj čovek ne poznaje. On sve zna, ne pametuje.

Sve u...more
This book is definitely not for everyone, and I don't mean that in the sense that it's too smart for you. It's more like, you might find it boring. There are times when it is really boring, and I wouldn't blame you if you gave up. This is not Barnes at his best, in my opinion. I, however, had to read it for class, and then write a paper on it, so... No quitting here.

As a comparison, I enjoyed England England more than this one, but this is still perhaps slightly more interesting than Flaubert's...more
Kris McCracken
The Porcupine is a novel by Englishman Julian Barnes that was originally published in Bulgarian [ Бодливо свинче]. This should give us a very strong clue as to the identity of which post-communist country the story takes place.

The novel concerns the trial of the former communist leader of Bulgaria, and its effects on both the central protagonists of that trial, as well as the broader community. The real strength of the book is the complexity of its characters. There is no clear ‘black and white’...more
Tom James
For me, I did enjoy the book in some parts, but for the most of it, I felt like I was reading a non-fiction book only the names had been changed.

I appreciate the amount of research Julian Barnes must have done for this book, but for me, it could have been longer and more spread out. My main problem with the book is that at first it starts off well, but as it gets nearer to the end, it all seems a little rushed, and 2/3 pages of Petkanov just listing his honours is too much.

There were instances i...more
Barnes sets this novel in an anonymous post-communist country about a year after the overthrow of the Party, just as the nation must make the decision of what to do with the man who served as Party Chairman (dictator) for over 30 years. The protagonists are the prosecutor of the case and the dictator himself. I thought that the characters were the best part of this short novel, the dictator is especially entertaining. While this was definitely an enjoyable read, I found the plot to be sometimes...more
An appropriate book to be reading during the current crisis in the Ukraine. Excellent.
Stephen Curran
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Short, sharp, biting, strong characterisation, astute political observation, telling details. As in all good satire, everyone gets it in the neck, not just the obvious "bad guy". Which makes it all the more puzzling that another reviewer disliked the "moral ambiguity" - surely that's the whole point of a book like this?
Mariejeanne Van steen
Het Stekelvarken" - Julian Barnes. Vertaling van het Engelse boek :"The Porcupine"
Geen gemakkelijk verhaal. Twee hoofdpersonen komen tegenover elkaar te staan. Stojo Petkanov,
leider van voormalig Sovjetstaat, tegenover Procureur Generaal , nl Peter Solinski, vroeger partijlid.
De oude leider houdt halsstarrig vast aan zijn politieke overtuiging.
Twee karakters komen tegenover elkaar te staan.
Het volk mort,werkloosheid en inflatie worden gebruikt als politiek wapen. Standbeelden,
van het oude regi...more
Girish Krishnakumar
An unconventional book by Julian Barnes that has handled the 'victory' of capitalism over socialism and communism from the other side. Not a light read, but the book true to it's name might sting at the fundamentals of the ideologies.

The last dictator of a communist country is up for trial in the face of democracy. And he decides to make his stand, not to fight but to hold on to his beliefs. Barnes gives such depth to the character that the reader starts to appreciate the biases of the characte...more
Andreea Pausan
Hahahaha. This is the best satire of communism I have ever read. When the regime changes to democracy, people arrest S. Petkanov and submit him to a trial. But the trial is not what it seems to be, for the very simple reason there is no actual proof to convict the tyrant. The prosecutor, his wife, people watching on TV, all are as real as it gets under our eyes, painting a vivid picture of transition from communism to the market democracy, with all the sordid details: confusion, panic, loss of i...more
“ ‘Socialism is not built without sacrifice. Your father understood that once. Before he started waving his conscience around like it was his prick.’
“ ‘You should have stopped that sentence earlier’” (15).
“…he had sent back his party card with an openly provocative letter which a few years earlier would have brought men in leather coats to the door at an unsocial hour” (36).
“Surely God was the only person capable of presiding over a moral trial. Terrestrials were better off concerning themselves...more
Having loved A History Of The World In 10 1 2 Chapters and Arthur And George, I'd been a little disappointed with the last couple of Julian Barnes books that I'd read. Staring At The Sun started well, but went very strange for no apparent reason towards the end. Before She Met Me on the other hand, was rather dull and strange, but had a rather striking ending.

