Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story

Vintage: Random. Nov. 2012. c.272p. index. ISBN 9780345805508. pap. $15.95. LIT
"Reading is a majority skill but a minority art," writes 2011 Man Booker Prize-winner Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) at the start of this collection of 17 essays and one short story. The essays are about writers, even particular books. There is an exceptional one on George Orwell ("a one-man, truth-telling awkward squad…a kind of non-writer's writer") three appreciations of Ford Madox Ford, and pieces on British, French, and American writers as varied as Rudyard Kipling (on his perspective on France and French views of him), Gustave Flaubert, Michel Houellebecq, John Updike, and Joyce Carol Oates. Some essays are more substantial (e.g., the one on Orwell, the first essay on Ford, one on Flaubert, an appreciation of the neglected poet Arthur Hugh Clough, a piece on novelist Penelope Fitzgerald) than others, but even the slightest piece is worth reading. The short story, "Homage to Hemingway," is more intellectually interesting than emotionally satisfying.
VERDICT Barnes's observations on writers should appeal to readers of the literary essay genre. As always, he is a humane and fluent writer. Recommended.
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