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Through the Window
Cover of Through the Window
Through the Window
Seventeen Essays and a Short Story
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From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending and one of Britain's greatest writers: a brilliant collection of essays on the books and authors that have meant the most to him throughout his illustrious career.

In these seventeen essays (plus a short story and a special preface, "A Life with Books"), Julian Barnes examines the British, French and American writers who have shaped his writing, as well as the cross-currents and overlappings of their different cultures. From the deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald to the directness of Hemingway, from Kipling's view of France to the French view of Kipling, from the many translations of Madame Bovary to the fabulations of Ford Madox Ford, from the National Treasure status of George Orwell to the despair of Michel Houellebecq, Julian Barnes considers what fiction is, and what it can do. As he writes, "Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, and how we lose it."

From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending and one of Britain's greatest writers: a brilliant collection of essays on the books and authors that have meant the most to him throughout his illustrious career.

In these seventeen essays (plus a short story and a special preface, "A Life with Books"), Julian Barnes examines the British, French and American writers who have shaped his writing, as well as the cross-currents and overlappings of their different cultures. From the deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald to the directness of Hemingway, from Kipling's view of France to the French view of Kipling, from the many translations of Madame Bovary to the fabulations of Ford Madox Ford, from the National Treasure status of George Orwell to the despair of Michel Houellebecq, Julian Barnes considers what fiction is, and what it can do. As he writes, "Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, and how we lose it."

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Excerpts-
  • From the book Excerpted from the preface

    I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. And it was through books that I first realized there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer's voice gets inside a reader's head. I was perhaps lucky that for the first ten years of my life there was no competition from television; and when one finally arrived into the household, it was under the strict control of my parents. They were both schoolteachers, so respect for the book and what it contained were implicit. We didn't go to church, but we did go to the library.

    My maternal grandparents were also teachers. Grandpa had a mail-order set of Dickens and a Nelson's Encyclopaedia in about twenty-five small red volumes. My parents had classier and more varied books, and in later life became members of the Folio Society. I grew up assuming that all homes contained books; that this was normal. It was normal, too, that they were valued for their usefulness: to learn from at school, to dispense and verify information, and to entertain during the holidays. My father had collections of Times Fourth Leaders; my mother might enjoy a Nancy Mitford. Their shelves also contained the leather-bound prizes my father had won at Ilkeston County School between 1921 and 1925, mostly for 'General Proficiency' or 'General Excellence': The Pageant of English Prose, Goldsmith's Poetical Works, Cary's Dante, Lytton's Last of the Barons, Charles Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth.

    None of these works excited me as a boy. I first started investigating my parents' shelves (and those of my grandparents, and of my older brother) when awareness of sex dawned. Grandpa's library contained little lubricity except a scene or two in John Masters's Bhowani Junction; my parents had William Orpen's The Outline of Art with several important black-and-white illustrations; but my brother owned a copy of Petronius's Satyricon, which was the hottest book by far on the home shelves. The Romans definitely led a more riotous life than the one I witnessed around me in Northwood, Middlesex. Banquets, slave girls, orgies, all sorts of stuff. I wonder if my brother noticed that after a while some of the pages of his Satyricon were almost falling from the spine. Foolishly, I assumed that all his ancient classics must have similar erotic content. I spent many a dull day with his Hesiod before concluding that this wasn't the case.

    The local high street included an establishment we referred to as 'the bookshop'. In fact, it was a fancy-goods store plus stationer's with a downstairs room, about half of which was given over to books. Some of them were quite respectable—Penguin classics, Penguin and Pan fiction. Part of me assumed that these were all the books that there were. I mean, I knew there were different books in the public library, and there were school books, which were again different; but in terms of the wider world of books, I assumed this tiny sample was somehow representative. Occasionally, in another suburb or town, we might visit a 'real' bookshop, which usually turned out to be a branch of W. H. Smith.

