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  • Written by Julian Barnes
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  • Written by Julian Barnes
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Written by Julian BarnesAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Julian Barnes

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42673-4
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Julian Barnes continues to reinvigorate the novel with his pyrotechnic verbal skill and playful manipulation of plot and character. In Love, etc. he uses all the surprising, sophisticated ingredients of a delightful farce to create a tragicomedy of human frailties and needs.

After spending a decade in America as a successful businessman, Stuart returns to London and decides to look up his ex-wife Gillian. Their relationship had ended years before when Stuart’s witty, feckless, former best friend Oliver stole her away. But now Stuart finds that the intervening years have left Oliver’s artistic ambitions in ruins and his relationship with Gillian on less than solid footing. When Stuart begins to suspect that he may be able to undo the results of their betrayal, he resolves to act. Written as an intimate series of crosscutting monologues that allow each character to whisper their secrets and interpretations directly to the reader, Love, etc. is an unsettling examination of confessional culture and a profound refection on the power of perspective.

Excerpt

i remember you

Stuart  Hello!

We’ve met before. Stuart. Stuart Hughes.

Yes, I am sure. Positive. About ten years ago.

It’s all right—it happens. You don’t have to pretend. But the point is, I remember you. I remember you. I’d hardly forget, would I? A bit over ten years, now I come to think of it.

Well, I’ve changed. Sure. This is all grey for a start. Can’t even call it pepper-and-salt any more, can I?

Oh, and by the way, you’ve changed too. You probably think you’re pretty much the same as you were back then. Believe me, you aren’t.

Oliver  What’s that companionable warble from the neighbouring wankpit, that snuffle and stamp from the padded loose-box? Could it be my dear, my old—old as in the sense of former—friend Stuart?

‘I remember you.’ How very Stuart. He is so old-, so former-fashioned that he likes naff songs which actually predate him. I mean, it’s one thing to be hung up on cheap music synchronous with the primal engorgement of your own libidinous organs, be it Randy Newman or Luigi Nono. But to be hung up on the sun-lounger singalongeries of a previous generation—that’s so very, so touchingly Stuart, don’t you find?

Lose that puzzled expression. Frank Ifield. ‘I Remember You.’ Or rather, I remember yoo-oo, / You’re the one that made my dreams come troo-oo. Yes? 1962. The Australian yodeller in the sheepskin car-coat? Indeed. Indeedy-doo-oo. And what a sociological paradox he must have represented. No disrespect to our bronzed and Bondi’d cousins, of course. In the
world’s fawning obeisance before every cultural sub-grouping, let it not be said that I have anything against an Australian yodeller per se. You might be one yourself. If I prod you, do ye not yodel? In which case, I would give you honest eye-contact and an undiscriminatory handshake. I would welcome you into the brotherhood of man. Along with the Swiss
cricketer.

And if—by some happy whim—you actually are a Swiss cricketer, an off-spinner from the Bernese Oberland, then let me just say, simply: 1962 was the very year of the Beatles’ first revolution at forty-five turns per minute, and Stuart sings Frank Ifield. I rest my case.

I’m Oliver, by the way. Yes, I know you know. I could tell you remembered me.

Gillian  Gillian. You may or may not remember me. Is there some problem?

What you have to understand is that Stuart wants you to like him, needs you to like him, whereas Oliver has a certain difficulty imagining that you won’t. That’s a sceptical look you’re giving me. But the truth is, over the years I’ve watched people take against Oliver and fall under his spell almost at the same time. Of course, there’ve been exceptions. Still, be warned.

And me? Well, I’d prefer you to like me rather than the reverse, but that’s normal, isn’t it? Depending on who you are, of course.

Stuart  I wasn’t actually referring to the song at all.

Gillian  Look, I actually haven’t the time. Sophie’s got music today. But I’ve always thought of Stuart and Oliver as opposite poles of something . . . of growing up, perhaps. Stuart believed that growing up was about fitting in, about pleasing people, becoming a member of society. Oliver didn’t have that problem, he always had more self-confidence. What’s that word for plants which move in relation to the sun? Helio something. That’s what Stuart was like. Whereas Oliver—

Oliver  —was le roi soleil, right? The nicest spousal compliment I’ve had in some time. I’ve been called some things in this sublunary smidgeon which goes by the name of life, but King Sol is a new one. Phoebus. Phoe-Phi-Pho-Phumbus—

Gillian  —tropic. Heliotropic, that’s the word.

