cover image Talking It Over

Talking It Over

Julian Barnes. Alfred A. Knopf, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40525-2

The author of Flaubert's Parrot once again devises smart and fabulous fun. On the surface Barnes's newest is a postmodern Jules et Jim , made up only of testimonies from its characters, principally, meat-and-potatoes Stuart; Stuart's new bride, Gillian; and Stuart's best friend, the grandiloquent Oliver, who has fallen in love with Gillian. The structural conceit, however, opens the novel to a wealth of literary gambits, all the more effective for their unobtrusiveness. Barnes plays on Pirandello, for example, giving us characters in search of a reader: they compete for attention, directly address an intended audience (``Have a cigarette? You don't? I know you don't--you've told me that before''), demand that an unsympathetic witness be yanked from the story line. As Oliver woos Gillian, Barnes throws in some teasing references to other pursuits. The ingenious ending allows each of the figures to fashion his own, radically different resolution, while Barnes's sly narration leaves it to the reader to be the ultimate judge and, as such, the ultimate author. BOMC and QPB alternates. (Oct.)