'flaubert's Parrot' By Julian Barnes A Review.

1012 words - 4 pages

Although this is a fictional novel, it ventures into the realms of a biography. Barnes, or rather, Geoffrey Braithwaite, the 'author' and narrator, recounts many aspects of Gustave Flaubert's life, and presents us with biographical details and chronology. I suppose it could be said that the real writer, Barnes, is writing a fictional biography of the fictional biographer, Geoffrey Braithwaite, who in turn is writing a biography on the real writer, Gustave Flaubert.Due the authorial voice, and because I have never read any of Flaubert's works, I found myself trusting the information that was given to me, and therefore trusting the narrator.Fairly near the start, we learn that there are hidden 'skeletons' in Geoffrey's past. He promises to reveal them, at some point, but seems very reluctant to do so. This made me almost impatient over the information I was given about Flaubert, as I found myself much more curious about Geoffrey and his life. It seemed that Geoffrey was hiding behind Flaubert as an excuse to talk about other things. He doesn't appear to have much of an exterior or interior life, other than it revolving around his project. Geoffrey is relating everything back to Flaubert, and using him as a lens to view reality.This withholding of information, and insight into the narrator's life, ties in well with the curiosity of the reader to know about the writer, which Geoffrey comments on throughout the book. Barnes is obviously trying to make the point to us that a work of fiction does not necessarily reflect in any way on the writer, and, as readers, we should separate the two. This is further compounded by the fact that the reader feels as though Geoffrey is in some way relative to Barnes himself. If we take the narrative advice, however, then Barnes is no more related to Geoffrey, than Geoffrey is to Flaubert, or Flaubert is to Madame Bovary.Barnes is also making us think about why we feel the need to know about the lives of authors, and why we think that biographies make sense of fictional writing, when all biographies, or indeed, perceptions of history, are very much a subjective thing.This relates to the human impulse for order, and the feeling that there should be an explanation for everything, even though evidence points to the contrary. We expect everything in literature, if not in life, to be explicable. Inconsistencies can't be accidental - there must be a reason, because the author controls the narrative. This is reflected well in the section regarding Emma Bovary's eye colour, and Geoffrey's knowledge that there may be a mistake in the book. He appears very relieved and 'smug' when he finds out that the mistake is not really there.Barnes appears to have strong awareness of how academic study works. He knows what literary criticism should sound like, and uses this to write a book about the process of studying literature. Flaubert's Parrot is more about the Geoffrey's function as a biographer and critic, than about the man himself,...

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