If Julian Barnes' new collection of stories has a theme it is 'rage in age'. Among the Chinese the lemon is the symbol of death. At the 'lemon table' (a coinage of Sibelius, protagonist of the final story) it is permissible - indeed obligatory - to talk about death, and each of Barnes' characters is facing death, but each in a very different way. The settings range from eighteenth-century Sweden and nineteenth-century Russia to the 'Barnet Shop', a hairdessing salon where an old man measures out his life in haircuts, or a South Bank concert hall where a music lover carries out an obsessive campaign against those who cough in concerts. In 'Knowing French' an eighty-four-year old woman, a former teacher 'incarcerated' in an old people's home, begins a correspondence with an author - 'Dear Dr Barnes' - that enriches both their lives. In 'Appetite' a woman reads elaborate recipes to her sick husband as a substitute for sex. In 'Hygiene' an old soldier makes his regular trip to town to do errands for his wife - stilton from Paxton's, rubber rings for Kilner jars, Elizabeth Arden powder - and to spend the afternoon with a tart called Babs. These stories are wise, funny, clever and moving.
Master prose stylist Julian Barnes presents a collection of stories whose characters are growing old and facing the end of their lives -- some with bitterness, some with resignation and others with raging defiance.
?Life is just a premature reaction to death,? was what Viv?s husband used to say. Once her lover and friend, he is now Viv?s semi-helpless charge, who is daily sinking ever deeper into dementia. In ?Appetite,? Viv has found a way to reach her husband: by reading aloud snippets of recipe books until he calls out indelible -- and sometimes unfortunate -- scenes locked away in his brain. In ?The Things You Know,? two elderly friends enjoy their monthly breakfast meetings that neither would ever think of missing. Of course, all they really have in common is a fondness for flat suede shoes and a propensity for thinking spiteful, unspoken thoughts about one another?s dead husbands. ?The Fruit Cage? is narrated by a middle-aged man whose seemingly orderly upbringing is harrowingly undone when he discovers that his parents? old age is not necessarily a time of serenity but actually an age of aroused, perhaps violent, passions.
In these stories, Julian Barnes displays the erudition, wit and uncanny insight into the human mind that mark him as one of today?s great writers, one whose intellect and humour never obscure a genuine affection for his characters.
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