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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Flaubert's Parrot (1984) by Julian Barnes


Book Review
Flaubert's Parrot (1984)
 by Julian Barnes

   You could argue that Julian Barnes, with only one novel on the 1001 Books list, is underrepresented.  He's been Booker Prize shortlisted three times, including for Flaubert's Parrot, and he won in 2011 for The Sense of An Ending, not included on the 1001 Books list.  Flaubert's Parrot is a little slip of a book, not 200 pages all in.  It has a structure that flows back and forth between subjects related to the narrator's quest for a stuffed parrot said to have inspired author Gustave Flaubert and subjects related to his own personal life.  The book is simultaneously "about" the narrator and his life, and different interpretations of the life of Flaubert.

  Narrator Geofrrey Braithwaite is a retired Doctor, widowed, English, tracing the foot steps of author Gustave Flaubert at various locations in France.  As you might expect from a narrator who is obsessed with Gustave Flaubert, Braithwaite has opinions about literature, and he shares those thoughts with the reader.  This commentary on literature (Example- Braithwaite would ban novels that contain incest as a plot point) creates one of the first memorable "meta" moments in literature.  Emphasis on the "memorable."   One of the major. mainstream events of the 1980's was the introduction of humor into post-modern books, and an attendant widening of the audience for works that contain dense, self contained arguments between the narrator and a long-dead English critic about the attention that Flaubert paid to his description to the color of Emma's eye in Madame Bovary.

  Flaubert's Parrot, alongside Waterland, represents a flowering of the type of literature I would equate with my personal taste- starting in the 1970's but really coming into form by the mid 1980's and beyond, up through the publication of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, in 1996.  It's a vast flourishing of literature that encompasses specialist-only areas of knowledge and embraces footnotes and other accouterments of twentieth century graduate student life.

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