Flaubert's Parrot Paperback – Nov 1990
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Just what sort of book is Flaubert's Parrot, anyway? A literary biography of 19th-century French novelist, radical, and intellectual impresario Gustave Flaubert? A meditation on the uses and misuses of language? A novel of obsession, denial, irritation, and underhanded connivery? A thriller complete with disguises, sleuthing, mysterious meetings, and unknowing targets? An extended essay on the nature of fiction itself?
On the surface, at first, Julian Barnes's book is the tale of an elderly English doctor's search for some intriguing details of Flaubert's life. Geoffrey Braithwaite seems to be involved in an attempt to establish whether a particularly fine, lovely, and ancient stuffed parrot is in fact one originally "borrowed by G. Flaubert from the Museum of Rouen and placed on his worktable during the writing of Un coeur simple, where it is called Loulou, the parrot of Felicité, the principal character of the tale."
What begins as a droll and intriguing excursion into the minutiae of Flaubert's life and intellect, along with an attempt to solve the small puzzle of the parrot--or rather parrots, for there are two competing for the title of Gustave's avian confrere--soon devolves into something obscure and worrisome, the exploration of an arcane Braithwaite obsession that is perhaps even pathological. The first hint we have that all is not as it seems comes almost halfway into the book, when after a humorously cantankerous account of the inadequacies of literary critics, Braithwaite closes a chapter by saying, "Now do you understand why I hate critics? I could try and describe to you the expression in my eyes at this moment; but they are far too discoloured with rage." And from that point, things just get more and more curious, until they end in the most unexpected bang.
One passage perhaps best describes the overall effect of this extraordinary story: "You can define a net in one of two ways, depending on your point of view. Normally, you would say that it is a meshed instrument designed to catch fish. But you could, with no great injury to logic, reverse the image and define the net as a jocular lexicographer once did: he called it a collection of holes tied together with string." Julian Barnes demonstrates that it is possible to catch quite an interesting fish no matter how you define the net. --Andrew Himes --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"Delightful and enriching... A book to revel in" -- Joseph Heller "A gem: an unashamed literary novel that is also unashamed to be readable, and broadly entertaining. Bravo!" -- John Irving "Endless food for thought, beautifully written... A tour de force" -- Germaine Greer "Unputdownable... A mesmeric original" -- Philip Larkin "A wry and graceful book... Unfailingly sharp and often very funny" Sunday Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Sort of a philosophical treatise on art, writing, Flaubert, the French, compulsion and love presented under the guise of a very arcane literary detective story.
Barnes is a very quixotic and imaginative writer with a definitely skewed view of the world and an engaging and witty writing voice. The musings of the narrator are well formed and allow the reader move along at a brisk pace. It helps that Flaubert himself was a wacky and iconoclastic figure-one of those people we've all heard of but don't really know anything about unless you are some sort of 19th century French literature freak.
This was the first Barnes novel I read and it was so good I have been slowly working my way through his other books, which has proven to be an altogether delightful experience. All of his novels are good-this one stands out from the pack.
Always a sucker for a smart cover, and add in the fact that it had been enjoyed and praised by no less than the likes of John Irving and Graham Greene, with a price tag of a whopping 30p in whatever charity shop I was browsing about 10 years ago and it was pretty much a given that I would be reading this sometime in the distant future.
After a previous start, stall, stop attempt to read this some years ago, I reopened it with a new found determination to read it start to finish and hopefully at the same time enjoy it.
Well in places it was okay, amusing and informative. In other places it was dull and tedious and though it is classed as a novel, it has a strange structure to it. One of the plus points was it was relatively short!
I've found some detail out about Gustave Flaubert that I previously didn't know; a French author of the 19th Century, who's first published work - Madame Bovary - brought him and his publisher up on immorality charges, of which he was acquitted. Flaubert is regarded by some as one of the greatest novelists of Western Literature. He never married, he took on average about five years or so on each book, plus he at some time borrowed a stuffed parrot.Read more ›
Conventions of narrative, style, and form are dispensed with throughout this work - it is composed of a range of genres (mulit-voiced narratives, chronology, encyclopedia/dictionary, and even essay-exam questions). At the same time, the disparate modes are held together from the beginning by a deeper underlying drive - the uncovering of Flaubert's life and opinions operate as a function of Braithwaite's own unresolved issues with the death of his wife.
For all the Sartre-bashing that goes on in "Flaubert's Parrot," one notices striking resonances between Barnes's novel and one of Sartre's, to wit, "Nausea." In both, exasperated scholars find themselves feebly attempting to write intended biographies (for Sartre, the subject is Monsieur de Rollebon) while exploring their own relationship turmoils. Is this part of the much-discussed 'irony' that Braithwaite emphasizes as present in Flaubert's life and writings? Is Barnes, as the deus in absentia author, manipulating and ironizing Braithwaite's tumultuous search for truth about Flaubert to point out Braithwaite's own inconsistencies?
I digress.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Brilliant. Barnes knowledge and love of French Literature woven into a modern day context makes this unlike anything else I've ever read.Published 19 months ago by farida kassum
Lots of facts mixed up with fiction It is a must to read alongside Madame Bovary. An eye for detail all the way through and compelling analysis.Published on March 24 2013 by elizabeth green
I wish I had enough of that literary critic vocabulary and style to convey how wonderfully rich FLAUBERT'S PARROT is. Read morePublished on Oct. 25 2007 by Kirtland Peterson
This idea-driven novel is filled with brilliant observations, especially in the later chapters, that make me want to read Flaubert. Read morePublished on May 23 2001 by Ethan Cooper
A previous reviewer found the use of "clever" literary techniques by the author too much. On the contrary, they form the center of the novel--the possibility of finding... Read morePublished on Feb. 14 2001 by Roger T. Whitson
Who would of thought some dead French guy from the mid 1800's could be so interesting? I read this book on the recommendation of my brother but with the stipulation I read... Read morePublished on Jan. 14 2001
This is not the book that landed The Booker Prize for Mr. Barnes. I have read the novel that did win, "England, England", and I feel this is every bit as good. Read morePublished on Dec 12 2000 by taking a rest
At the first sight this book is a story of an elderly English doctor Geoffrey Braithwaite who tries to reconstruct the life of the great French writer Gustave Flaubert in order to... Read morePublished on Dec 1 2000 by Andrew Karbovsky