Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Cross Channel"

On 5/21/11, I posted about how much I liked the stories in Julian Barnes’ new book, “Pulse.” I have now just read a much earlier collection of his stories, “Cross Channel” (Knopf, 1996). As you might guess from the title, these stories feature the visits, brief or extended over many years, of British people to France. The stories take place over a period of 300 years, and they capture some of the fraught feelings of the British about France: fascination, attraction, mystification, suspicion, arrogance, inferiority, superiority, envy, and more. I found some of the historical stories less appealing than those from the 20th century, but that is just my personal preference. The story I liked best was a haunting one titled “Evermore,” in which the main character takes a week every year to go to France and visit the grave of her brother, who died in World War I. On the way, she honors not just her brother but all the war dead by visiting other soldiers’ cemeteries along the way. She is old herself now, but she has made this honoring of the war dead her life’s work, and she will continue doing so until she cannot do it any longer. I had mixed feelings about this collection, but as I said, that might be due to my own preferences regarding time periods and subject matter. In any case, this theme -- the British in France -- is an interesting organizing principle, and Barnes, as always, writes intriguingly and well.

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