I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Exit from Metroland

Exit from Metroland

Giles Newington
The Only Story, by Julian Barnes, Jonathan Cape, 213 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-1767330696 Halfway through Julian Barnes’s novel The Sense of An Ending, which won the Booker Prize in 2011, its ageing narrator, Tony, ruminates matter-of-factly about the course of his existence so far: And that’s a life, isn’t it? Some achievements and some disappointments. It’s been interesting to me, though I wouldn’t complain or be amazed if others found it less so. Maybe, in a way, Adrian [a friend who committed suicide] knew what he was doing. Not that I would have missed my own life for anything, you understand. Tony’s plain-speaking, undeceived tone is typical of Barnes’s protagonists, and recognisable too as a kind of house style in much of English postwar fiction. Imbued with a Larkinesque quiet desperation, it is this voice that, along with the mid-century suburban settings he favours, makes Barnes seem such a quintessentially English writer. Yet the limited version of Englishness these elements represent can make them problematic territory on which to build a contemporary novel, a difficulty Barnes has previously addressed by stressing the unreliability of his characters’ memories and views of the past. Sometimes he employs the reasonable, unpretentious tone in order to undermine it later, and for every conformist Tony there is a maverick Adrian ready to reject or unsettle the assumptions of the middle class world they come from. After the passage above, for example, the second half of The Sense of An Ending revisits Adrian’s story and the context of his death, and in the process transforms Tony’s neutral complacency into a state of troubled unrest. In much of Barnes’s best work, including his debut, Metroland (1980), the Booker-shortlisted satire England, England (1998) and The Sense of An Ending itself, this questioning of narrative credibility is a ploy that works very well, though it can lend itself to parody, as John Crace showed in his Guardian “Digested Read” of the latter book: I could go on, but as I can sense you might quickly tire of the flatness of my prose, the absence of any emotion and the repetition of the unreliability trope, I propose to keep this short. I did eventually sleep with Veronica, after we had split up, but it wasn’t very satisfactory for me … There’s not much to say about the next 40 years … But the one thing I have never forgotten is that I am almost catatonically disconnected. In reality though, Barnes is…

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