Oliver  Have you noticed this change in Gillian? The way she puts people into categories? It’s probably her French blood. She’s half French—you remember that? ‘Half French on her mother’s side’: that ought to mean quarter French, logically, don’t you think? Yet what, as all the great moralists and philosophers have noted, has logic got to do with life?

Now, had Stuart been half French, in 1962 he would have been whistling Johnny Hallyday’s Gallic version of ‘Let’s Twist Again.’ That’s a thought, isn’t it? A pungent pensée. And here’s another: Hallyday was half Belgian. On his father’s side.

Stuart  In 1962 I was four years old. Just for the record.

Gillian  Actually, I don’t think I do put people into categories. It’s just that if there are two people in the world I understand, they’re Stuart and Oliver. After all, I have been married to both of them.

Stuart  Logic. Did someone use the word? I’ll give you logic. You go away, and people think you’ve stayed the same. That’s the worst piece of logic I’ve come across in years.

Oliver  Misprise me not about les Belges, by the way. When some jaunty little dinner-table patriot ups and demands ‘Name me six famous Belgians, I’m the one with his hand in the air. Undeterred by the words ‘Apart from Simenon.

It may not be to do with her being French at all. It could be middle-age. A process that happens to some, if not necessarily all of us. With Gill the train is coming into the station roughly on time, steam activating its beloved whistle and the boiler a tad hot and bothered. But ask yourself when Stuart became middle-aged and the only area for debate is whether it was before or after his testicles descended. Have you seen that photo of him in his pram wearing a little three-piece suit and pinstripe nappies?

Whereas Oliver? Oliver long ago decided—no, knew instinctively—that middle-age was infra dig, déclassé and generally below the salt as a condition. Oliver is planning to compress middle-age into a single afternoon of lying down with a migraine. He believes in youth, and he believes in wisdom, and plans to pass from wise youth to young wisdom with the help of a palmful of paracetamol and an eye mask from some exotic airline.

Stuart  Someone once pointed out that you can recognise a complete egomaniac by the way they refer to themselves in the third person. Even royalty doesn’t use the royal plural any more. But there are sportsmen and rock stars who talk about themselves like that, as if it was normal. Have you noticed? Bobby So-and-So’s accused of cheating, to win a penalty or something, and he replies, ‘No, that’s not the sort of thing Bobby So-and-So would do.’ As if there’s some separate figure out there, under the same name, taking the flak, or shouldering the responsibility.

Which is hardly the case with Oliver. You couldn’t exactly call him famous, could you? Yet he refers to himself as ‘Oliver,’ as if he was an Olympic gold medallist. Or a schizophrenic, I suppose.

Oliver  What do you think of North-South debt restructuring? The future prospects of the euro? The smile on the face of the tiger economies? Have metal traders exorcised the ghost of the meltdown scare? I’m sure Stuart has robust and portly opinions on all such matters. He will be not so much grave as positively gravid. I’ll bet you six famous Belgians he doesn’t know the difference between the two words. He’s the sort of person who expects the word gravid to be followed by lax, silly old fishface that he is. A billboard for probity, and all that. But a little, shall we say, lacking in irony?

Gillian  Look, stop it, you two. Just stop it. This isn’t working.

What sort of impression do you think you’re giving?

Oliver  What did I tell you? The train is coming into the station, puff puff, huff huff . . .

Gillian  If we’re getting into this again, we have to play by the rules. No talking amongst ourselves. Anyway, who’s going to take Sophie to music?

Oliver:  Gillian, in case you’re wondering, is an honorary representative of The Men Who Guess.

Stuart  Are you interested in pork? Real pork, with real taste? Where do you stand on GM?

Oliver  Six, apart from Simenon? Easy-peasy. Magritte, César Franck, Maeterlinck, Jacques Brel, Delvaux and Hergé, creator of Tintin. Plus fifty percent of Johnny Hallyday, I add as a pourboire.

Gillian  Stop it! You’re as bad as one another. No-one knows what you’re talking about. Look, I just think we ought to explain things.

Stuart  As bad as one another. That’s open to question, I think. In the present circumstances.

All right, I’d like to explain something. Frank Ifield actually wasn’t an Australian. He may have lived there, but he was born in England. Coventry, if you must know. Also, while we’re on the subject, ‘I Remember You’ was in point of fact a Johnny Mercer song written twenty years previously. Why do culture snobs always sneer about things they’re completely ignorant of?

