Something to Declare
Anyone who loves France (or just feels strongly about it), or has succumbed to the spell of Julian Barnes's previous books, will be enraptured by this collection of essays on the country and its culture.
Barnes's appreciation extends from France's vanishing peasantry to its hyper-literate pop singers, from the gleeful iconoclasm of nouvelle vague cinema to the orgy of drugs and suffering that is the Tour de France. Above all, Barnes is an unparalleled connoisseur of French writing and writers. Here are the prolific and priapic Simenon, Baudelaire, Sand and Sartre, and several dazzling excursions on the prickly genius of Flaubert. Lively yet discriminating in its enthusiasm, seemingly infinite in its range of reference, and written in prose as stylish as haute couture, Something to Declare is an unadulterated joy.
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I first went to France in the summer of 1959 at the age of thirteen. My pre-adolescence had been car-free and island-bound; now there stood in front of our house a gun-metal-grey Triumph Mayflower, bought secondhand, suddenly affordable thanks to a £200 grant from Great Aunt Edie. It struck me then --...
“France and England square off on almost every issue, from cuisine...to currency, but Barnes inhabits both worlds with ease. As a journalistic subject, France is best approached from an oblique angle, and this collection accomplishes that brilliantly.... Barnes remains entertaining and insightful. This is a rich journey for the tourist, and a welcome antidote to Mayle for the French.” Don Gilmour, The Globe and Mail
“[Barnes is] an indefatigable sleuth...and a superlative reporter, not just of what he’s meant to watch, but also, like a dog picking up bat-hums in the ether, of the mental processes of reporting, whether about the Tour de France, a painting, or Flaubert’s letters.... He is brilliant on the writer’s craft and the experience of writing.... Barnes is a devotee of the absolutely accurate description.” National Post
“As an essayist...he is the most congenial of hosts. Even when his subjects are grand, his way with them is entertaining: he can be pungently amusing, iconoclastic, wry or tender, but he is always rewarding.” Financial Times (UK)
“These essays are an expansive, astute and increasingly magisterial salute to French sophistication in all departments, from cinema to cycling, singing and writing above all.” Daily Telegraph