The figurative language of Julian Barnes…

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about the figurative language (and other writing skills) of novelist Julian Barnes…

As a longtime fan of the superb British writer Julian Barnes, I was thrilled to receive a gift of his 2018 book The Only Story: A Novel in time for a recent beach holiday. I sat on the sands of Galiano Island and gobbled up Barnes’s fine prose and skillfull storytelling.

Barnes is an Oxford grad who worked briefly as a lexicographer before becoming a a reviewer and literary editor for the New Statesman and the New Review. In the early 1980s, he worked as a television critic and, following that, released a string of bestselling books including the Man-Booker prize winner The Sense of an Ending.

Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this recent book — which tells the story of a young man’s first love affair, and one with a much older woman, to boot — as much as I’d enjoyed previous Barnes novels. (Sense of an Ending remains one of my favourites.)

Nevertheless, I was able to discern some fine figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • The second match was harder, against a couple who kept breaking off to have quiet tactical conversations, as if preparing for marriage.
  • My father was milder, and less given to judgement. He preferred to allow things to blow over, to let sleeping dogs lie, not to stir up mud; whereas my mother preferred facing facts and not brushing things under the carpet.
  • The truth was that nobody ever arrived without invitation, and all that tidying and wiping was performed out of what struck me as deep social atavism.

In truth, however, Barnes’s writing skill is not primarily revealed in his figurative language. I think it comes from his ability to examine human motivation and to dissect it with elegance and grace and, frequently with a gentle sense of humour, as well.