Real Questions

Ian Hamilton

  • Staring at the Sun by Julian Barnes
    Cape, 195 pp, £9.95, September 1986, ISBN 0 224 02414 0

Julian Barnes once trained to be a barrister and he’s been asking questions ever since – questions, mostly, about questions. In Before she met me, the hero of the book actually suffered from interrogation-mania: try as he might, he couldn’t stop himself wondering about the details of his wife’s past loveaffairs. In Flaubert’s Parrot, the narrator is a biographer – another snoopy type. In his case, even the answers to his questions are really questions-in-disguise. In Barnes’s books, people don’t get worn down by compulsions of the flesh, nor deranged by the pursuit of fame and money: they fall victim to exhaustion of the brain – they become, as Barnes himself might put it, all quizzed out.

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