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on May 4, 2013
"Love, etc" is a follow-up to an earlier novel called "Talking It Over". It is engaging and well-written. The characters are vivid and believable. The story moves along speedily. I laughed out loud three or four times, and that's unusual for me. Julian Barnes is a gifted writer and draws a good picture of present-day relationship problems. I have a sense, though, that this novel and its predecessor must have been fairly easy for an accomplished author to write. As much as I enjoyed it and looked forward to getting back to it, I had a feeling that Julian Barnes didn't stretch himself with this work.
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on September 19, 2001
Julian Barnes always impresses me with his accurate character portrayal of both the British and the French, as well as with his generally poignant social commentary.
"Love Etc", for me, was a literary drug as addictive as his previous works, though I was left with a greater sense of sadness than I have felt when reading past Barnes' masterpieces. Perhaps it is my memory playing tricks on me, but it seems that the ten years that passed between this work and "Talking it Over" in the lives of both the characters and Mr. Barnes himself, have paid a toll. The work starts with the same ironic and captivating humour of the past, but as it unfolds, the sadness of reality overwhelms the humour. The general lack of optimism left me feeling very numb at times. Whilst captivating, and easy to read because it is in dialogue form; a slightly bitter accuracy of the character portrayal makes it painful to digest the work at times.
This is not to say that the overall impression created by this novel is any less intelligent, measured or fascinating than former works of Barnes. "Love Etc" is a fabulous and thought-provoking reflection of many marriages and friendships through these well-developed, now matured characters whom we met ten years before in "Talking it Over".
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on August 2, 2001
I remembered "Talking Things Over" as a neat trick, a clever exercise in stretching the boundaries of the novel form, and I expected more of the same when I bought this one (on the day of its release, as I buy all of Barnes' books). I was delighted to find that Barnes has once again raised the bar, this time by using the "talk-around" form to draw even deeper, more intimate, and more harrowing portraits of these three characters. I only hope that I don't have to wait another ten years for my next visit with Oliver, Gillian and Stuart.
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on March 15, 2001
I have read and enjoyed all of the work that Mr. Barnes has published. There are works that stand out and distinguish themselves better than another, but overall he writes at a skill level that most contemporary writers only dream about. Based on, "Love, etc", a book written 10 years after, "Talking It Over", with events taking place 10 years later as well, is one of the best of his works I have read.
Mr. Barnes could have taken the road already successfully traveled and just recycled the same primary characters of the first book. They were all very well done, and the resulting second work would have been good as well. However 10 years is a long time, and just as his characters have changed and become more complex through experience, I believe Mr. Barnes probably spent a good deal of time bringing not just the next installment of these lives to us, but raising the level of his writing, and greatly expanding the number of players. Some new voices are only cameos, others as integral to the plot as the original trio of Stuart, Gillian, and Oliver.
I may be in the minority, but I did not see the original work as being unfinished. Many books could have additional chapters or sequels, and the first was not any type of cliffhanger. That said this continuation is excellent, and I hope he does not wait another decade to expand this to a triptych.
Without spoiling anything, Stuart has progressed, Oliver has become too clever for even himself, and Gillian is Gillian albeit a bit more of an enigma that serial marrier as in the first book. This piece is certainly darker than the first; some may even find it violent. However as with the first work the events that unwind are shared with the reader by those involved, so the accounts must be weighed. It is probably a bit like being a juror, who do you believe?
I enjoyed the first book, I loved this one, and I believe the Author will be hard pressed not to continue the saga. He has now established that the end is not that at all, and further, that he can take material that appears complete, expand it, and give it new life. Extremely well done, and worth the time to read.
On a final note Mr. Barnes added children to this book, and they added immeasurably to the work.
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on March 7, 2001
As Julian Barnes showed in England, England, he has a shrewd and vibrant sense of the weak spots in the underbelly of English culture, and he exploits that perspective to good advantage again in Love, Etc. This is a love triangle, but with a couple of unusual twists -- two marriages, ten years of distance, and most importantly, the insight Barnes displays by showing us only what's going on inside the characters' minds. It makes for a terrific novel that will make you rethink your love relationships. The comparable book on the U.S.side is Love Songs of the Tone-Deaf, also a very funny and shrewd book I would recommend to Barnes fans -- of which I really hope there are more.
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on February 15, 2001
In this inventive and unconventional narrative, Barnes turns the old fiction-writing maxim, "Don't tell about something, recreate it," on its head, choosing not to recreate anything at all. Instead, his three main characters address the reader in soliloquies, each telling his version of events that have happened in the past and leaving it up to the reader to decide what really happened.
Stuart, stodgy and predictable, was briefly married to Gillian before dashing Oliver stole her away. Ten years have passed, Stuart has remarried, divorced, become financially successful in the U.S., and returned to England. Oliver and Gillian are still married, the parents of two daughters. As their lives once again intertwine, many of the old tensions revive, along with some new tensions, the result of the characters' changes in ten years.
Barnes's characters are vivid, and their speeches to the audience are both dramatic and real. One can easily see how the various characters would interpret events differently, and that aspect of the book is fun to read. There are numerous disadvantages to Barnes's approach, however. The characters are independent of the reader, isolated not only from the reader but from each other, and they feel like actors on a stage.who have not invited anyone in to share their lives. The reader's role becomes that of an observer or a judge, deciding not only what happened but what will happen in the future. Readers looking for an unusual narrative will find this book fascinating and carefully constructed, though perhaps a bit slow.
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on February 7, 2001
Although married and proud of his wife, the successful businessman Stuart never forgot the betrayal in which his witty friend Oliver stole his wife Gillian. Over the past few years, Oliver and Gillian seem to have forged a happy life together while Stuart, though successful, never found happiness. Oliver and Gillian have had children and shockingly he is a good father.

