Elizabeth Finch

Knopf. Aug. 2022. 192p. ISBN 9780593535431. $26. F
In this latest from Booker Prize winner Barnes (Flaubert’s Parrot), Professor Elizabeth Finch, who teaches a course on culture and civilization, is an object of fascination to a group of adult learners. Intensely private, unconventional in style, and outspoken in her opinions, Elizabeth encourages her students to think broadly and consider viewpoints other their own. For Neil, the narrator, the course is life-changing. Long after it ends, he maintains a friendship with Elizabeth, meeting her for lunches until her death from cancer. It still comes as a surprise that she bequeaths her books and papers to him. The bigger mystery is what she expects him to find in them. Her notebooks lead him to Julian the Apostate, the Roman emperor whose break with Christianity for a more inclusive view of religion was first admired and later reviled. Neil’s research continues where Elizabeth left off, leading him to philosophers, historians, and writers from Julian’s own time to the present.
VERDICT With a little too much ado about Julian (the author’s namesake?), Barnes blends fact and fiction as he has done before into an imaginative whole.
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