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Julian Barnes: Burning Letters, 7 July 1988

... reader. The other day, for instance, I turned up the following harmless statement about myself: Barnes, Julian 1946- Julian Barnes intends to keep his manuscripts and typescripts in his own possession for the foreseeable future [information supplied by the author, March 1987]. I ...

The Pouncer

Julian Barnes, 3 March 1983

The Mystery of Georges Simenon 
by Fenton Bresler.
Heinemann, 259 pp., £8.95, February 1983, 0 434 98033 1
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... forensic solecism in the Maigret books, he tends to rely for criticism on the judgments of Julian Symons and Maurice Richardson. This is probably wise – Mr Bresler arouses little confidence in his own literary footing. When, for instance, he quotes Simenon’s dictum about style – ‘If it rains, I write: “It rains” ’ – he seems unaware ...

Dear Mole

Julian Barnes, 23 January 1986

Flaubert and Turgenev: A Friendship in Letters 
translated by Barbara Beaumont.
Athlone, 197 pp., £18, October 1985, 0 485 11277 9
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... Flaubert’s Correspondence (which Gide kept at his bedside for five years in place of the Bible, and which hoisted even Sartre into grudging admiration) is one of the great documents of French literature: so it’s surprising how much of it isn’t there. The novelist made letter-burning pacts with his two longest-serving male friends, Maxime Du Camp and Louis Bouilhet, who with an irritating rectitude kept their side of the bargain: Du Camp burnt all but 24 out of a ‘considerable’ number of letters, which he had already annotated for posterity, and Bouilhet all but 81; while Flaubert himself, perhaps signalling unease about the agreements, kept 141 of Du Camp’s replies in existence, and 498 of Bouilhet’s ...

At the Fondation Custodia

Julian Barnes: Wilhelm Eckersberg, 28 July 2016

... This​ has been a rich time to explore 19th-century Scandinavian painting. Six years ago London and Edinburgh shared a revelatory show of Christen Købke (1810-48); while in 2014-15 the National Gallery showcased the less well-known but more extraordinary Peder Balke (1804-87): one of those rare artists whose pictures became smaller as he got older, and whose scraped, scratched grey-and-black oil-on-board images of the Northern Lights are among the most surprising pictures I’ve seen in the last few years ...


Julian Barnes: On the Booker, 12 November 1987

... a large dining-room where a dozen literati were all well into their lunch. C’est Monsieur Barnes, she announced, but not a single fork paused on its way to a single mouth. Oh dear, I thought, I was obviously some terrible compromise candidate; I shall be the Keri Hulme of the Prix Médicis. But no, we’d disturbed the jurors of the Prix Fémina by ...


Julian Barnes, 2 May 1985

A Classical Education 
by Richard Cobb.
Chatto, 156 pp., £9.95, April 1985, 0 7011 2936 0
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Still Life: Sketches from a Tunbridge Wells Childhood 
by Richard Cobb.
Chatto, 161 pp., £3.95, April 1985, 0 7012 1920 3
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... On a damp October evening last year this man robbed me of £15,000. The sum was tax free, so you could round it up to £20,000. Wineglass in hand, black tie at the throat, he also robbed four other novelists of the same sum – four others also musing, no doubt, on kitchen extensions, snooker tables, deep freezes and pulsing foreign holidays (though what we piously say to the press, of course, is ‘We need the money to make the time to write the next book in ...

At the National Gallery

Julian Barnes: Two Portraits, 18 August 2022

... Where​ do the noses go?’ Ingrid Bergman asks in For Whom the Bell Tolls, voicing apprehension over how to kiss. ‘Always I wonder where the noses will go.’ For an artist the equivalent might be ‘Where do the thumbs go?’ Hands are notoriously difficult to draw: all those fingers so close together, limblets so expressive when we use them in life, yet often numb and dumb when pictured ...

Badger Claws

Julian Barnes: Poil de Carotte, 30 June 2011

Nature Stories 
by Jules Renard, translated by Douglas Parmée.
NYRB, 165 pp., £8.99, March 2011, 978 1 59017 364 0
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... I remember a French peasant-priest telling me, many years ago: ‘It’s strange, Monsieur Barnes, I love animals, but I kill them.’ He said it as if it were a paradox only God could resolve. Renard, though pretty much agnostic (‘I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for His reputation if He didn’t’), was similarly poised between ...