Oliver  Explain things? Can’t we leave that until we reach the Dies Irae, until some hydra-cocked Pandaemonian prods us with his dipstick and a bat-headed lizard unwinds our guts on a windlass? Explain things? You really think we ought? This isn’t daytime TV, let alone the Roman Senate. Oh, very well, then. I’ll go first.

Stuart  I don’t see why he should. That’s absolutely typical Oliver. Besides, everyone in marketing knows it’s always the first story that sticks in the mind.

Oliver  Baggies I first. Baggies baggies baggies.

Gillian  Oliver, you’re forty-two. You can’t say baggies.

Oliver  Then don’t smile at me like that. Baggies. Baggy baggy baggy and another baggy. Go on, give us a laugh. You know you want to. Please. Pretty please.

Stuart  If this is the alternative, I’d rather be middle-aged. Officially or unofficially.

Oliver  Ah, marketing! Always my Achilles heel. Very well, Stuart can be our lead-off man if he wishes, pattering round the first bend bearing the baton of truth. Don’t drop it, Stu-baby! And don’t run out of your lane. You wouldn’t want to get the lot of us disqualified. Not this early.

I don’t care if he goes first. I merely have one request, made on grounds not of egomania, self-interest or marketing, but of decorum, art and a general horror of the banal. Please don’t call this next bit ‘The Story So Far.’ Please don’t. Please. Pretty please?


From the Hardcover edition.
Julian Barnes|Author Q&A

About Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes - Love, Etc

Photo © Jillian Edelstein

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester and moved to London in 1946. He is the author of twenty books, and in 2011 won the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending. He met Pat Kavanagh in 1978.
 
Pat Kavanagh was born in South Africa and moved to London in 1964. She worked in advertising and then, for forty years, as a literary agent. She married Julian Barnes in 1979, and died in 2008.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with

Julian Barnes

author of the novel

LOVE, ETC.

Q: In your new novel, Love, etc., you’ve written about 3 characters first seen ten years ago in Talking It Over. Did you always know you wanted to carry on with their story?

A: No, I’ve always been rather against sequels. I certainly had no idea of continuing the story of Talking It Over, at least for 7 to 8 years. But two things nagged at me at some levels: the fact that readers would ask me what happened afterwards—and, most importantly, would disagree with one another; and secondly, a feeling that there was more to be done with the form I’d developed in that first book—further I could push it.

Q: Was it a difficult technique to have each character talk directly to the reader, pleading his or her case?

A: Well, it’s a very interesting and enjoyable technique, which allows you, as author, to absent yourself entirely from the text. Of course you pull the strings, as always, but every verifiable or non-verifiable fact or theory is left in the hands of the characters. The difficulty lies in the plaiting of the voices: in judging the amount of overlap and contradiction between each statement and point of view; too much, and the result is chaos and an irritated reader; too little, and there isn’t enough narrative fuel.

Q: One of your characters, Oliver, has a theory he calls “Love, etc.” that others disagree with. Can you explain what that is?

A: Oliver—who is a flamboyant and loquacious character—proposes the theory in Talking It Over that the world divides into two categories of people: those for whom love is everything, and the rest of life—work, play, society, politics, friendship—is merely an etc.; and those for whom the etc., the normality of living, is prime, and who attach no more importance to love than to home decorating. Needless to say, he puts himself into the first category, and almost everyone else in the world into the second. But of course, how you define love, and how you use it to justify selfish behavior, are matters to be argued further in the novels.

Q: Do you always know where your story and your characters are headed before you actually sit down to write from their point of view?

A: It varies from book to book. I try not to overplan in advance, in case it turns into the literary equivalent of painting-by-numbers: just fill in the gaps. Writing for me exists in a state of tension between control and freedom, an overall sense of what I’m up to and a sense of the living moment, and of varied possibility, when I sit at the typewriter. With Talking It Over, I did in fact plot it out fairly closely, because I needed to know pretty much where I was going so that I could concentrate on the interweaving of the voices. Even so, the book probably only turned out 80% how I’d decided it would be. With Love, etc. I had more confidence in my ability to handle the technique, so I began with the book plotted no more than perhaps 30%. That’s to say, in terms of what happens from page to page; thematically, I knew much more.

