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B+ : clever, well-written, many of the finer points very good -- but with some disappointments
See our review for fuller assessment.
|The Atlantic Monthly
|Christian Science Monitor
|London Rev. of Books
|The LA Times
|The New Republic
|The New Yorker
|The NY Rev. of Books
|The NY Times
|The NY Times Book Rev.
|Rev. of Contemp. Fiction
|San Francisco Chronicle
|The Sunday Times
|The Village Voice
|The Washington Post
No consensus, though generally quite positive.
Many fairly noncommittal.
Opinions even split on whether it is better or worse than its predecessor, Talking it Over.
Many mention that it is dark, most don't mind that.
From the Reviews:
- "At the end of the day Love, etc is more formidable than it looks. The glitter of its lightness conceals depths, as much as it alludes to them, and there is magic, some of it murky, in this black comedy that seems as familiar as one's own past. (...) (I)f it seems as light as air and as real as life the effect (which is so unusual in literary fiction as to invite suspicion) is consistently enthralling." - Peter Craven, The Age
- "(T)o those with the gizzard for it, Julian Barnes's lancet wit will go down as smooth as butterscotch." - David Kipen, The Atlantic Monthly
- "The most enjoyable aspect of this initially entertaining and ultimately disturbing novel is the interplay of their various voices -- dialogues so carefully pitched that you'll swear you heard Love, etc. instead of read it." - Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor
- "Anyone who makes judgments in this book makes mistakes; and in a tale heavy with blind assumptions, yours are likely to be the blindest of all. (...) The real wonder of this book is its apparent simplicity, its apparent slowness, the exactness and delicacy of its observations, the absolute fitness of the form for the story. Of its kind -- and I still don't dare to say what kind that might be -- it is perfect." - Susannah Herbert, Daily Telegraph
- "Both books read like a breeze. These people are heavily into persuasion, after all. They dare us to disbelieve them, they take us by the arm, they pre-empt our scepticism -- all with a bit more Barnes-like sophistication, it has to be said, than is good for them as independent characters." - The Economist
- "Love, Etc is the gothic version of Talking It Over, in which romantic comedy has turned into madness and horror. (...) In life, of course, there are depressives, sadists and masochists, but I found it difficult to believe in the psychological evolution of these particular characters, much less to care about them. They seem to be acting out a schematic reversal of fortune, rather than deepening our understanding." - Elaine Showalter, The Guardian
- "The new novel by Julian Barnes confirms just how wonderfully he has matured into our finest heavyweight fictionist. What is especially good about Love, etc is the way that its essayistic inclinations (...) are buckled on to more common fictional urges, such as telling stories about people in and out of love, getting on or not and getting old." - Valentine Cunningham, The Independent
- "I once heard the novel defined as "everything not mentioned in the jacket copy," and by that yardstick there is not much book here at all. If anything, there is less inside than on the covers." - Dale Peck, The New Republic
- "The novel is readable and intelligent, yet ultimately quite depressing, and its tone of primal gloom seems heartfelt, an attribute not only of the characters, but of the work itself." - Hugo Barnacle, New Statesman
- "Barnes's final plot twist feels a bit forced, yet it doesn't diminish the sinister power of this twice-told morality tale: no one remains unscathed by the dangers of narrative seduction." - The New Yorker
- "Love, Etc. comes across as an alarmingly perfect novel -- penetrating, subtle, almost puritanical in its economy. (...) Love, Etc. is not a novel one wants to put down. It's not that the story is so gripping: it's the skill and wit that Barnes brings to it." - Gabrielle Annan, The New York Review of Books
- "(A)n altogether darker, sourer book, a meandering saga of middle-age disappointment and bitterness and regret that's been lightly disguised as a tale of revenge. It's also a book that suffers from phoniness and authorial manipulation, a novel that for all its easy readability lacks its predecessor's persuasiveness and charm." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
- "Yet the advantages of Barnes's approach -- its playfulness and immediacy -- are offset by some basic liabilities. It is very difficult to generate much narrative intensity from this polyphony." - Sven Birkerts, The New York Times Book Review
- "Barnes has us quietly wonder throughout in this way -- and the 10-year time-lag heightens this sense of temporal decline -- whether love is really not time's fool. This is the question that lies somewhere near the heart of all of Barnes's best work (...), and in some ways Love, Etc is a cynical riposte to the magical half chapter defence of love that underwrote A History of the World in 10½ Chapters." - Tim Adams, The Observer
- "The familiar voices that narrate this sequel are witty, insightful, and pleasingly differentiated, yet a wary, millennial mood clouds their reflections. (...) Barnes has recognized that love is one hell of a problem." - Philip Landon, Review of Contemporary Fiction
- "Julian Barnes (...) is adept at reminding us that love, while noble in concept, is most often acted out in harrying, heckling, scolding, niggling, insulating, smothering, disappointing and, well, etc." - Amy Benfer, Salon
- "The frustrating, sometimes tragic unknowability of the heart -- one of Barnes' great preoccupations -- is given center stage, and the frolicsome spirit of the first book gives way to a darker vision, closer to despair. Whether readers enjoy Love, Etc., few are likely to call it slight." - Erin McGraw, San Francisco Chronicle
- "(T)his is the kind of novel (like nearly everything Barnes has written) that luxuriates in the constraints of its form. (...) As an account of early middle-aged marriage, this is a shrewd and immensely sober piece of work, in which Barnes's bat ear for marital dissonance quivers against the breeze. As a novel, though, it is an odd animal altogether." - D.J.Taylor, The Sunday Times
- "This book too is made up of the characters' alternating (and sometimes inconsistent) versions of events, addressed in appeal to a judgmental "reader"; and although, as before, what happens is largely trivial, the psychological drama is constantly refreshed by Barnes's invention and intelligence." - Mick Imlah, Times Literary Supplement
- "In Love, Etc. Barnes is in spectacular form with his novel's schifting monologues, shaming most dramatic writing, of which it is inevitably reminiscent. (...) It is funny, it is sweet, it is a valentine, it is savage." - James Hunter, The Village Voice
- "His observations of our self-indulgent middle-class mores are painfully astute. (...) Barnes sharpens his insights with his penetrating wit and verbal virtuosity. If this novel has a flaw, it is that so much of it is taken up with telling us "the story so far" -- with what happened in Talking it Over." - Frances Stead Sellers, The Washington Post
- "Barnes hat eine ausgeprägte Fähigkeit feinste und allerfeinste Seelenregungen Liebender anschaulich vorzuführen. (...) Liebe usw. ist, zumal im Vergleich mit Barnes anderen Büchern, ein geradezu demonstrativer Non-Action-Roman. Es geht halt um Liebe nur und um sonst gar nichts." - Uwe Wittstock, Die Welt
- "Der Leser, stets persönlich angesprochen, darf sich hier behaglich einrichten wie im Behandlungszimmer eines feinfühligen Verhaltenstherapeuten, und doch bleibt ihm die Begegnung mit den Schattenseiten seines Ichs nicht erspart." - Martin Krumbholz, Die Zeit
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
In 1991 Julian Barnes published the novel Talking it Over (see our review), the story of a love-triangle, of sorts, between three characters: Stuart, Oliver, and Gillian.