    The only variant book-source came if you won a school prize (I was at City of London School, then on Victoria Embankment next to Blackfriars Bridge). Winners were allowed to choose their own books, usually under parental supervision. But again, this was somehow a narrowing rather than a broadening exercise. You...
About the Author-
  • Julian Barnes is the author of ten previous novels, three books of short stories, and three collections of journalism. In addition to the Booker Prize, his other honors include the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in London.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 8, 2012
    In this anthology, Man Booker Prize-winning British novelist Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) takes us through a life lived in literature. The 17 essays, previously published in newspapers and magazines, pay tribute to writers beloved of Barnes; the one piece of fiction is called "Homage to Hemingway: A Short Story." There is a lack of unity among the essays, which is to be expected from a showcase of disparate pieces spanning more than 15 years and presented non-chronologically. Many of the pieces shine individually, the anthology is at its best when Barnes writes historically (the detailed account and analysis of the difficulties encountered by generations of translators of Madame Bovary is especially illuminating, or biographically (the essay "George Orwell and the Fucking Elephant" a deeper perspective about how large Orwell looms in British culture and why). However, some of the most personal compositions devolve into unadulterated love-fests, like the opening essay about Penelope Fitzgerald, and the remembrance of John Updike. As a whole, though, most avid readers will find more here to like than to dislike; unsurprisingly, one's mileage may vary based on enthusiasm for, and familiarity with, the books and poems Barnes discusses.

  • Kirkus

    October 1, 2012
    The focus on books and literature makes this more cohesive than the usual collection of journalistic miscellany. Barnes deserves a breather after hitting his novelistic peak with the Man Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending (2011), preceded by a best-selling meditation on mortality (Nothing to Be Frightened Of, 2008). The preface to these critical pieces on individual authors or works (plus one short story, "Homage to Hemingway") should strike a responsive chord in anyone who loves books. As Barnes writes, "I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books." He then makes a series of deep, loving plunges into the world of literature, into posthumous celebrations of Penelope Fitzgerald (who had been, in his estimation, "the best living English novelist") and John Updike (whose Rabbit Quartet, he writes, constitutes "the greatest post-war American novel"). Many of the essays concern those who Barnes thinks should be better known, or at least more often read, including three pieces on Ford Madox Ford that explore "his past and continuing neglect" and one on the "marginal" poet Arthur Hugh Clough. Barnes' celebration of the "virtually unknown" 17th-century French author Nicolas-Sebastien Roch de Chamfort ranks with the most interesting here, as does his assessment of the notorious Michel Houellebecq: "There are certain books--sardonic and acutely pessimistic--which systematically affront all our current habits of living, and treat our presumptions of mind as the delusions of the cretinous." Not every piece will connect with every reader, but Barnes is a fine literary companion.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2012

    "Reading is a majority skill but a minority art," writes 2011 Man Booker Prize-winner Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) at the start of this collection of 17 essays and one short story. The essays are about writers, even particular books. There is an exceptional one on George Orwell ("a one-man, truth-telling awkward squad...a kind of non-writer's writer") three appreciations of Ford Madox Ford, and pieces on British, French, and American writers as varied as Rudyard Kipling (on his perspective on France and French views of him), Gustave Flaubert, Michel Houellebecq, John Updike, and Joyce Carol Oates. Some essays are more substantial (e.g., the one on Orwell, the first essay on Ford, one on Flaubert, an appreciation of the neglected poet Arthur Hugh Clough, a piece on novelist Penelope Fitzgerald) than others, but even the slightest piece is worth reading. The short story, "Homage to Hemingway," is more intellectually interesting than emotionally satisfying. VERDICT Barnes's observations on writers should appeal to readers of the literary essay genre. As always, he is a humane and fluent writer. Recommended.--David Keymer, Modesto, CA

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • San Francisco Chronicle "A reasoned defense of great writers and great literature. . . . The criticism of a writer like Barnes deserves to be celebrated for its prose at the same time as its intelligence--criticism that functions as its own literary property."
  • Financial Times "[A] blissfully intelligent gathering of literary essays."
  • The Millions "Sparkling. . . . A veritable treasure house of letters on novels and their authors."
  • The Daily Beast "The Booker-winning English novelist makes erudite scholarship look easy and effortlessly entertaining."
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