Julian Barnes

1985 Jamming!

unpublished book review


Julian Barnes

Flaubert: was a Frenchman, author of ‘Madame Bovary’ and a copious amount of personal correspondence. Copious amounts of personal correspondence are well-liked by literary biographers. It helps them define their subject even though there can be as many definitions as definers. He also kept a parrot. The parrot is the only character in this book to keep its beak shut. Sometimes being stuffed is a blessing.

Geoffrey Braithwaite: fictional character and narrator of ‘Flaubert’s Parrot'. A retired GP, he makes intermittant references to his wife who commited suicide. His hints raise our curiosity about her (and thereby about him) just as discovery of a parrot raises his about Flaubert. Braithwaite is an amateur sleuth and Flaubert is his case. Flaubert is his obsession. Braithwaite doesn't allow a parrot to become a red herring.

Enid Starkie: a real life person. At least she was up until she died in 1970. A literary biographer who specialised in French literature, she criticised Flaubert over the shifting colour of Emma Bovary’s eyes. She was wrong. Emma’s do change colour and Flaubert intended it so. Starkie’s soul lies in turmoil.

Julian Barnes: the author of 'Metroland’, 'Before She Met Me’ and 'Flaubert's Parrot’. The latter began one night in the parking lot of a disused diner with a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a parrot from another time. This was Flaubert's parrot... Or was it?

Strange that these people should be linked by a stuffed bird but then 'Flaubert’s Parrot' is a strange book. In a tale of obsession – which culminates in an inevitable and complete frustration – Barnes plugs his favourite writer, cocks a snook to the ivory towers of academic literary criticism (in so doing concocting a lit.crit. style of his own) draws out the peculiarly British weirdness of Braithwaite and wraps the whole lot in the dip and jump form of a multi-dimensional thriller.

Rivetting and mysterious, and the best use of a parrot since Long John Silver in ‘Treasure Island’.



mick sinclair

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