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Something to Declare [Paperback]

Julian Barnes
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 26 2002
An irresistibly informative and witty collection of essays from a writer whose knowledge and love of all things French is second to none.

Julian Barnes’s long and passionate relationship with France began more than forty years ago, as a boy on car trips with his parents, both French teachers. From those days as a skeptical young observer, then later as an assistant in a school in Brittany, a student of language and literature, and the author of Flaubert’s Parrot and Cross Channel, Barnes has developed a profound insight into the joys, quirks and nuances of French culture.

Among his topics, Barnes looks at the 2000 Tour de France — and shows that the issue of drugs in sport has a history longer than most would imagine. In the funny and fascinating essay “The Land Without Brussels Sprouts,” the author follows the story of the legendary cookbook writer Elizabeth David, who introduced the exotic ingredients of European cuisine (garlic! basil! olive oil!) to the stodgy kitchens of England. From film and song to landscape and letters, Barnes leads the reader on a peripatetic tour of the mind and soul of France.

Something to Declare is a treat for the legions of Barnes fans, a delight for every francophile, and a cure for the most reluctant Flaubert-ophobe.

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From Amazon

According to his publisher, Something to Declare reflects Julian Barnes’ "long and passionate relationship with France". This is slightly disingenuous. More than half the book actually reflects his long and passionate relationship with the work of France’s greatest 19th-century novelist, Gustave Flaubert. Barnes, as any reader of Flaubert's Parrot knows, admires the author of Madame Bovary more than any other writer and he has, over the years, reviewed a number of books on his hero. These reviews make up the second half of Something to Declare. Not everybody has Barnes’ professional, indeed scholarly, interest in Flaubert. The prose is as witty and intelligent as always but many readers may find their attention flagging occasionally. Some may even want to echo Kingsley Amis’ comment, quoted in Barnes’ preface--"I wish he’d shut up about Flaubert."

However, the essays in the first half of the book go some way towards fulfilling the publisher’s promise that Barnes "ranges widely" through French life and culture. Memories of his time as an assistant at a school in Brittany link neatly with an admiring assessment of three archetypal French singers--Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens and Boris Vian. An account of Edith Wharton and Henry James making a stately tour of France in 1907 is juxtaposed with an essay on the Tour de France and its importance to the French public. Truffaut is lauded and the ineffable Jean-Luc Godard is enjoyably trashed. Though Barnes is characteristically cool and ironic in these essays, "a passionate relationship with France" does emerge from Something to Declare--and with Flaubert, of course. --Nick Rennison --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Barnes's latest collection of haute musings on France and things French is rather like a ride in a creaky Citro n: at first, it kicks and gurgles in a scattered path, but once it gets started, it's a charming and nostalgic way to view la belle France. Barnes, author of nine novels (Love, Etc., etc.), a book of stories and a collection of essays, offers here an amalgamation of pieces, many previously published in the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books. The collection begins with meandering yet tellingly accurate critiques of popular culture phenomena, such as the Tour de France, the films of Truffaut and Godard, and singer Jacques Brel. Barnes's assessment of culinary writer Elizabeth David's thoughts on nouvelle cuisine (it means "lighter food, less of it, costing more") are at once witty and dead-on. After sharing these lighter, whimsical thoughts, Barnes shifts into a higher gear and delves into a study of the French and Francophile literary establishment, from Edith Wharton and Ford Madox Ford to Henry James and George Sand. He saves many of the book's later chapters for his favorite subject, Gustave Flaubert. Throughout, Barnes integrates his commentary with detailed, intriguing bits of history. Devotees of Madame Bovary will thrill to read his ruminations on the masterpiece (e.g., what if it had been written for the screen rather than as a book?). Serious yet self-deprecating, Barnes's prose is perfectly tuned to its subject. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 7)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?" -- Acts 2:8 (NKJV)

Julian Barnes has a great appreciation for all things French, from the rural life there, to the language, to the manifestations of Frenchness itself in popular culture, and, of course, literature . . . most notably Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary. The collection of stories is more about Flaubert than about anything else. If you are a fan of Madame Bovary, you'll have some fun. If you already know the book and Flaubert well, these essays aren't really necessary.

My favorite sections were about the Tour de France and Mr. Barnes' subtle commentaries about the French language, to which he brings a nuanced knowledge that added a lot to my understanding of his observations.

Should you read this collection? The Lemon Table is a better choice for most Barnes fans. But if you are a true Francophile (of which I am one), be sure to read this collection as well. If you are a Francophobe, the essays won't change your mind.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful collection of pieces Jan. 23 2003
By E. Hawkins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Barnes's collection falls into two halves. The first is a collection of pieces that might be said to have a French theme: a review and appreciation of Edith Wharton's account of a car journey taken through France, a piece of French songsters of the sixties, a very entertaining look at the perils of the Tour de France. The second half is nearly all given over to Flaubert, Barnes's obsession. The essays on the great writer are fascinating, especially those centered around his correspondence. Barnes's love for the writer and the man is contagious. I had no great enthusiasm for Flaubert, despite having loved Barnes's 'Flaubert's Parrot', but since reading this book I have read 'Madame Bovary' with a great deal of pleasure and have begun looking into the correspondence. All the essays are scrupulously and stylishly written and are worth reading for the prose alone.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Personal Francophilia May 21 2006
By Sirin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Julian Barnes is probably the British writer most associated with French influence over his literature. Most of his novels are influenced by France in one way or another, especially his acclaimed 1984 masterpiece, Flaubert's Parrot.

