SHELF LIFE

Nov 18 2012, 01:27 IST
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SummaryIn these seventeen essays (and one short story), the 2011 Man Booker Prize winner examines British, French and American writers who have meant most to him, as well as the cross-currents and overlappings of their different cultures.

Through the Window: Seventeen Essays (and one short story)

Julian Barnes

Vintage

Paperback, Pg 256

£10.99

In these seventeen essays (and one short story), the 2011 Man Booker Prize winner examines British, French and American writers who have meant most to him, as well as the cross-currents and overlappings of their different cultures. From the deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald to the directness of Hemingway, from Kipling’s view of France to the French view of Kipling, from the many translations of Madame Bovary to the fabulations of Ford Madox Ford, from the National Treasure Status of George Orwell to the despair of Michel Houellebecq, Julian Barnes considers what fiction is, and what it can do. As he writes in his preface, “Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, and how we lose it.”

When his Letters from London came out in 1995, the Financial Times called him ‘our best essayist’. This wise and deft collection confirms that judgement. As the following extracts show.

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In 1878, Lockwood Kipling, principal of the Mayo College of Art in Lahore, took his twelve-year-old son to the Paris exhibition. Lockwood was involved with the Indian section of arts and manufactures; he gave the young Rudyard two francs a day for food, a free pass to the exhibition, and left him to his own devices. The boy, who all his life was to love seeing how things were put together, was enthralled by “ all the wonders of the world emerging from their packing cases”.

One of his favourite sights was the head of Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty, soon to be shipped to New York as a belated centennial gift to the American republic. For five centimes—or a free pass—you could climb an internal staircase and look out at the world through the vacant eyeballs. Rudyard frequently made the ascent, and on one occasion an elderly French wiseacre advised him, “Now, young Englisher, you can say that you have looked through the eyes of Liberty herself.” Fifty-five years later, the elderly Kipling remembered this conveniently placed oracle, and chose to correct him: “He spoke less than the truth. It was through the eyes of France that I began to see.”

Kipling and France? Kipling and India obviously. Kipling and England. Kipling and the Empire, Kipling and South Africa, Kipling and the United States, Kipling and the

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