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Julian Barnes

Metroland is the first novel from Julian Barnes and was published in 1980. It covers fourteen years in the life of Londoner Christopher Lloyd from adolescent rebellious grammar school boy to mature conservative suburbanite.
A familiar theme which could be summed up as - The Bloom of Youth to The Rake’s Progress to Homeward Bound.
It’s told in the first person but then you might expect that in a first novel.

Apart from being at ‘war’ with his siblings and parents, Chris has a vindictive uncle to contend with on those dutiful family visits which he has to endure. On an earlier visit Chris had innocently made a fool of Uncle Arthur who ever since had made sure that Chris as the eldest child was given tasks that meant he finished them just as the family was going home. Now Chris is older he has a routine which counters Uncle’s schemes.

The rebelliousness comes out in the activities of Chris and his best friend Toni, one of which is the epat or a winding up of people, mainly shopkeepers (A knowledge of the French language would help as the novel is liberally sprinkled throughout with French words and phrases).
After the weekends they would count up how many innocents they had made fun of.
Another ploy is to bait one of the masters who teaches biology. They kept pestering him to know when the class is to reach the human reproduction part. But the experienced master has met their sort before and neatly avoids any chance of ribaldry.

For post-graduate research Chris finds himself in Paris during the 1968 student riots.
There are some cutting remarks about his friends who develop interests that require further research in the capital cities of Europe rather than the mundane cities of Britain. His own research is on acting styles in Paris between 1789-1850. As he says:
You always need to shove at least one big date (1789,1848,1914) into your title, because it…..flatters the general belief that everything changes with the eruption of war. I suppose today we would go for a subject like Poetry between the Wars – 1963 to 2003!
So what are Chris’ opinions on the riots? Very little. He happens to be ‘up close and personal’ with Annick a photographic library assistant who initiates him in the carnal pleasures.

Nine years later the final part of this witty novel takes place in Metroland, those suburbs served by the Metropolitan Line.
What happens next? Monogamy, monogony and monotony?  Chris quotes Auden who wrote Money may not be the fuel of love but it makes excellent kindling. I won’t say anything more about life as Chris finds it but I will finish with a criticism of Barnes’ use of profanities.

Toni is on a visit to see Chris at home and they have a lengthy conversation in the garden.
Just about every reply by Toni includes a four letter word or a profanity which seems unnecessary. After all they are men of thirty now, close friends, well educated with a good command of English, have much to discuss and Toni does not need to use bad language to support his views.
Maybe it was 1980 and each novel needed a quota of shocking words.
However I will forgive Barnes because he describes a trick of mine which I haven’t seen explained in print before!  

This is a debut novel showing promise which Barnes has confirmed with his subsequent output.

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Posted: Thu Apr 02, 2009 9:13 am                                   Poster: MikeAlx
I've never got round to Metroland - there was a film of it some years back, which I quite enjoyed, but a friend who has read the book said it struck him as one of those novels that's essentially unfilmable, so I imagine some liberties were taken!

Posted: Thu Apr 02, 2009 11:28 am                           Poster: Chibiabos83
As it happens Metroland is the only Julian Barnes novel I have read. I enjoyed it, I think, though it was many years ago. I wonder now if I would have got more out of it if I had had a better knowledge of London. But certainly worth reading, though it hasn't prompted me to try anything else by Barnes yet.

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