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Metroland (Picador Books)
ISBN 0330313819 / 9780330313810 / 0-330-31381-9
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Sixteen-year-old suburbanite Chris Lloyd and his mate Toni spend their free time wishing they were French, making up stories about strangers, and pretending to be flâneurs. When they grow up they'd like to be "artists-in-residence at a nudist colony." If youthful voyeurism figures heavily in their everyday lives, so, too, do the pleasures of analogy, metaphor, and deliberate misprision. Sauntering into one store that dares to call itself MAN SHOP, Toni demands: "One man and two small boys, please."
Julian Barnes could probably fill several books with these boys' clever misadventures, but in his first novel he attempts something more daring--the curve from youthful scorn to adult contentment. In 1968, when Chris goes off to Paris, he misses the May événements but manages, more importantly, to fall in love and learn the pleasures of openness: "The key to Annick's candour was that there was no key. It was like the atom bomb: the secret is that there is no secret." The final section finds Chris back in suburbia, married, with children and a mortgage, and slowly accepting the surprise that happiness isn't boring. "It's certainly ironic to be back in Metroland. As a boy, what would I have called it: le syphilis de l'âme, or something like that, I dare say. But isn't part of growing up being able to ride irony without being thrown?" Far from renouncing the joys of language, this novel wittily celebrates honest communication. --Kerry Fried [via]