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LOVE, ETC. by Julian Barnes



Pub Date: Feb. 13th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-41161-5
Publisher: Knopf

Barnes (England, England, 1999, etc., etc.) goes back to his 1991 ménage à trois (Talking It Over) with results that seem slight at first but deepen satisfyingly.

Accidents will happen: as when, soon after Londoners Stuart and Gillian are happily married, along comes Oliver to sweep away Gillian’s fainting heart—resulting in her sudden divorce from number one husband and marriage to number two. The trouble is, number one husband doesn’t forgive, forget, and disappear, but instead keeps trailing the new couple until the wily Gillian finally stages a show of marital misery by getting dear Oliver to hit her in public, this unhappy (and a bit bloody) incident witnessed by the lurking, peeking Stuart. Gillian’s curious idea? Well, to quash the dying remains of Stuart’s jealousy so he’ll give up and go away for good. Miscalculation! After a ten-year sojourn in America, where he gets rich in the upscale food and vegetable business, Stuart returns to London with a plan, which is to make Gillian and Oliver (now with two lovely young daughters) an offer they can’t refuse. They are, after all, barely muddling along, Gillian as an art restorer, Oliver as—yup—a failed writer. They must, says Stuart, move into his old house (the one he and Gillian once lived in, when married), and Oliver must accept a job—menial or not—in Stuart’s flourishing food-delivery concern. Barnes’s adroitness is evident throughout (the story is told entirely through monologues), especially in his way of vilifying the educated, hyper-snobby, ultraliterate Oliver and warming the reader’s heart toward the wealthy but poor, rejected, good Stuart—then bit by bit turning the tables until Oliver is the pitied and Stuart the monstrous, until he even forces Gillian, in a sex scene not quickly forgotten, quite literally to bite the hand that feeds her.

Intelligent and skillful probings of marriage, love, and all that follows as the disappointing years drag on.