One of the first books I read when I had just moved to the UK was Arthur & George by Julian Barnes. I liked it a lot, but found parts of it a bit dull. Unfortunately the same applies to this his latest book, a collection of short stories where the last one has lent the book its title.
Pulse is uneven. It is divided into two parts, where Part I and the nine short stories are wittier, anchored in faster dialogue, more fun and therefore more enjoyable. Part II with its five stories, each dedicated to one of our five senses, is more reflective, the short stories are longer and some of them placed in a different time. The ones set during the 18th and 19th century seemingly try imitating “contemporary” writing of their time but fails, and the result is slow moving without the actual authors, Barnes, signature. It is as if he has tried writing as someone else, and the result is questionable. It is as if his prose diverges the focus from the real subjects. The stories per se might be worth pondering upon, their themes not seldom unhappy destinies and unfavorable situations with people struggling with the perception of their surrounding environments due to their lack of, or problems with, one of their senses, but I still finish them thinking “why did he write like that?” In this case I’m afraid that it is not a positive verdict.
Part I though is quicker, as I wrote above, and some of the short stories are extraordinary samples of a writer at his best. At Phil & Joanna’s: part 1-4 must be my favorites, if I should single some out, and the book is worth buying if just to get the grace of reading them. These four short stories, whereof the two first where originally published in The Guardian UK and The Sunday Times, are extremely to the point and perfect examples of what friendship can be like if you have spent decades together, the stories almost like snap-shot photographs thanks to the clear cut dialogue, regardless of the hosts and guests intoxication getting worse and worse for every page the reader turn. With humor and love do they share stories about quirky friends and marital sex escapades, fun travels and intelligent subjects are talked about and laughed at like they never did anything else. These four stories are simply divine and of highest feel-good quality in their haven of well-fed, jocular midle-classness.
It is a shame I put the book down feeling a bit robbed of the reading experience. A little, I felt “what now?” Maybe my expectations were simply too high, but an author of Julian Barnes’ caliber should not let you feel stranded and unfulfilled.