Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 4.1


Metroland
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Barnes, Julian
Metroland


Apparently I liked something about Julian Barnes, because I also read this, his first novel. It is a sort of British baby-boomer coming of age tale about two friends who aspire to be artists. One becomes one, the other does not, gets a job, moves to the suburbs. Everyone is unhappy. They made a movie about it starring Emily Watson and, I think, Christian Bale, which wasn't terrible. I think I may also have read another book by Barnes, Before She Met Me, which is no longer in my library (where are all the books I have lost, sold, given away?). Barnes' books all have a certain amount of superficial pleasure to them, but none have really stayed with me. I remember also reading Martin Amis at the time and having the same feeling. Funny, brilliant in its way, forgettable.

It begins:

There is no rule against carrying binoculars in the National Gallery.

On this particular Wednesday afternoon in the summer of 1963, Toni had the notebook and I had the glasses. So far, it had been a productive visit. There had been the young nun in the men's spectacles who smiled sentimentally at the Arnolfini Wedding, and then, after a few moments, frowned and made a disapproving cluck. There had been the anoraked girl hiker, so transfixed by the Crivelli altarpiece that we simply stood on either side of her and noted the subtlest parting of the lips, the faintest tautening of skin across the cheekbones and the brow ("Spot anything on the temple your side?" "Zero" -- so Toni wrote down Temple twitch; LHS only). And there had been the man in the chalk-stripe suit, hair precisely parted an inch above his right ear, who twitched and squirmed in front of a small Monet landscape. He puffed out hi cheeks, leaned back slowly on his heels, and exhaled like a discreet balloon.

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