Thursday, May 31, 2018

Flaubert & Barnes

Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (b 1946)
"A Simple Heart" by Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880)

See previous posts:

"Coffee With Flaubert"
@ The Quotidian Kit

&

"Trees, Trains, and Idiots"
@The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker

[also: "Advancing & Receding"]

Finally, last month (April 2018) I got around to reading Flaubert's Parrot, a title that has lingered on my perpetual reading list since 1986. What was I waiting for? Why didn't I read this book back in the 20th Century? I don't know! But my friend Len had a good answer:

"This way you found unexpected pleasure
in the tumultuous 21st Century."

Indeed I did! When I reached the narrator's list of banned genres and banned plots, I could not help laughing out loud like a crazy person, all alone in my house:
"There is to be a twenty - year ban on novels set in Oxford or Cambridge, and a ten - year ban on other university fiction. No ban on fiction set in polytechnics (though no subsidy to encourage it). No ban on novels set in primary schools; a ten - year ban on secondary - school fiction. A partial ban on growing - up novels (one per author allowed). . . .

"A quota system is to be introduced on fiction set in South America. The intention is to curb the spread of package - tour baroque and heavy irony. Ah, the propinquity of cheap life and expensive principles, of religion and banditry, of surprising honour and random cruelty. Ah, the daiquiri bird which incubates its eggs on the wing; ah, the fredonna tree whose roots grow at the tips of its branches, and whose fibres assist the hunchback to impregnate by telepathy the haughty wife of the hacienda owner; ah the opera house now overgrown by jungle. [The Lost City of Z, Under the Volcano?] Permit me to rap on the table and murmur 'Pass!' Novels set in the Arctic and the Antarctic will receive a development grant
" (98 - 99).

And then there is his passage through customs, returning to England from France. Remember how Oscar Wilde supposedly said, "I have nothing to declare but my genius"? Well, Julian Barnes / Geoffrey Braithwaite is even better:
"I never have more than the permitted amount of duty - free goods; I've never imported plants, or dogs, or drugs, or uncooked meat, or firearms, and yet I constantly find myself wanting to turn the wheel and head for the Red Channel. It always feels like an admission of failure to come back from the Continent and have nothing to show for it. . . . Have you anything to declare? Yes, I'd like to declare a small case of French flu, a dangerous fondness for Flaubert, a childish delight in French road - signs, and a love of the light as you look north. Is there any duty to pay on any of these? There ought to be.

"Oh, and I've got this cheese, too
" (101 - 02).

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