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The Porcupine

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  1,111 ratings  ·  94 reviews
In his latest novel, Julian Barnes, author of Talking It Over and A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, trains his laser-bright prose on the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.

Stoyo Petkanov, the deposed Party leader, is placed on trial for crimes that range from corruption to political murder. Petkanov's guilt -- and the righteousness of his opponents -- would
Paperback, 160 pages
Published September 28th 1993 by Vintage (first published 1992)
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Average rating 3.40  · 
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Nov 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'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
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Katie Lumsden
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
My favourite Julian Barnes so far. This is a well-paced and engagingly written novella, a really interesting examination of Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the fall of communism.
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
I have read around four of Barnes’ books to date, and simply cannot make my mind up as to whether I enjoy him as an author. Some of his works have definitely been better than others, although I must admit that my favourite so far has been The Sense of an Ending, which I only gave a three-star rating. I borrowed The Porcupine from the library because it looked interesting and was relatively short. I must admit that I wasn’t overly sold on it.

I liked the idea of a crumbling Soviet state described
Aug 03, 2017 rated it liked it
It is well written, but it's not as interesting as the other works of Julian Barnes. But it's certainly much better than "Before she met me". And the topic is different. What I do like is how Barnes never takes a side. We see the pros and cons of communism/socialism as well as democracy.
Florin Pitea
An ironic reversal of Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon". Worth reading and keeping.
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
Sergiu Pop
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read it in one sitting. It was a good book, especially if you come from an ex-communist country.
Really says some things about human nature.
Kim Hakkenberg
Mar 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Intriguing little book about the fall of one of the communist dictators in eastern Europe.... you get to guess which one!
David Sogge
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Today, a quarter-century after its publication, there is something oracular about this book. The collapse of communist party rule in Eastern Europe, slightly more than a quarter-century ago, has proven to be a mixed blessing. Writing in the immediate aftermatch of the collapse, Barnes captured the ambivalent feelings and mixed motives at play. As his characters recollect and dispute their roles in this little country's past (the ex-strongman ticks off the fulsome honours bestowed upon the him by ...more
Kris McCracken
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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’
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
Sep 07, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chaitalee Ghosalkar
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Two and a half stars.

Because it makes you feel there ought to be more books that give us a peek beyond the iron curtain.

Because a book as short as The Porcupine isn't enough to inform and educate us about Communism.

And more so because we millenials have not known anything but capitalism to actually appreciate it (or alternately come to realize the benefits of the former, if there are any)

Wish the book fulfilled all of the above than merely make you wish for it.
Mar 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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?
Jeffrey Bumiller
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think Barnes is a great writer. I really liked this. It does feel a little dated though. I wonder what it would have been like to read this one when it was released in 1992, so close after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
An appropriate book to be reading during the current crisis in the Ukraine. Excellent.
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

As a long-time fan of the brilliant Barnes, I don't know how I missed this first time round in 1992, although having three children under the age of five may have had something to do with it. Anyway it is wonderful to find a book by a favourite author that you have not read. He is a genius, and this book, centres on the trial of a fictional dictator in the years after the Berlin Wall came down. There is so much to think about in this novella, but I felt that this extract was particularly
Ronan Mcdonnell
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked this. Can't say I loved it, but that was due to reading it over Christmas, with distraction all around me.
It is a clever, and I would say important, novel on the issues and conflicts that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. With so much promised, the questions were many; how to deliver, what to keep, what to discard, who to trust, whose truth was the correct one?
Barnes' use of three narrative groups addresses most of these: the deposed dictator, the prosecuting lawyer with a chequered
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Somewhat disapponting, to the point of uninteresting and mechanical.

I find this similar to the later Noise of time, but much less convincing. A but like Amis's House of meetings--as if clever and kind of engaged writers from the west needed to direct their imagination to the big event in history of their times, and could not muster all of their abilities, simply because it was too big and perhaps even to intellectual an effort. In comparison, Kundera's The Joke, addressing basically the same
Tim Armstrong
Read this in two sittings, it isn't long, a novella.
And although there were passages of brilliance, that reminded you what a great writer Barnes is, the novel just didn't hit home for me like "The Sense of an Ending" did.
Very different books - sure, but I felt unfulfilled. Maybe this one hit home too much. Barnes here painfully shows the fundamental flaws of political systems or ideologies. It seemed like it could or did happen. There is a lot more subtext here than just the central story, and
Rich Baldry
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this shortly after watching the Death of Stalin and reading the memoirs of Albert Speer. Both offer interesting insights into the different motivations of those involved in totalitarian governments, from those apparently driven by ideology to those who go along with the regime because it's just the environment in which they have to live and forge their careers. The Porcupine also throws in some of the voices of the people whose lives are affected by the regime which brings both pathos and ...more
Jul 25, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. A novella about the trial of Stoyo Petkanov, a deposed Eastern European Leader, set in 1990. The prosecutor, Solinsky, a young ambitious married man, sets about to prove the guilt of the Petkanov. The story explores Petkanov's justification for his actions. In conducting Petkanov's interrogation, Solinsky performance is seen as self-serving as the previous Communist trials. The shortest of the book means that characters are not fully fleshed out. It is an interesting, quick read.
Linda Street-Ely
Pretty good. Not into all the vulgarity (and there is a lot of it), but if I look beyond that, the structure of storytelling was interesting. All sides were presented, which lets the reader feel she is not being led to buy in to one or the other, but allowed to peer into representative lives at a moment in time. With that caveat, I'd say it is well written, and I give 3 stars instead of 2 for the strategy used to write this story.
Derek Baldwin
Rather... slight: partly formed, but that’s novellas for you. As a way of revisiting recent, but no longer that recent, history this has great value. It’s also extremely funny at times. But it doesn’t quite satisfy the appetite, unless, maybe, read all in one go. Which I didn’t. The exceptionally tedious pages in which Petkanov lists his honours and the encomia of world leaders (and Canaan Banana) are utterly enervating.
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
A book I read because we've mentioned it back in college, but not something I enjoyed reading. That's probably why it took me so long to get through it, even though it's only 130 pgs long. It is not an objectively bad novel, it is simply not my cup of tea, hence the rating. (I'd have given it 0 stars if I took my enjoyment as a factor.)
But at least I can now say I've read it.
Петър Керкелов
Those stories become memorable either if they have grasped the spirit of time or when they are somehow prophetic. This one is neither. In the end of the round, you can always be saved by the bell by a good story. This one is hardly mediocre.
The only reason I gave a second star is that I like depiction of Bulgaria in the early 90s.
Tom Griggs
Nov 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Given the author and topic (the trial of a fallen Eastern European dictator), my 3 star rating is largely due to exceedingly high expectations. An interesting character study highlighting the gray areas that exist in what truly represents "right" vs "wrong" in the discussion of various political systems.
Tom Musbach
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
A prosecutor puts a deposed Socialist head of state on trial in an unnamed former Soviet republic. Some dramatic moments captured my interest, and the character of the former leader was devious but nonetheless interesting. But as a whole the novel underwhelmed me. (6)

Jeff Howells
I’m slowly working my way through Julian Barnes’ back catalogue. This novella deals with the fall of communism and the concept of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. Ironically it still has resonance today.
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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
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“Heroes become traitors, traitors become martyrs.” 1 likes
“Freedom consists of conforming to the will of the majority.” 1 likes
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