Van has finished reading…England, England by Julian Barnes

7 Jan

Whose history is it, really, anyway? We trust the buffs and what they tell us. We capitalise it so as to give it authority, but would the people preserved in that aspic recognise themselves? Sometimes I look in the mirror and mistake myself.

  Then there’s the language that possibly interposes more than it intercedes. Bucolic, pastoral: They’re grainy words that give an impression rather than sharpening a true image. Is it any wonder that this hankering is bred in us for the golden age that never was. It’s the image of the Empire that attracts, rather than the foetid squalor, the blinkered arrogance, the blind will that built it. And of course we are more aware in this enlightened age. We frown at the right moments, wave our copy of the Independent and tut-tut at the atrocities we now acknowledge were committed. Never again, never again…

  Nonetheless we are still a product of that ambiguous tract of History, whether we like it or not.


There’s something distinctly Michael Frayn about this Julian Barnes. Comedic writing’s a tricky thing (any good writing’s a tricky thing, but comedy particularly), and when you consider the premise of this book you’re already in a position where you’re thinking ‘don’t be ridiculous’. But there’s the genius in this tale’s construction. You come out the other end of it thinking ‘could you imagine…’


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