The Porcupine, however, is a novella that stands very firmly amongst Barnes' best work. Tightly, but simply plotted, and full of outstandi...more
Bev Hankins
In The Porcupine written by Julian Barnes in 1992, the author of Talking it Over and The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters focuses his laser-like prose on the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and parts of Russia. The story is a familiar one--the Communist Party has been toppled in a former Soviet satellite country and Stoyo Petkanov, former Party President, is on trial for crimes that range from corruption to political murder. His opponent is the newly appointed Prosecutor General,...more
I preferred this book to “Sense of an Ending”. I thought “Sense of and Ending” was brilliantly written, but felt there was an element of cruelty in the story. I didn’t like any of the characters and doubted whether they had learned anything about themselves and their skewed values.
“The Porcupine” is the story of the deposed leader of a former Soviet satellite country, who has been put on trial. You find yourself liking the wily old fox, who almost convinces you that he did nothing wrong. He clai...more
I wanted the book to be more interesting than it ended up being. I think the author wanted to demonstrate some of the absurdity and political vitriol that occurs within a post-Communist state.

The author's prose writing is significantly more interesting than his dialogue.
Kim Hakkenberg
Intriguing little book about the fall of one of the communist dictators in eastern Europe.... you get to guess which one!
Some parts good, some not so, some dull point, the students commentary was probably highlight for me.
Peter Hakkenberg
An interesting story... a parable of how the bullied can become bullies. Based on post-communist trial of the former head of state. Thought provoking.
I really enjoyed reading this. I have listened to many interviews with Barnes over the last few years, and enjoy his sense of humour and his facility with language. The book was easy to read, and quick. The story reminded somewhat of Waiting for Godot, for some reason; or Kafka. The absurdity of the charges and the tangle Peter gets into with the former dictator are involving. The circles and absurdities of life in this state are lessons. I enjoyed the back and forth with the students. There was...more
The book made me wonder if it was Barnes' experimental venture for something sublime. I loved the conversations and could relate to the exasperation of the characters and that is all that I possibly enjoyed. Do we have to resign from people's emotions and pay attention to the plot merely because it is labeled a political novel? At least that's what Barnes seems to want from us. This is not the best account of the ideological disputes between socialism and capitalism. Nevertheless, the characteri...more
Brilliant fast-take on a chilling moment in history. Julian Barnes asks many difficult questions in this small book which revolves around the trial and conviction of the "helmsman" of an unnamed Balkan nation (though very like Bulgaria) just after the fall of Communism in the early '90s.

Did the leadership really believe they were doing good for the people, believe in Socialism? How does one hold a legitimate trial when all the evidence has been destroyed? If one is corrupted in the name of good,...more
Robert Wechsler
This could have been an outdated novel about the fall of Communism, but instead it was an excellent character study of two individuals pitted against each other in a post-Communist trial in an unidentified former Communist country. One is the former dictator, the other the prosecutor, whose father had fallen out of the dictator’s graces. The dictator is the far stronger of the two, and despite all that happened, the more certain he was right. A fascinating novella, just right in every way
Sara Pernas
Barnes es tan genial escribiendo que da un poco igual sobre qué lo haga. En este caso es las zonas grises en el desmoronamiento de la utopía comunista y el fin de la Europa del este. Lo que se agradece a Barnes es la sensibilidad, los matices, la relatividad con que impregna esta novela corta, y los inmejorables personajes "secundarios": la mujer del Fiscal, la abuela silenciosa... que incomodan las posiciones absolutas de los protagonistas.
Marik Casmon
Although I do not often read political novels, so I'm no expert, I thoroughly enjoyed this short novel by Julian Barnes. Basically, it's the story of a trial and takes place mostly in a courtroom. On trial is a Communist, an ex-dictator. The book almost rushes by, so smooth it is. The arguments between the accused and the prosecutor are fascinating. The characters as well.
First thing I've read by Barnes and against my expectations after taking a second look at the blurb, I quite liked it. It was a short read with a solid plot, and mildly interesting enough characters that kept my attention. It kind of ran out of steam towards the end, but not so much that I'd felt I'd wasted my time. It passed a couple of hours, at any rate.
Katie Cruel
Less of a story and more of 100 pages of political philosophical dribble that we've seen over and over again. Julian Barnes may have some pertinent observations about the human condition, but by this book, at least, he does not appear to be a natural story teller. Maybe I need to read a more recent book, or a collection of his short stories, instead.
It's a good book, about the aftermath of communism in an Eastern European country, and the trial of the man who ruled during the communist years, but I think it was too short for me to feel particularly involved with any of the characters. I felt like I was skimming, even though I read the whole thing.
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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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