cover image Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story

Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story

Julian Barnes. Vintage International, $15.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-345-80550-8

In this anthology, Man Booker Prize-winning British novelist Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) takes us through a life lived in literature. The 17 essays, previously published in newspapers and magazines, pay tribute to writers beloved of Barnes; the one piece of fiction is called "Homage to Hemingway: A Short Story." There is a lack of unity among the essays, which is to be expected from a showcase of disparate pieces spanning more than 15 years and presented non-chronologically. Many of the pieces shine individually, the anthology is at its best when Barnes writes historically (the detailed account and analysis of the difficulties encountered by generations of translators of Madame Bovary is especially illuminating, or biographically (the essay "George Orwell and the Fucking Elephant" a deeper perspective about how large Orwell looms in British culture and why). However, some of the most personal compositions devolve into unadulterated love-fests, like the opening essay about Penelope Fitzgerald, and the remembrance of John Updike. As a whole, though, most avid readers will find more here to like than to dislike; unsurprisingly, one's mileage may vary based on enthusiasm for, and familiarity with, the books and poems Barnes discusses. (Oct.)