Q: In a recent New Yorker piece about “influences” you wrote of the novelist’s need to undertake each project as if it has never been done before rather than rely on one’s literary influences or to try to work “in the manner of” another writer’s style. Can you speak to that?

A: All writers are influenced by other writers, and all write in a cultural and social continuum; this becomes more and more evident as time elapses. But in order for me to write, I have to convince myself that I’m doing something new—new for me, and new, as far as I am aware, in the wider context of the novel. Sadly, it isn’t always the case; but it’s a necessary naivety, or self-deception. If you felt of a novel you are starting—and which might take 2 or 3 years of your life—that it was merely the equivalent of another episode in a soap opera invented way back when by whoever, that would be not only depressing but terminally discouraging, wouldn’t it?

Q: In lieu of naming direct influences, could you name a few novelists whose work interests you at the moment?

A: Updike, Roth, Lorrie Moore, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ishiguro, Peter Carey.

Q: Was it always your ambition to be a writer or did other professions first attract you?


A: I always thought that to be an artist of any kind was infinitely more important, interesting and glamorous than anything else; I also thought that art was made by other people. It’s abnormal to be a writer or artist, at least in most cultures; it’s not a job handed down the generations. So I assumed that I would have to have a job of some sort. After university, I worked as a lexicographer, then trained as a lawyer. But I started doing a little journalism, and tentatively tried to write something longer on the side. But it took a long time—getting the confidence—so I was a late starter. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 34.

Q: You used a spiral notebook in writing this book, instead of you usual typewriter. Why?


A: I think I was conning myself into starting the book. I normally work on an electric typewriter, and starting a book is a formal process in a way—you decide, right, that’s enough note-making for the moment, let’s have a go at page one. But as I wasn’t sure I was going to write a continuation of Talking It Over until I had started it, what happened was more: oh, go on, just pretend you’re starting, see how the voices feel after all this time, just do a page . . . And I also found that there was something very apt in taking the voices down by hand—as if I were taking dictation, or as if there was a physical link from their brains to my brain to my arm to the free-flowing ink. At a psychological level I don’t care to examine too closely, it just worked.

Q: Do you have a basic philosophy concerning how you write and/or what you choose to write about?


A: No, I don’t think there’s a “philosophy” of writing; there are only themes and characters to be arranged and expounded within a particular form. Nor do I have a sharp sense of choosing my subjects; they tend to come from a long way back—to have a pre-history, and be brought into the present and the possibility of being written by some moment of ignition. This may be a suddenly-realized formal solution to a problem (as with the present book and its prequel) or merely a new event or insight which when added to the previous possibility-for-a-story sets things off.

Q: Do you see yourself in any of your characters, ever?

A: There’s a bit of me in the main character of my first novel (unsurprisingly), though only in about the first third of that book; then I began to imagine—and to lie—and things took off. It’s always easier to make up a character than copy one from life; and the same applies to yourself. I’m only minimally an autobiographical novelist; at least , that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Q: What did you think of the French film made of Talking It Over a few years ago?


A: I thought it was a good piece of work. They relocated it to France, and I think that helped. I don’t believe films should be faithful to more than the spirit of novels—it’s a different art form. I stayed away from the filming of Talking It Over, and only met the director afterwards. The first thing I said was, “I hope you have betrayed me.” She smiled and said, “Of course.” Neither of us exactly meant it, but we knew what each of us meant; and in her reply I heard the possibility of a good film.

Q: Are you working on anything now?

A: Yes, a collection of essays, a collection of short stories, a novel and a non-fiction project. I can’t talk about the last three, I’m afraid. But I’ve got my work cut out for the next few years. It comes from being a late starter, I suppose.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“An alarmingly perfect novel . . .. Barnes’s verbal mimicry is inventive, accomplished, revelatory, and also fun.” –The New York Review of Books

“Lively, lucid, ricocheting with wryly observed commentary on the human condition.”–Philadelphia Inquirer

“Painfully astute . . .. Barnes sharpens his insights with his penetrating wit and verbal virtuosity.”–The Washington Post

“Julian Barnes...[is an] ironist, artificer, psychologically flirtatious pool shark, a maestro who runs the table with his Rashomon variations.”–The New York Times Book Review

  • Love, Etc by Julian Barnes
  • June 11, 2002
  • Fiction; Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $15.00
  • 9780375725883

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