Love, etc., published about a decade later, is the real-time sequel: everyone -- characters, author, reader -- is ten years older, and not much wiser.
Both Talking it Over and Love, etc. have chapters titled Love, etc., referring to a theory Oliver has (or had).
Oliver himself explains it in Talking it Over, but it is Stuart who repeats it in Love, etc. (dismissing it as both absolute and boastful bollocks):
Oliver used to have a theory he called Love, etc.: in other words the world divides into people for whom love is everything and the rest of life is a mere 'etc.,' and people who don't value love enough and find the most exciting part of life is the 'etc.'
Just in case readers don't get the point, Barnes used the title Love, etc. for both the movie version of Talking it Over and the novel-sequel.
You've gotten the point that this might be significant, have you ?
(As to the confusion the movie-title causes -- well, maybe they'll call the movie version of Love, etc. Talking it Over.)
Love, etc. is a sequel, but one need not have read its predecessor to enjoy or understand it.
Barnes summarizes what happened in the previous volume and, while certain details obviously are more easily understood if one is familiar with it, Love, etc. can stand well enough on its own.
The same literary device from the first volume is employed in Love, etc.: the characters recount the story themselves, addressing an unidentified "you" (which readers are welcome to believe refers to them).
This spiral of varied accounts works as well as it did in Talking it Over (i.e. well).
There are a few more voices with significant roles, but it is still Stuart, Oliver, and Gillian that dominate.
Stuart went off to America and became a success there, opening restaurants, then becoming a supplier of organic food.
He married, but it was not a resounding success.
(His wife, Terri, is a distant but oft-heard voice here, shining a somewhat different light on Stuart's American transformation.)
Gillian and Oliver had two daughters, and left France to return to England.
Gillian is a successful art restorer, Oliver still quite the failure.
The three are reunited when Stuart returns to England and insinuates himself in the lives of Oliver and Gillian again.
It seems he isn't quite over Gillian, and he does his best to recapture the days of old.
Time is turned back upon itself as he installs them in his old house and the symmetry of the first book is found again (though often distorted).
Stuart is now the man of action, Oliver the weak and indecisive one.
Gillian's assistant Ellie is a pawn of both Gillian (and Oliver) and Stuart, and has an empty affair with Stuart.
Mme. Wyatt, Gillian's mother is also still a presence.
Love has not been a resounding success.
Stuart goes through some of the motions (with his wife Terri, with Ellie), but he is simply pining for his old lost ideal.
Oliver has turned in on himself, a sad failure who still has a way with words but lacks much conviction.
Gillian manages as mother and art-restorer, accepting her lot but not really thrilled with it.
Ellie says she is fine with her empty relationship with Stuart, but doesn't convince either.
Oliver allows Stuart to become a greater presence in their household (he comes over to cook, and to fix up the house) -- and even takes a job from him.
Gillian mulls it over.
The older daughter, Sophie, begins to wonder who her father really is.
The characters have changed since Talking it Over, with Stuart the much stronger presence this time.
Gillian, too, is better-presented.
The concerns remain similar.
This is no happy romance.
Does it depict the state of life and love in modern times ?
The characters are a bit too broad, their actions too unlikely.
From allowing Stuart into their household so freely to Sophie's swift (and particularly objectionable) peripheral decline Barnes doesn't always provide enough to make these actions and occurrences seem convincing.
The end, in particular, seems loose-ended -- the characters grasp for some sort of finality, but Barnes seems to also be laying the groundwork for the next sequel.
Still, Love, etc. is an often fine novel.
Barnes writes well, as always, and there are a fill of details and observations that are impressive (if occasionally a bit too far off-point -- such as considerations of condoms or famous Belgians).
It is a good novel, but a dark one, and it leaves a bitter taste.
It is not entirely satisfying.
Perhaps it does need Talking it Over -- and the eventual sequel another ten years down the road -- to properly prop it up.
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Other books by Julian Barnes under review:
Other books of interest under review:
- See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review
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About the Author:
English author Julian Barnes was born in 1946.
He is the author of several highly acclaimed novels.
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