Book review: Talking It Over by Julian Barnes

I read a novel by Julian Barnes about twenty years ago and really enjoyed it.  I lent it to someone who promised to give it back but never returned it.  For some inexplicable reason (was I waiting for the book’s return?), I never read another of his novels until now.  This is surprising because he is just the type of writer that I love.

Talking It Over has several narrators, the main ones being Oliver, his friend Stuart and Stuart’s wife Gillian, and there are constant switches between them so their extracts are relatively short.  This allows their different perspectives and motivations to be accessed by the reader and provides more than one viewpoint on a situation.

In my opinion, Barnes’ strength in this novel is how he very effectively gives each character their own distinctive voice – although the name appears before each passage, it is easy to recognise the person from their use of language and manner of speaking.  The narration is very natural so that I was there with the character, as if having a cosy cup of coffee, and listening to their side of the story.  It was like being a mutual friend who against their better judgement becomes the person in whom others confide.

I found this book extremely well-written, enjoyable and thought-provoking and now that I have broken my long abstinence, I will certainly read my way through his other novels.

In doing some research, I discovered that Talking It Over has been adapted for the stage and it would be a play I would definitely make a point of seeing.

Finally, what did I learn from the novel?  You need to be very careful when making judgements about people based on your assumptions of their motivations, intentions and actions.

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