Flaubert’s Bottle

Julian Barnes, 4 May 1989

Flaubert: A Biography 
by Herbert Lottman.
Methuen, 396 pp., £17.95, April 1989, 0 413 41770 0
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... Alcoholism softens the flesh – or at least, the 19th-century French variety did. When Verlaine died, Mallarmé watched a cast being taken of the face of this staunchly self-destructive drinker. He reported to the poet Georges Rodenbach that he would never forget ‘the wet, soggy sound made by the removal of the death-mask from his face, an operation in which part of his beard and mouth had come away too ...

Theroux and Through

Julian Barnes, 21 June 1984

The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp., £9.95, October 1983, 0 241 11086 6
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Doctor Slaughter 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 137 pp., £6.95, June 1984, 0 241 11255 9
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... A couple of years ago there was one of those Barry Humphries TV specials in which the Australian entertainer teases an audience of notables to the edge of humiliation. The guests attend to the act warily, poised between the pleasure of being official celebrities and the fear of being publicly ridiculed. After tormenting various patsies in a way that must have made them wish there was an RSPCA for humans, Dame Edna (for it was she) suddenly spotted Melvyn Bragg ...

Late Capote

Julian Barnes, 19 February 1981

Music for Chameleons 
by Truman Capote.
Hamish Hamilton, 262 pp., £7.95, February 1981, 0 241 10541 2
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... Start at the back: with the photograph. Traditionally, author’s vanity and publisher’s lethargy combine to make a writer look much younger than he is. Truman Capote’s portrait does the opposite, and for a particular reason. Study recent press photographs of Mr Capote, or those published last year in Andy Warhol’s Exposures, and what do you see? A plump, jowly figure in the flush of vital middle age, capering into Studio 54 on the languid arm of a heavily beringed dress designer: a man, it appears, of active sensuality verging on self-indulgence ...

Selfie with ‘Sunflowers’

Julian Barnes, 30 July 2015

Ever Yours: The Essential Letters 
by Vincent van Gogh, edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker.
Yale, 777 pp., £30, December 2014, 978 0 300 20947 1
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Van Gogh: A Power Seething 
by Julian Bell.
Amazon, 171 pp., £6.99, January 2015, 978 1 4778 0129 1
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... kept waiting weeks before he could safely post off his latest canvas to his dealer-brother Theo. Julian Bell, in his useful short biography and appraisal, aptly describes Starry Night over the Rhône as ‘closer to a sculptural relief than a reproducible flat image’. The life gets in the way as well. We have become over-familiar with the lineaments of the ...

Hating dogs

Julian Barnes, 17 September 1981

Words on the Air 
by John Sparrow.
Collins, 163 pp., £7.95, August 1981, 0 00 216876 6
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... In October 1971 the Italian Government made one of its ritual announcements that it had raised enough money to save Venice, by protecting it from pollution and installing a new sewage system. Simultaneously, John Sparrow was also turning his attention to the plight of the stricken city. In one of his major letters to the Times, the then Warden of All Souls addressed the urgent question of Venetian dogshit ...

One of a Kind – a story

Julian Barnes, 18 February 1982

... I always had this theory about Romania. Well, not a proper theory: more an observation, I suppose. Have you ever realised how, in various fields, Romania has managed to produce one – but only one – significant artist? It’s as if the race only has enough strength for one of anything, like those plants which channel all their energy into a single bloom ...

Double Bind

Julian Barnes, 3 June 1982

The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857 
by Jean-Paul Sartre.
Chicago, 627 pp., £17.50, January 1982, 0 226 73509 5
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Sartre and Flaubert 
by Hazel Barnes.
Chicago, 449 pp., £17.50, January 1982, 0 226 03720 7
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... merely to find out what Sartre thought about Flaubert will probably turn unreproached to Hazel Barnes’s Sartre and Flaubert. Perhaps we might offer a passing prayer of thanks that the fourth volume of L’Idiot was never written (de Beauvoir mentions in La Cérémonie that, ‘always thoughtful about renewing himself’, Sartre planned a study of Madame ...

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