Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, April 13, 2012

Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes

Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (1984, 190 pages)

Not to long ago I read and really liked  A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (1946,UK) for which he won the 2011 Man Booker Prize.  I think A Sense of an Ending is the kind of book almost everyone will like and I think Flaubert's Parrot is a work people will either love or get bored with quickly.  I loved it.

I could not help but think of Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov as I read this book.  If you are not interested in the work and the life of Gustav Flaubert I do not think you will enjoy this book.   It is about a fictional doctor's obsessive interest in Gustav Flaubert, especially in a stuffed parrot he once owned.    We go along as the retired doctor, a widower, visits France and goes to a number of places associated with  Flaubert.  The fun of the book is in the reflections of the doctor about Flaubert and his associates.  The book just jumps right in and assumes you know who a lot of people in Flaubert's life are.    There is a lot of preoccupation with the sex life of Flaubert in the book, including his life long fondness for brothels and prostitutes of both sexes.  The doctor tells us several times of the Egyptian catamites Flaubert encountered , as if he wants to see if he can shock or offend us.

This novel is in part literary biography, even if a bit of an offbeat one, in part a reflection on France, modernism, and the role of writer in society.   Most of what I know of the life of Gustav Flaubert comes from Flaubert:  A Biography by Frederick Brown, a superb book.  Nothing in Flaubert's Parrot jumped out at me as wrong.

During Irish Short Story Week Two, March 11 to July 1, I am still reading longer works of fiction, though less than normal and I will post on them as I finish and when I can I will try to relate the works to Irish Short Stories.

The relationship of Flaubert to the Irish Short Story is very clear and strong.  Flaubert was the role model for countless writers and his influence is beyond  measure.

I found Flaubert's Parrot fascinating.  You can download a sample of the book from Amazon and I really suggest you do this before buying it, even if you like his other works.    I have three other of the novels of Barnes and will probably next read England, England. 


@parridhlantern said...

This was my first Barnes book & bought solely on the title, loved the book.

Rummanah Aasi said...

While I can appreciate Flaubert's writing talents, I don't really have that much of an interest in his life. I do, however, really enjoyed Julian Barnes as an author and have been meaning to pick up "Sense of an Ending" for quite some time.

Buried In Print said...

Well, I had absolutely no interest in Flaubert when I read this novel (since then I have read Madame Bovary but he's still not a writer who particularly interests me, only in a general way) but I absolutely loved it. I think what so appealed to me were the observations that were made about constructing a fiction, about the writing life, and about the strange relationship between creative work and reality. Reading your thoughts on this one has made me want to dash to the shelf for a re-read!

Teacher/Learner said...

I read this a few years ago (I'm desperate to get around to re-reading it!) and loved it, too. I knew nothing about Flaubert (still don't know too much) and still enjoyed its uniqueness. Glad to hear you felt the same.