Pulse Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 3 2011
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A New York Times Editors' Choice
"One of our most consistently deft short-form stylists.... Quietly remarkable, elegant."
"Barnes can do more in a single story than many lesser writers can accomplish in a whole novel."
"Among the most adventurous writers--in style, versatility and narrative
—The New York Times Book Review
"A moving and truth-telling work of fiction."
—The Boston Globe
"Barnes's erudition is in full display.... Combines mordant humour, perspicacity and invigoratingly crisp writing."
“[A] perfectly weighted collection. . . . Affecting.”
“Julian Barnes is one of those confident literary decathletes, proficient at old-fashioned storytelling, dialogue-driven portraiture, postmodern collage, and political allegory and farce. He’s a true literary professional whose most compelling work showcases his musical prose, his ear for the chattering class’s chatter (Talking It Over), his ability to create narratives with both surface brio and finely calibrated philosophical subtexts (Flaubert’s Parrot, The Porcupine).”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
About the Author
JULIAN BARNES is the author of 10 novels, 2 previous books of stories, 2 collections of essays and a translation of Alphonse Daudet's In the Land of Pain. His most recent novel, The Sense of an Ending, won the Man Booker Prize. His honours include the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2004 he was named Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. He lives in London.See all Product Description
Inside This Book(Learn More)
Top Customer Reviews
Other stories are set in different countries and eras. The story of a deaf portrait painter in America who gets his revenge on an arrogant patron in an O'Henryesque ending. Every story is a gem, a remarkable collection.
He once mused about his last reader. With his novels and other story collections and with writing like this, there will never be a last reader of Julian Barnes.
At their best, Julian Barnes' stories in this collection are better than the best of his novels that I've read. His sense of irony can be devastating in the smaller confines of a short story. "East Wind" is such a story and powerfully opens the collection. "The Limner" is almost as good, but in a quite different way . . . emphasizing that the meek can get the upper hand.
"Pulse" was my least favorite story . . . but it's certainly well written.
I also wasn't thrilled by the four-part cocktail hour entitled "At Phil & Joanna's."
I strongly suspect that Julian Barnes could produce a much better volume of stories, but that would require choosing them for their quality . . . rather than for their fitting into a theme.
I would be glad to read another set, but I'd be tempted to check first to see which stories other people liked best and to just read those.
See what you think.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This collection of short stories starts with a terrific opener, "East Wind", in which an Englishman courts a Eastern European waitress and tries to uncover the root of her unusual behavior. Suddenly, the Englishman and the reader are jarred with the waitress's story. Four of the stories, entitled "At Phil and Joanna's", form a single narrative in parts. It is essentially a drunken conversation among four friends ranging from sex to politics (very left wing) to loss. One story, "Sleeping with John Updike" is a funny (and sad) story about the relationship between two female writers who did not quite make it to the top of the literary world. Two of the stories are set a few centuries ago. A few of the stories read more like essays than short stories.
Barnes captures conversation beautifully. For example, the "At Phil and Joanna's" cycle of stories is just a long conversation between four characters. There are few indications of who is actually speaking but it feels very real. While the writing was magnificent, the point of that cycle of stories was lost on me.
Some of the stories were simply amazing. Others, such as Phil and Joanna's and a couple of the essays, were well written but didn't capture me. This is not Barnes' strongest book. If you want to give him a try, I would start with one of his Man Booker finalists: Flaubert's Parrot, England, England or Arthur & George (a fictional story about Sherlock Holmes' creator).
Barnes appeal from my perspective is that he parses his words carefully while managing to convey a lot. He is revealing in respect to his characters and can conversely express humor as well as pathos in the same paragraph. While at times he does seem more of an essayist than a short story writer, he may very well be a modern day Jonathan Swift.
I found this collecton so interesting and enjoyable that I plan to read more of Barnes' stories.
As this does, I'm afraid. There are a few tales here that are almost as fine as the earlier ones, but none that are better. In "Harmony," one of Barnes' historical reconstructions, an eighteenth-century doctor attempts to cure a young musical prodigy of her blindness; although Barnes uses initials rather than names, this is a true story (I'll identify it in a comment) which he presents as a touching emotional drama with rich philosophical overtones. In "The Limner," another story from roughly the same period, he shows the wretched life but inner beauty of an itinerant portrait-painter. The contemporary "Complicity" shows two damaged people slowly coming together: a divorced man and a doctor, whose sense of touch has been compromised by a rare medical condition. In the title story "Pulse," which is placed at the end, the narrator's father loses his sense of smell; around this fact, Barnes builds an account of a happy marriage contrasted with a troubled one; it hangs together only very loosely as a story, but it contains a lot of sensitive observation and truth.
