The Man Booker Prize

Julian Barnes - 2011

Born: 19 January 1946, Leicester

Author's quote: "When you read a great book, you don't escape from life, you plunge deeper into it."

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Julian Barnes

About Julian Barnes

Julian Patrick Barnes (born 19 January 1946) is an English writer. Barnes won the Man Booker Prize for his book The Sense of an Ending (2011), and three of his earlier books had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize: Flaubert's Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005). He has also written crime fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh. In addition to novels, Barnes has published collections of essays and short stories.

In 2004 he became a Commandeur of L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His honours also include the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.

Barnes was born in Leicester, although his family moved to the outer suburbs of London six weeks afterwards. Both of his parents were teachers of French. He was educated at the City of London School from 1957 to 1964. In 1956 the family moved to Northwood, Middlesex, the 'Metroland' of his first novel. He then went on to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied Modern Languages. After graduation, he worked as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary supplement for three years. He then worked as a reviewer and literary editor for the New Statesman and the New Review. From 1979 to 1986 he worked as a television critic, first for the New Statesman and then for The Observer.

His first novel, Metroland (1980), is the story of Christopher, a young man from the London suburbs who travels to Paris as a student, finally returning to London. The novel deals with themes of idealism and sexual fidelity, and has the three-part structure that is a common recurrence in Barnes' work.

His second novel Before She Met Me (1982) features a darker narrative, a story of revenge by a jealous historian who becomes obsessed by his second wife's past. Barnes's breakthrough novel Flaubert's Parrot (1984) departed from the traditional linear structure of his previous novels and featured a fragmentary biographical style story of an elderly doctor, Geoffrey Braithwaite, who focuses obsessively on the life of Gustave Flaubert.

Staring at the Sun followed in 1986, another ambitious novel about a woman growing to maturity in post-war England who deals with issues of love, truth and mortality.

In 1989 Barnes published A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, which was also a non-linear novel, which uses a variety of writing styles to call into question the perceived notions of human history and knowledge itself.

In 1991, he published Talking It Over, a contemporary love triangle, in which the three characters take turns to talk to the reader, reflecting over common events. This was followed by a sequel, Love, etc (2000), which revisited the characters ten years on.

Barnes's novel The Porcupine (1992) again deals with a historical theme as it depicts the trial of the former leader of a collapsed Communist country in Eastern Europe, Stoyo Petkanov, as he stands trial for crimes against his country.

Arthur & George (2005), a fictional account of a true crime that was investigated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, launched Barnes's career into the more popular mainstream. It was the first of his novels to be featured on the New York Times bestsellers list for Hardback Fiction.

Barnes is a keen Francophile, and his 1996 book Cross Channel, is a collection of 10 stories charting Britain's relationship with France. He also returned to the topic of France in Something to Declare, a collection of essays on French subjects.

Barnes' eleventh novel, The Sense of an Ending, published by Jonathan Cape, was released on 4 August 2011. In October of that year, the book was awarded the Man Booker Prize.

In 2013 Barnes published Levels of Life. The first section of the work gives a history of early ballooning and aerial photography, describing the work of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon. The second part is a short story about Fred Burnaby and the French actor Sarah Bernhardt, both also balloonists. The third part is an essay discussing Barnes' grief over the death of his wife, Pat Kavanagh.


Levels of Life - Julian Barnes

By James Connelley

You wonder where this book is going shortly after you start it, what with 19th century French and British balloonist heading aloft into the unknown, unable to navigate the unpredictable winds, encountering risks (often fatal), and landing who could foretell where. But it is a fitting metaphor for Barnes' journey through the unpredictable adventure of married love into death and absence. He begins with the notion that "You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed. People may not notice at the time, but that doesn't matter. The world has been changed nonetheless."

It's all too easy to skip over that wonderful opening, for it seems so abstract. But the passage crystallizes his theme. So, it probably helpful to go back to the opening passage from time to time in reading this short but moving book. Early ballooning, its novelty, its risks (and perhaps inevitable crashes and fatality) prove to be an insightful metaphor for the married life Barnes shared and then lost with Pat Kavanagh. The final chapter on Barnes' experience of the enduring pain of loss and grief, persisting as others around him cannot understand how utterly grief still grasps him, resembles nothing else one is likely to have read in so distilled a treatment.

The book should not be missed; few authors have had the capacity to write something so personal, yet so authentic and immediate that it speaks directly to a reader. Don't be put off by the initial oddity of the extended ballooning metaphor: it is integral to Barnes' experience and purpose and seems in its way like the extended metaphors (metaphysical conceits) of John Donne and others. Barnes' prose is spare and masterful, but one would expect that of him.


Levels of Life - Julian Barnes

By Gillian Turner

I have always been a fan of Julian Barnes. I must admit that with this book I read the last section first. I wept throughout. My husband died six and a half years ago. What Barnes describes are emotions, experiences, sad, laughable, incongruous, things I went through then, feelings that still engulf me. "Entrañable" is a word in Mexico I have never been able to translate satisfactorily but which exactly describes this book. Thank you, Mr. Barnes.