“From the salon where an old man measures out his life in haircuts, to the concert hall where a music lover carries out an obsessive campaign against those who cough during performances; from the woman reading elaborate recipes to her sick husband as a substitute for sex, to the woman ‘incarcerated’ in an old people’s home beginning a correspondence with an author that enriches both their lives –all Barnes’ characters, in their different ways, square up to death and rage against the dying light.”
Another fine selection of short stories from Julian Barnes summed up in an introduction to the book:
Here’s one of my favourites:
“Vigilance”, a tale about a concert goer who becomes obsessed with the coughers, snufflers and sneezers while an orchestra is playing and devises a number of strategies to “deal with them”. Offering a cough sweet is at the mild end of the strategic spectrum whilst tripping them up at the top of a flight of stairs during the interval is more extreme … but more fun. Lots of other funny strategies in between.
The author has a way of writing these stories in such a way that you believe the characters are real and known to him. In some cases they probably are, but they are human stories as much as tales about an event or an incident.
Typical of this is “Knowing French” which is nothing to do with France or the language, but a series of letters written to Barnes by an 81 years old woman, Sylvia Winstanley, from her Old People’s Home she refers to as The Old Folkery. It’s sad but funny as she refers to her “inmates” as The Deaf and the Dead and relates various incidents such as the disappearing Creme Eggs, and her friendship with Daphne Charteris supposedly one of the few women trained to fly a Lancaster Bomber in WWII!
Much food for thought in every one of them, especially if you’re 50+ years old and can spot the recurring theme. No spoilers!