STARING AT THE SUN by Julian Barnes


Email this review


Barnes (Flaubert's Parrot) has used portraiture-at-three-ages before, in 1980's Metroland. Where that book had an aggressively sociocultural finish, though, this new one hooks a rug of metaphor more philosophical and religious. Jean Serjeant's childhood in the 1920's is bedeviled and enlightened by her golf-course outings with her Uncle Leslie, during which his charming eccentricity poses to her certain questions and conundrums (Is there a Sandwich museum? Why don't Jews like golf? Why is heaven up the chimney? Why is the mink excessively tenacious of life?)--mysteries that provide her with a kind of bravery and fear mixed together. Also they seemed to have had the capacity to render her all but unfit for normal life. Marriage, a son, divorce, travel--she goes on to have and do all these things but never feels herself quite connected to them. Her son, Gregory, inherits the deracination; and, then, as a bachelor of 60 (Jean still doughtily hanging on at 100 in the year 2002), he decides to ask his own versions of Uncle Leslie's questions lo a great central computer that will--to a select few--reveal ultimate truths, i.e., Does God exist? Why is there death? As Flaubert's Parrot proved. Barnes is special at subtle recapitulation; he can under- and over-knot a mere detail until it comes to seem like a living seed; and he has a fine, off-center sense of humor that falls toward the commonsensical and sends up the needlessly fancy. This is all here again--but more pokily; Jean's teenaged acquaintance with a scared fighter pilot, for instance, etches the fine line between bravery and cowardice--but too portentously. Her impressions of travels lo China and the Grand Canyon are intelligently odd--but, in a novel, sit there like travel notes all the same. Probably a better way to read this book is as an elegantly well-done successor (and homage) to Cyril Connolly's black diamond, The Unquiet Grave: an excursus, a self-mocking meditation. Certainly the final section--Gregory's search for and the finding of faith--is very moving, a hundred juggled balls in the air, all somehow--wizardly, humanely--caught. Not truly a novel, then--nor satisfying as one--but added proof of Barnes' deft skill for artistic and intellectual cubism.
Pub Date: April 2nd, 1987
ISBN: 0679748202
Page count: 215pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1987


FictionTHE ONLY STORY by Julian Barnes
by Julian Barnes
FictionTHE NOISE OF TIME by Julian Barnes
by Julian Barnes
NonfictionKEEPING AN EYE OPEN by Julian Barnes
by Julian Barnes