However, that does not stop the "partially Americanized" upper crust Englishman Stuart from obsessing over paradise lost and his plan to regain paradise. Stuart covets Gillian and he will be as methodically successful with regaining her as he has been with the organic food distribution business. The cost to others no longer matters.

LOVE, ETC., the sequel to TALKING IT OVER, is a strange relationship tale because the characters (including support players) talk in asides to the reader and not to each other. Thus the entertaining and often humorous (especially when Oliver provides a soliloquy) story reads more like a play than a novel. Julian Barnes invites the audience to come inside the heads of the cast to see varying perspectives on the same events. This ingenious book is for those fans of relationship dramas that like their literature a bit different as Mr. Barnes shows why he is so amusingly good.

Harriet Klausner
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on January 15, 2001
Julian Barnes is capable of writing great novels. Staring at the Sun; and Flaubert's Parrot are both excellent - the latter particularly representative of the best of Barnes's writing style. This style is similar in some ways to the later novels of Milan Kundera, where plot and character study are secondary to the ideas that are explored in various digressions. (Although at his best Barnes has a sympathy for character - especially female characters - that Kundera either does not achieve or is not interested in). Indeed, in a recent collection of critical essays James Wood suggested that Barnes is more of an essay writer than a novelist, and this can be seen especially in Flaubert's Parrot and A History of the world in 10 1/2 chapters.
Given the high standards of the best of Barnes's fiction his readership have certain expectations that if not met lead to great disappointment. Julian Barnes' last novel, England, England was one such disappointment. A heavy handed satire, toying with notions of nationality and nationhood, it somehow found its way onto the Booker Prize shortlist (perhaps saying more about the paucity of modern British fiction and the quality of the judging panel than the quality of the novel). It is disappointing to note that the novel under review, Love etc, is not a return to form.
Love etc is a belated sequel to Talking it over (1991), and was the name of a French film adapted from Talking it over in 1997. Talking it over itself seemed to stem from the half chapter in a History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters - an essay on the meaning of love. Taliking it over had three principal characters, Stuart - the quiet boring one; Oliver - the flamboyant pretentious one; and Gillian - the sensible one. The three characters were caught in a love triangle. The plot seemed to echo that enjoyed so often by new wave French cinema. The novelty of Barnes approach was that each character took it in turns to address the reader. The novel was an exercise in perspective and unreliable narration (some years after Martin Amis's similar Success).
Love etc. adopts the same approach. There are the three central characters picking up where Talking it Over left of. They are ten years older, little wiser. Stuart is still relatively boring, has somehow managed to make a lot of money in the US, has remarried and separated, and keeps something nasty in his wallet; Oliver is a waster, still pretentious, still in love with Gillian; and Gillian is still relatively sensible. There is a greater role in this novel for Gillian's mother, whose gnostic words of wisdom litter the novel like Confuscian thought. The characters also still directly address the reader.
There are advantages in this approach. When done well the character's approach to the reader is not mediated through an ominscient authorial voice. When done well, the reader is shown how the same event can be viewed in many different ways by different observers. However, where the stylistic device gave Talking it over its novelty, grates here. We've seen it done before and the process feels like an exercise in ventriloquism. The characters all seem like different facets of one character, rther than distinct personae. The characters are too alike, their individuality based on stylistic quirks (Oliver uses big words; Stuart is banal), rather than any particular revelations of character.
Barnes gives the novel a "shock" ending which while handled sensitively seemed like an attempt to give the novel an issue to deal with rather than a necessary action of the characters.
This novel is disappointing, and this review has picked out what for this reviewer were weaknesses. Saying that, what is disappointing for Barnes is still a level above most contemporary English literary fiction.
The novel is very readable. It has a wry wit; and raises interesting observations and questions on the nature of love. However, I think, ultimately, that the novel fails.
This novel can be read without having read Talking it over, but the characters have more depth if Love etc is read after Talking it over.
If you want to try a Barnes novel I suggest Flaubert's Parrot or Staring at the sun. If you enjoy Love etc, try Alain de Botton's Essays in Love, or - in a very different style - Ivan Klima's Love and Garbage.
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