Tony's Reviews > England, England

England, England by Julian Barnes
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Jun 07, 11

bookshelves: british
Read from June 01 to 07, 2011

This book is in three parts.

In Part I, England, a young girl absorbs the leaving of her father. She had a puzzle of the map of England. Her father would hide one piece: Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Carmarthen, Pembrokeshire. And when her puzzle was done except for that one piece, HE would magically find it. Nottinghamshire was missing when HE went missing too. All of Julian Barnes' brilliance is here. And this brief opening will break your heart.

In Part II, England, England, Martha Cochrane, that precocious girl, is now a wizened young woman. She's wonderful. She passes an interview to work for an entrepreneur and becomes a resident cynic for that wealthy man set on a new idea, creating a doppelganger country of Old England, a hi-tech amusement park that recreates all of England's history. Crazily, it works. An island with no government, just a place governed by contract and the whim of a business model. The plot is, really, pretty stupid. Yet, a few characters are richly drawn, especially Martha. And there are some wonderful moments.

Martha falls for a fella, and three pages of spectacular in-bed, post-coital dialogue begin with this line of hers: Someone once had his hand where yours is.

I learned that if you put a banana in a bowl with green tomatoes, those tomatoes will ripen much faster than a bowl of green tomatoes without a banana. In case you wondered about the significance, Barnes writes: Yes, Martha, but Paul isn't a banana and you aren't a pound of tomatoes.

In Part III, Anglica, Barnes attempts a summing up. But really, I just wanted it to end already.

I loved the great female lead and several other characters. I wish there was more interplay between them and more explanations for their actions.

Stupid idea; great writing. This was the bowl of tomatoes without the banana.
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message 1: by Tony (last edited Jun 08, 2011 10:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tony For me, the more experimental Barnes gets, the better he is. Flaubert's Parrot and The History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters bear no resemblance to the traditional novel form. But they bowled me over. You can feel his enthusiasm, a guy that figured some things out or learned something and has this ache to tell it. Plus, I like inventive forms. They are highly recommended. England, England had some wonderful moments but is a distant third. I wouldn't let you read Before She Met Me. You deserve better.

And I will see about an injunction against the Novel Police, so you can read whatever the Hell you want.


message 2: by Janet (new) - added it

Janet Thanks for another lucid review illuminating what did and didn't work for you (so much better than the typical long-winded synopsis). I was a Barnes virgin until a few months ago when I read Arthur and George for book club. The writing was first rate but I found the pacing uneven and my mind wandering. I'm game to take another stab at him and would like your opinion as to whether it should be Flaubert's Parrot or The History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters. Let me know!


message 3: by Tony (last edited Jun 20, 2011 06:29AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tony It's not often I'm accused of being lucid. I don't know if other readers experience this, but when I read multiple works of an author, 99% of the time I like the first book I read best. All the Pretty Horses will always be my favorite McCarthy. I rated The Road much lower. I wonder if I had read The Road first if my view would be reversed.

I read Flaubert's Parrot first and it holds a special place for me. It's not in usually recognizable novel form. He dissects Flaubert's Emma Bovary and, in turn, the critics and 'scholars' who have dissected it. Which is what I do, I guess. He nevertheless manages a story of sorts and an ending. So it's a peculiar literary mystery. There are many tangents which will annoy some. Confession: I've never read Emma Bovary. I didn't need to to thoroughly enjoy this book.

Continuing his experiment in inventive literary forms, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters selectively looks at moments in time, beginning with a retelling of Noah's Ark by a wormwood. I feel somewhat safer in recommending this. Very good storytelling. Yes, I've written my way into it; read this one.

I had forgotten about Arthur and George (did you get that, Karen?) which has that same rich storytelling in a more traditional style.

Hope that helps and thanks much for all the 'likes'.


Tony And...David Mitchell recycles characters. Ms. Crummelynck reappears in Black Swan Green, older, in a memorable role.


message 5: by Teresa (last edited Sep 04, 2013 09:54AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Teresa Tony wrote: "I wouldn't let you read Before She Met Me."

I'm reading 'Before She Met Me' right now. I saw your one-star for it and that's making me very nervous, esp as I agree with you about England, England. But Barnes is one of those authors I said I would read all of, and I'm reading it "with" a non-GR friend, so I forge on.


Tony Teresa wrote: "I'm reading 'Before She Met Me' right now. I saw your one-star for it and that's making me very nervous. But Barnes is one of those authors..."

It's okay, Teresa, if we disagree from time to time. It's to be expected given how much we read. And, by the way, I too am a completist, and fully intend to read all of Barnes.


message 7: by Teresa (last edited Sep 04, 2013 10:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Teresa Tony wrote: "It's okay, Teresa, if we disagree from time to time. It's to be expected given how much we read. And, by the way, I too am a completist, and fully intend to read all of Barnes."

Time will tell if we do disagree. I've only finished the first chapter of BSMM. And seeing that I loved the first section of England, England and that the rest was such a disappointment ...


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