In the introduction to these essays, Barnes traces his personal affiliation with France. From nervous childhood holidays with his parents, to his immersion in French language and culture while studying Languages at Oxford, ending with a 1997 trip across the Channel to deliver the ashes of his parents. He cheerfully admits a bias towards French culture over his native Anglo-Saxon and this fact permeates the essays here.

The first part of the book features a range of essays on obscure French singers, the film director Francois Truffaut, Elizabeth David's cookery writing and, best of all, a lenghty piece on drug taking in the Tour de France.

In the second half of the book, the emphasis shifts to Flaubert, Barnes's self professed literary idol. The essays span the full range of Flaubert's life and his associations: his biographers, his mistresses, his relationship with other writers and film versions of Madame Bovary. Flaubert was given extensive fictional treatment in 'Flaubert's Parrot' and these pieces perhaps read like a reworking of the research notes for that novel.

Unlike most wannabe British continentals who think that to become au fait with European Culture one just has to eat at The River Cafe and take the occasional jaunt to Paris or Rome, Barnes has clearly read many pages of French literature and watched many metres of film. His depth and range of knowledge is impressive and the style is (as with all Barnes's writings) erudite, crisp and piercingly intelligent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reflections on French Connections, Popular Culture, and Flaubert April 10 2012
By Donald Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?" -- Acts 2:8 (NKJV)

Julian Barnes has a great appreciation for all things French, from the rural life there, to the language, to the manifestations of Frenchness itself in popular culture, and, of course, literature . . . most notably Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary. The collection of stories is more about Flaubert than about anything else. If you are a fan of Madame Bovary, you'll have some fun. If you already know the book and Flaubert well, these essays aren't really necessary.

My favorite sections were about the Tour de France and Mr. Barnes' subtle commentaries about the French language, to which he brings a nuanced knowledge that added a lot to my understanding of his observations.

Should you read this collection? The Lemon Table is a better choice for most Barnes fans. But if you are a true Francophile (of which I am one), be sure to read this collection as well. If you are a Francophobe, the essays won't change your mind.
8 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's not about France Dec 27 2002
By Foxworthy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Something to Declare" is a clever title for a book about travel abroad; but, beyond its opening pages, that's not what this book is about. "Essays on France" is an equally misleading subtitle, for the book's erudite essays (beyond the opening chapter) are not on France but on a narrow selection of French writers and related movers and shakers, and one fictional character: Madame Bovary. After a fast-paced, dazzling opening sequence, hilariously describing the teen-aged Barnes' first encounters across the English Channel, we slow down to pick through some highlights in the lives of some of the top French authors, poets, filmmakers and other cultural icons, eventually easing to a crawl through exhaustive detail regarding the author's main interest, Flaubert and his world. If Madame Bovary is your cup of tea, you may enjoy steeping yourself further in Barnes. For me it was just too much.
8 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not What the Title Promises, and Often Excruciating Aug. 9 2004
By Whoseblues - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The title of this book, as you can see, is "Something To Declare: Essays on France and French Culture." The blurbs on the back of my trade paperback version enthusiastically support this title. However, only a quarter of the pages of this book are devoted to a discussion of "France and French culture." The rest are spent on the very specific topics of particular French artists and authors, most particularly Flaubert and things related to Flaubert. Given that artists and authors often make a point of setting themselves apart from their cultural milieu (especially most if not all of the ones Barnes writes about) and are often, at a minimum, a bit out of touch with the reality of the world around them, writings on these folks can hardly be deemed to reflect "French culture," as promised by the title. Barnes is, of course, perfectly entitled to publish a book composed of these elements; however, it would be nice if the title and blurbs made it clearer that that is what he is doing, for those of us poor unenlightened souls who do not go into a swoon every time we see or hear the name Flaubert -- for those of us who, in fact, would be perfectly happy for the rest of our lives if we could avoid anything more than infrequent passing references to Flaubert. Simply put, the title does not fairly represent the major part of what is in the book. If you are looking for a book on France and French culture, you can do much, much better with your reading time and money. Moreover, the essays that are not general in nature assume an intimate, detailed knowledge of Flaubert and his writing. If you do not have such an intimate, ready-at-your-fingertips, working knowledge, you will often not know what Barnes is referring to and will consequently have no hope of understanding the point he is trying to make, even if you hang in there and read the whole thing, as I did. These essays are intended for an audience of initiates; reading them in a book like this that purports to address a much more general topic will just leave you feeling like an outsider to the club. Oh, and it will be even worse for you if you fail to hold the belief that "Madame Bovary" is worth intense worship as one of the greatest things to ever have come along, both before and after the advent of sliced bread.
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