Julian Barnes, Elizabeth Finch

Julian Barnes, Elizabeth Finch. Vintage, 2023 (20221)

I didn’t get on with this, Julian Barnes’ latest novel, at all well. Mrs TD tried it first, and gave up after about 40 pages; I persevered, thinking it might get better. It didn’t.

Elizabeth Finch, the rather smug narrator tells us (I can’t even remember his name), is an electrifying, inspirational lecturer, but I have no idea what her academic speciality is. We’re given long, tedious examples of her supposedly brilliant, off-piste, epigrammatic discourse on ancient (religious) history, and in particular that of Julian the Apostate.

For some reason this narrator and his fellow students are in their thirties. Their motives for studying this nebulous ‘subject’ – whatever it is – are unclear. When our adoring narrator feels the need to commemorate his teacher, we’re given in full his essay on Julian, the opponent of Christian theology. I suppose this section of the novel is about 20 pages long, but it seemed longer.

Then the novel meanders to an inconclusive ending. Was he in love with Elizabeth Finch? It seems that way, but I couldn’t summon enough interest to speculate on the nature of this love. Did she have a secret lover? This is a question that intrigues only our narrator; this reader couldn’t have cared less.

I’ve posted about two of Julian Barnes’ recent novels. The Only Story : the not very gripping story of a young man’s passion for an older woman.

The Noise of Time : a more successful account of the composer Shostakovich and his travails as an artist under Soviet dictatorship.

I enjoyed the early novels of Julian Barnes, but the quality of his fiction hasn’t reached the same standard again, in my view. It’s good that he’s always trying something different with each new novel, but that’s about the most I can say on a more positive note.

6 thoughts on “Julian Barnes, Elizabeth Finch

  1. I am not one of those who believes that writers necessarily get better with each book they publish. There are too many cases of novelist whose first book remains their best throughout their writing career. For example, Martin Amis. Most regard his novel ‘Money’ his best which was written in 1984. An even better example is Martin’s father Kingsley Amis whose best novel is usually considered ‘Lucky Jim’ (an excellent novel) which was his first published novel which he wrote at age 32. .

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