An ode to my hero Julian Barnes, a literary giant

WEB-barnes_JPG_1275160cl-8 There are times when we feel like everything around us has shattered and there is simply nothing to hold on to. In my own escapades of this sort, I’ve been known for reaching out to The Smiths and their mildly nihilistic lyrics. Yet, on some more fortunate days, I usually grab one of Barnes’s novels from my shelf while Bowie’s lyrics ‘You’ve had your chance and now the doors are closed sir, Mr. Grownup’ resonate in my mind. Times are hard for dreamers, to use yet another reference. We feel trapped in the hectic pace of modern life and sometimes it seems that there is no way out of the cage we inhabit.

Yet, isn’t literature the perfect means to end these moments of existential crisis? I think that every person who reads Barnes will agree with me on this – literature is the greatest form of art. It is an entity to which we have ascribed immense qualities. Characters possess the ability to voice their opinion and reading is never a lonely task, but is there to help us in the contemplation that we are prone to. Good writers are able to create works that welcome readers who think. Their oeuvre inhabits our minds long after we finish reading. It is like that recurring dream we all have from time to time. It keeps creeping from corners and comes to us when we expect it the least. There are no means to chase away what a great work of literature has placed in our mind. The seed was planted and now it has to grow. All we can do is push our capacities to extremes until we reach a conclusion. The only thing that is certain is that it is going to help us learn new things about our life and humanity.

Read a review of Barnes’ novel The Sense of an Ending

In my opinion, reading is just another name for a conversation, a dialogue between the reader and the book. You contemplate, let it all out there for someone to hear and then you are given a new interpretation of what has been troubling you. Things are seen from another angle and we realize that all people matter. We are here to stay. Just like Jean, who is the protagonist of Barnes’s novel Staring at the Sun, makes us realize, all of us have our private wonders. Being born is one of them. Just being born is the greatest wonder of them all. So why feel trapped in a cage of our own making when we can break free and fly? Finding works of literature that truly matter is the greatest form of escapade and nothing can prevent us from doing so. What makes Barnes a titan of literature is that he has not only produced generations of readers, but of thinkers, as well. He will always be there to welcome all who find solace in his outstanding works. Moreover, he will never cease in his attempt to show us that we shouldn’t think of life as a bleak little room, but spread our wings and seek comfort in the beauty surrounding us. Life truly is stunning, just like his prose is.

Nothing can console a worried mind like the magnificent prose found in Barnes’s novels. The eloquence with which he writes is one of a true artist. Yes, Barnes is an artist, an artist of words, who never shies away from employing techniques characteristic of postmodernism. He possesses the virtues of a painter who uses subtle colours to portray a certain mood or that of a sculptor who works steadily with the aim of creating the perfect elegant sculpture which embodies all that he envisaged. Reading one of Barnes’s novels is like entering a prestigious Parisian museum. It is a place of immense welcoming beauty and one cannot help but be amazed upon realizing the grandeur that fills the majestic site. You walk through its halls and every new work of art that comes into view is more magnificent than the preceding one. One foot in front of the other, you tell yourself, so as to avoid showing how truly overwhelmed you are. Tread lightly, be careful and contemplate. These are the imperatives that go through your mind when you become aware of the stunning blending of narrative forms that lies within the pages of the book you’re reading. And to think that you once thought it was just another in a line of books! But dear how wrong you were! There is no one quite like Barnes. No writer is of Barnes’s candor, he is unique. So, pause to clear your mind and then carry on reading. Continue inhabiting the world created by the most sophisticated authors of all and enjoy his playful experimentation.

Today Julian Barnes celebrates his 70th birthday. I sit on the floor with his book in my lap and I do not feel gloomy anymore. All it takes is to re-read my favourite paragraph, which goes:

You’re climbing straight into the sun because you think that’s safe. It’s all much brighter than usual up there. You hold your hand up in front of your face and you open your fingers very slightly and squint through them. You carry on climbing. You stare through your fingers at the sun, and you notice that the nearer you get to it, the colder you feel. You ought to worry about this but you don’t. You don’t because you’re happy.

As I am roused from my reverie, I realize that I am happy. Happy because someone else has managed to put into words all that was crawling in the darkest alleys of my mind.

Happy birthday! I hope you have a good one, Barnes!

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Sanja Gligorić

Sanja Gligorić

Sanja Gligorić studied English Language, Literature and Culture in Belgrade. She enjoys reading, writing and translating.
Sanja Gligorić

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