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Clever, wise, reflective and imaginative, these stories are permeated with understanding of what it has meant for generations of British people to cross the Channel and make a life in France.
Julian Barnes is the author of twelve novels, including The Sense of an Ending, which won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. He has also written three books of short stories, Cross Channel, The Lemon Table and Pulse; four collections of essays; and two books of non-fiction, Nothing to be Frightened Of and the Sunday Times Number One bestseller Levels of Life. He lives in London.
On the heels of Barnes's essay collection Letters from London, which included a searing account of Britain's xenophobic anxiety over 1994's ceremonial opening of the "Chunnel," comes this wonderfully wry short-story collection (his first) chronicling Britain's vexed relations with the French over the last 300 years. By turns dolorously indignant and wickedly funny, these 10 stories depict the manners, prejudices and historical purview of Brits traveling or living in France. The narrator of "The Experiment," a giddy literary mystery reminiscent of the author's novel Flaubert's Parrot, speculates about whether his hapless Uncle Freddy was an unnamed participant in André Breton's "famously unplatonic" sexual experiments. In "Evermore," a British proofreader, grieving 50 years later for the brother she lost in WW I, travels among the neglected French burial grounds, despairing over Europe's tendency to forget its own recent history. The closing story, "Tunnel," a thinly autobiographical account of a 60-ish man riding the Eurostar train directly from London to Paris in the year 2015 and reflecting on a life's worth of traveling, gracefully ties together the collection. Other pieces, like the somber "Dragons," about soldiers occupying a Huguenot village in the 17th century, and "Brambilla," a vernacular narrative by a working-class cyclist riding in the Tour de France, lack the dry, hectoring wit that enlivens most of the work here. But the entirety reads like an unusually fine Baedeker, exploring with great polish and nuance the vagaries of culture and personality that divide two unlikely bedfellows in an increasingly homogenous European community. (Mar.)
"Always intelligent and perceptive, but so beautifully written that it's easy to understand." -- Jancis Robinson * Week * "Intelligent and perceptive, but so beautifully written it's easy to understand... He captures the complex relationship between the French and the English." -- Jancis Robinson * Waitrose Weekend * "Wonderfully ironic, perceptive and at times tender... Barnes has created something unique in his work, a particular way of looking at life, at words, at relationships, which is the mark of every true stylist" * Financial Times * "His writing demonstrates the billowing lightness of imagination... reading these stories, you perceive and love France afresh... Cross Channel is characterised by the intelligence, irony and wit you associate with his writing, but it is also suffused with feeling, deeply seasoned with affection" * Independent * "A glittering collection of stories... His marvellously supple and exact prose is matched with subjects that powerfully stir his creativity... It's impossible to imagine a fictional panorama of Britain's long relationship with France realized with more cordial understanding" * Sunday Times *
Noted British novelist Barnes (e.g., Flaubert's Parrot, LJ 4/1/85) revealed a decidedly cosmopolitan streak in his recent Letters from London (LJ 7/95), which included some devilishly humorous commentary on British fears of the Continent. So it's not surprising to see him build an entire story collection (his first) around a cosmopolitan theme: the British experience in France, the country that the British most dearly seem to hate‘or at least love to complain about. In his typically luminous, literate, restrained prose, Barnes moves through history, from a British cricket team's trip to France in 1789 to the English railway builders welcomed by the French populace in the 1840s to a woman recalling a brother lost during World War I to a cranky English musician's dominance of the little French village to which he has retired. Throughout, Barnes exhibits a wonderful sense of time and place and an exactitude of historical detail; the railway workers, for instance, speak a language all their own that doesn't mimic contemporary speakers. Recommended for most collections.‘Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"