Something to Declare: Essays on France and French Culture

Something to Declare: Essays on France and French Culture
Julian Barnes
Vintage (2003)
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Tags: Literary Collections, Essays, Travel, Essays Travelogues, Europe, France
Literary Collectionsttt Essaysttt Travelttt Essays Traveloguesttt Europettt Francettt

Anyone who loves France (or just feels strongly about it), or has succumbed to the spell of Julian Barnes’s previous books, will be enraptured by this collection of essays on the country and its culture.

Barnes’s appreciation extends from France’s vanishing peasantry to its hyper-literate pop singers, from the gleeful iconoclasm of
nouvelle vague
cinema to the orgy of drugs and suffering that is the Tour de France. Above all, Barnes is an unparalleled connoisseur of French writing and writers. Here are the prolific and priapic Simenon, Baudelaire, Sand and Sartre, and several dazzling excursions on the prickly genius of Flaubert. Lively yet discriminating in its enthusiasm, seemingly infinite in its range of reference, and written in prose as stylish as *haute couture,
*Something to Declare
is an unadulterated joy.


From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Barnes's latest collection of haute musings on France and things French is rather like a ride in a creaky Citro n: at first, it kicks and gurgles in a scattered path, but once it gets started, it's a charming and nostalgic way to view la belle France. Barnes, author of nine novels (Love, Etc., etc.), a book of stories and a collection of essays, offers here an amalgamation of pieces, many previously published in the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review of Books. The collection begins with meandering yet tellingly accurate critiques of popular culture phenomena, such as the Tour de France, the films of Truffaut and Godard, and singer Jacques Brel. Barnes's assessment of culinary writer Elizabeth David's thoughts on nouvelle cuisine (it means "lighter food, less of it, costing more") are at once witty and dead-on. After sharing these lighter, whimsical thoughts, Barnes shifts into a higher gear and delves into a study of the French and Francophile literary establishment, from Edith Wharton and Ford Madox Ford to Henry James and George Sand. He saves many of the book's later chapters for his favorite subject, Gustave Flaubert. Throughout, Barnes integrates his commentary with detailed, intriguing bits of history. Devotees of Madame Bovary will thrill to read his ruminations on the masterpiece (e.g., what if it had been written for the screen rather than as a book?). Serious yet self-deprecating, Barnes's prose is perfectly tuned to its subject. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct. 7)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

What do you get when you combine a passion for France, a rapier wit, and an immense writing vocabulary? You get Barnes, a one-time lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, a declared Francophile, and a much-published writer of nonfiction and fiction (e.g., Staring at the Sun). This collection of essays on France includes some of Barnes's best work published in the United States (the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker) and England (Times Literary Supplement) between 1982 and 2000. A fascinating essay on the Tour de Franc, for example, includes a detailed portrait of Lance Armstrong's 2000 victory and gives insight into how the Tour has changed over time. Edith Wharton and Henry James figure prominently in an essay on travel in France at the turn of the century. Flaubert appears in several essays, reflecting Barnes's lifelong involvement in Flaubertiana: we meet his colleagues Turgenev, Baudelaire, Mallarm‚, and, of course, his mistress Louise Colet. Going beyond the literary, Barnes includes essays on cooking, contemporary film, and pop singers. All in all, this eclectic commentary on all things French is a very satisfying read-just keep your unabridged dictionary nearby! Definitely recommended for larger collections on French culture, civilization, and travel.
Olga B. Wise, Hewlett-Packard, Austin, TX
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Something to Declare
“Our finest essayist.”
—Financial Times
“Barnes does indeed have numerous things to declare … and he does so with profound insight and biting intelligence…. Barnes conveys his passions with infectious vigor.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Something to Declare
is supremely enjoyable.”
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“[Barnes'] insights are intelligent and provocative, his turn of phrase stylish and witty.”
—Winston-Salem Journal
“[A] Tour de France—and a tour de force.”
(starred review)
“Barnes is humorous throughout this collection, attenuating the stress of cultural intersections.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Something to Declare
Born in Leicester, England, in 1946, Julian Barnes is the author of nine novels, a book of stories, and a previous collection of essays. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. In France he is the only writer to have won both the Prix Médicis and the Prix Fémina, and in 1988 he was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in London.
Love, etc.
England, England
Cross Channel
Letters from London
The Porcupine
Talking It Over
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters
Staring at the Sun
Flaubert's Parrot
Before She Met Me

A. L. B.
K. M. B.




An Englishman Abroad

Spending Their Deaths on Holiday

The Promises of Their Ordination

The Land Without Brussels Sprouts

Tour de France 1907

Tour de France 2000

The Pouncer

French Letters

Flaubert's Death-Masks

Not Drowning But Waving: The Case of Louise Colet

Drinking Ink

Two Moles

Consolation v. Desolation


The Cost of Conscientious Literature

Faithful Betrayal

Justin: A Small Major Character


     A typical Ultimate Peasant
     Jacques Brel, Léo Ferré, Georges Brassens
     Poster for
A bout de souffle (© Canal+)
     Recipe from
Italian Food
by Elizabeth David
(© Estate of Elizabeth David)
     The Pont du Gard, near Nîmes
(H. Armstrong Roberts)
     Memorial to Tom Simpson, Mont Ventoux
     Georges Simenon, 1930s
(Simenon Foundation, University of Liège)
     Stéphane Mallarmé
(Editions du Seuil)

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