THE PHRASE HE MOST REGRETS WRITING ...
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October 19, 2011
JULIAN BARNES, THE BOOKER, AND THE PHRASE HE MOST REGRETS WRITING
Posted by Erin Overbey
As Mark O’Connell noted in his post yesterday, the novelist Julian Barnes, who has just won the Booker Prize, has been shortlisted for the Prize three times before—for “Flaubert’s Parrot” in 1984, for “England, England” in 1998, and for “Arthur and George” in 2005. In a 1985 review of “Flaubert’s Parrot” for this magazine, John Updike wrote that if the book
is, as its dust jacket shyly claims, “a novel in disguise … a novel that constantly surprises,” it is the most strangely shaped specimen of its genre (that I have read) since Vladimir Nabokov’s “Pale Fire.” On the other hand, if it is a biographical-critical treatise on a dead writer, it is the oddest and most whimsical such since Nabokov’s “Nikolai Gogol.”
Barnes has written forty-seven pieces for The New Yorker since 1989, including fifteen short stories and fourteen Letters from London. And while he’s not the first modern English novelist to be compared to Nabokov, he’s almost certainly the first Booker Prize winner to have written a piece on the etiquette problems of dealing with a belligerent, suitcase-raiding pig in Tennessee, as he did for this magazine in 1999. In “Post Modernism,” which described a stay with friends in America who owned a pet pig, Barnes mused,
I subsequently learned that an earlier guest—an Englishman, too, and one of the politest men I know—had been negligent in the same way. He, to his shame, had large quantities of prescription drugs in his suitcase, in non-pigproof containers. Apparently, the effects of pharmaceutical overload on the porcine digestive system are spectacular, and not quickly over, either. Despite profuse apologies from my fellow-countryman, our hostess refused to speak to him for several days.
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