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 Frances 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 hed shut up
However, the essays in the first half of the book go some way towards fulfilling the publishers 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)
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