All these come in Part Two of the collection, which holds five stories. Part One, which is entirely contemporary, also contains five, all weaker than these, separated by four quasi-stories entitled "At Phil & Joanna's," which appear to be the sound-track of a weekly get-together of a number of friends around the dinner table. The conversation, about politics, mores, and sex, is witty and often brilliant, but it is all comment and no substance, entirely devoid of narrative force; it is not even easy to distinguish between the various speakers. All right, so you write four of the stories off; you still have ten left. Yet the trouble is that these four show up the weaknesses of many of the others.
For all his variety, Barnes has always followed a pattern in his stories: something happens, the narrator reflects on that something, and moves on. But when nothing much happens to begin with, all that's left of the story is the author's reflection. The opening story, for instance, "East Wind," begins with a beautifully-realized romance between a divorced estate agent in a windy seaside town and a waitress from somewhere in Eastern Europe, but the crux of the story emerges not from the relationship between them but from something he learns afterwards on the internet, of all things! Time and again, this tendency to pull away from action to reflection weakens the force of the narrative; there is too much telling, too little showing. Though there are still some very poignant moments amid these reflections, none more so than in "Marriage Lines," where a recent widower, hoping to achieve some sense of closure, goes back to the Hebridean island where he and his wife had come annually, only to discover that his memories cannot so easily be laid to rest. Barnes fans (of which I am one) will find things to admire; others should start with THE LEMON TABLE or ARTHUR AND GEORGE.
Part of what makes Barnes' stories so engaging is that he is willing to challenge his readers. In the "Phil & Joanna's" stories, (four in all) Barnes rounds up three 40-ish, well-off, self-satisfied English couples - Phil and Joanna (the host and hostess), Dick (he of the pungent comments) and Sue, Carol and David -- and their American friend Larry, for drinks and dinner every fortnight or so. They eat well, drink a good deal, and so reach the drawing room stage of the evening with no inhibitions. Time for talk, talk, and more talk, almost always and somewhat wistfully, about sex. But who is doing the talking? That's for you to figure out, and the clues keep coming until the end of the fourth story. By contrast, Barnes can not resist having one of his characters pin a facetious nom de guerre on Phil and Donna's maid very early on. She becomes "Doreena the Cleaner."
In "Pulse," the narrator, never named (sound familiar?), brings us around to meet his aging parents, his girl friend Janice (see above) who stood out among his friends "because she has that London edge to her," and his buddies, particularly Jake, who he admires for his easy way with women. The story track takes the narrator back and forth between his concerns about his parents - his Dad has lost his sense of smell, his Mum turns out to have motor neuron disease -- and the ups and downs in his life with his friends and Janice. The story's title is apparently a reference to the pulse sites involved in his father's acupuncture treatment. There is a line in "Complicity" that offers what is perhaps a more plausible basis for the choice of title. The narrator describes the knowing that comes even before the first date this way: "that moment, more of pulse than of thought, which goes, Yes, perhaps her, and, Yes, perhaps him."
Barnes dips into history's arcana for several of his stories. In "Harmony" he builds on the "bright brass gudgeons" of an improbable 18th century musical instrument in the course of a story about what we would consider medical quackery today. In "The Limner," a 19th Century itinerant portrait painter who possesses neither the power of speech or hearing, confronts a subject's demand that he be painted with "more dignity" when, in the painter's view, he clearly lacked the trait he sought to have added. And in "Carcassonne" we find Garibaldi "one of the last romantic heroes of European history" prefiguring the sexual antics of Italy's sitting Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
If the stories in this new collection whet your appetite for more of Barnes' short stories, track down a copy of "Cross Channel" (1996). The stories deal with the English in France, the country they most envy while still managing to feel superior in nearly all respects. "Experiment", a story which attempts to answer the question whether a blindfolded Englishman can tell a French woman from an English woman by the way they make love, is very funny and right on. And, in true Barnes' fashion, he provides a surprise ending.
End note. "La Malade Imaginaire" ("The Imaginary Invalid") by Honore Daumier (1830) on the cover of "Pulse" (illustrated above) has no counterpart in the book itself. The poor man's troubled, mindless stare (has he forgotten the way home?) prepares you to meet an equally forlorn soul in the stories. But who? The only possible candidate is the blind- from-age-three harpsichord player in "Harmony". But she is too well managed and successful to be so characterized. Perhaps Barnes prevailed on Knopf, his publisher, to use the drawing because he admires Daumier as a fellow chronicler of the absurd. Or, perhaps, he wanted to create a puzzle to keep us reading to the end in hope of finding the answer.