By Julian Barnes
Vintage Books, $15.95, 243 pages
Award winning author Julian Barnes appeals to other bibliophiles in Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story. The essays are based both on under-read and classic novels written by French, English and American authors spanning from the 1800s to modern day. He proposes that Ford Madox Ford is a reader’s writer rather than a writer’s writer and details Rudyard Kipling’s love-hate relationship with France. He argues that John Updike’s Rabbit Quartet, collectively, is the greatest American novel since WWII. The essay on Madame Bovary is a fascinating exploration on the intricacies of translation, using six different versions to supply examples. He finishes with contrasting the widow memoirs by Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates. Even the short story isn’t so much a piece of fiction than a personal response to Hemingway.
“When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life, you plunge deeper into it. There may be a superficial escape— into different countries, mores, speech patterns—but what you are essentially doing is furthering your understanding of life’s subtleties, paradoxes, joys, pains and truths.”
This enthusiastic collection is bound to inspire readers to add new books to their wish lists or pick up an old favorite with a fresh outlook.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins