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Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes
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Before She Met Me (1982)

by Julian Barnes

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
The second marriage of Graham Hendrick, a historian, is ideal until his ex-wife send him to a b-film. There he discovers that Ann, his present wife was a second rate actress. In the film she is 'unfaithful' and that hurts him badly. His wife confirms she had a 'life' before she met him. She has effectively acted in some films and even had adventures. And that is normal; she did not know him!!!
Graham develops a phobia; he skims all the dark cinemas and watches all the films of his wife. He reads her dairies and travel guides.
His jealousy becomes unbearable.
Ann, once had an affair with their common friend Jack, a writer. Graham decorticates all the works of Jack. He imagines he finds clues of the love life of Jack and his wife. In his madness he believes the affair is still going on.
He murders Jack and waits for his wife.
After one night in turmoil, Ann finds the clues that leads her to the house of Jack and finds her husband.
He commits suicide.

+
Typical style of Julian Barnes; nice contrast between the way of writing (cold - keeping distance - typical British stiff upper lip) and the subject ( warm human feelings)
Sophisticated humor
with philosophical cliffhangers; what is love, jealousy, the past …
Surprising end

-
Not always enthralling

Conclusion:
A man destroys his happiness by focussing on the life his wife had before she met him. ( )
  albertkep | Feb 2, 2014 |
Although perhaps not as carefully crafted as John Fowle's 'The Collector', Barnes has achieved in this short novel (or long short story) somewhat the same effect - insinuating the reader into the mind of a madman in such a way that renders the psychotic simply eccentric until the inevitable climax. One has a sense that Barnes is taking the opportunity to make a few wry observations about writers and academia along the way, but without perhaps sufficient acerbity to make them truly interesting. All in all there is a lack of passion in the writing here, a dulling down of the sensations - as if Barnes doesn't want the madness of his character to stand out too starkly until the end. One kind of wishes he'd taken the same story and talked up the madness of the people (and the world) around his character, and posed the question 'what is insanity in a insane world?'. But for all of these criticisms this is an interesting read, and might make a much better movie one day. ( )
  nandadevi | Sep 25, 2012 |
This is a book with a great title and intriguing concept from a well-regarded author. It does not live up to its promise. Instead of insightful observation, the story drifts along in self-indulgent adolescent argumentum ad misericordiam.

'Before She Met Me' is fashioned around a very interesting existential premise. Julian Barnes has developed a bounded situation focused on the study of fidelity, self-worth, jealousy and, by extension, ownership. A husband finds himself perversely enthralled to the point of torment with the (presumed) love life of his wife from the point immediately prior to them getting together and extending back in time to long before the otherwise loving couple even knew each other. It is a claustrophobic little story, planted in the fertile soil of jealous infatuation that a certain type of man could fall into when he considers his very faithful partner's previous sexual relationships, real or imagined; the things - or people - she did "before she met me".

The protagonist, Graham, after an accidental discovery triggers his preoccupation with his loving and faithful wife Ann's carnal past, finds it quickly becomes an idée fixe that hinders his ability to operate normally in the world. The emotional and psychological welfare of both characters become severly compromised. Graham's increasing obsession quickly spirals into a set of deleterious behaviours that provoke the disintegration of their marriage, all the more tragic because both Graham and Ann are devoted, faithful and truly love each other. This novel could have been an absorbing study into the nature of jealousy, resentment, responsibility for past actions, privacy, 'ownership' and relationships. But despite the compelling premise the articulation of this is wanting, with a plot arc and characters that are completely unconvincing. The opening chapter was clever and drew me in, but the more that I read I felt flat and unengaged as a reader. The whole effort just feels lazy, like Barnes had a good idea for a book but couldn't be bothered with doing the work or necessary background preparation. Or that perhaps the whole exercise was just an opportunity to exorcise any demons he himself may have been harbouring.

The cast of characters are caricatures devoid of complexity. The protagonist Graham is completely unlikeable and his best friend, Jack, is just plain unbelievable - a completely excessive and indulgent piece of characterisation. The only character I had some fellow feeling for was Ann, Graham's wife. The other two women characters are clumsy plot devices with no substance as believable women: Graham's ex-wife Barbara is just a distant cliché and the wife of that exaggerated caricature Jack is no more than a cardboard cut-out place holder in the narrative.

Although as a reader I initially felt a mild intellectual and emotive interest in Graham's predicament, it was difficult to work up any sympathy for this boring, uninspiring, obsessive cartoon of a man. If anything, I felt growing annoyance and intolerance for his increasingly stupid and selfish behaviour; which as the novel progresses becomes increasingly less plausible and more disproportionate to its causes. Barnes, for a professional novelist, does not seem to have a good grasp of emotive and motivating factors in this particular novel. Graham's deterioration is presented in an unedifying and dubious succession of incidents without plausible explication, and without any human insight into this man's existential predicament being provided by Barnes.

Overall the story has trouble with maintaining plausibility. In parts it reads more like a writing exercise than a novel. The main characters are bores, and the attempts by Barnes at incorporating the terminologies and theories from the field of psychology are clumsy and amateurish. Worse, there is no rewarding culmination for those readers who persevere to the end. Instead, to my mind, we are faced with a resolution that is both unsatisfying and unforgivingly lazy on the author's part.

I did quite enjoy one later chapter, as a bounded situation sketch, where Graham and Ann host a party at their house. This section would almost work on its own as a short story. But unfortunately much of the novel was just too clinical and distant, which left me cold and empty - at odds with the potential richness of its underlying material.

This was my first book by Barnes and I had been looking forward to it. But upon reading I found the prose and the story indulgent, unengaging and tiresome. It took a struggle to finish even though it is quite short. The generous part of me feels that the major problems faced by this book are that it just hasn't aged well and is quite dated. But another part feels that maybe this book has always faced this problem. For starters it's not that old, but the use of language and the way the characters relate seem much older than it's publication date of 1982. It must have felt even a little out of touch to contemporary readers back then. It's more like Graham is a forty year old in 1952 England rather than a forty year old in 1982 England. I wonder what Barnes himself would think if he read it again now.

For my part, I hope 'Before She Met Me' is an exception and not a good representation of Barnes' otherwise good work, as I also have his far more recent 'Staring at the Sun' waiting on my shelf to be read. ( )
2 vote Emrayfo | Jul 9, 2011 |
A entertaining little novella that describes what happens when Graham, a lecturer in history by trade, becomes unduly obsessed with his wife's sexual past. Readers shouldn't expect "Othello" or a dour meditation on the uses of history; "Before She Met Me" has all the hallmarks of an indulgent head-clearing exercise, and that's not a terrible thing. Barnes keeps his writing witty and light, for the most part, and he's not afraid to exaggerate where it suits him. He uses Jack, a garrulous, randy, bearded show-off of a writer, to take potshots at literary culture while Graham's ex-wife Barbara plays the one-dimensional vindictive harpy. Everyone, it seems, takes swipes at mass culture, lending the novel a sort of cranky Britishness that plays well against its smuttier elements. While nowhere near as affecting or observant as "Talking It Over," Barnes still seems to have real affection for some of the characters he's created here. Though I wouldn't call it his best work, I think "Before She Met Me" will still satisfy those in search of something short, light, and well-crafted. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Apr 29, 2011 |
Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes

Although we know blurbs can be unreliable, some are more so. The McGraw-Hill paperback edition of “Before She Met Me,” quotes the New York Review of Books: “Excellent...funny, original.” (We could have a lovely fill-in-the-blanks contest to make that accurate.)

Eleven chapters chart the downward spiral in the life of Graham Hendrick. He’s divorced, with visitation rights to a sweet daughter, married to a beautiful and charming woman. Their marriage is threatened when he becomes obsessed by her former life.

Long before she met him, Ann had starred in pornographic movies. When Graham, convinced that movie scenes are actual, seeks out these films compulsively, he loses track of reality and what this leads to is definitely not funny.

Because Barnes is a skillful writer the book is interesting, and, with some stretch of disbelief, even plausible. Original? Yes. Funny ? No. ( )
  Esta1923 | Mar 7, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Julian Barnesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Trickett & Webb LimitedCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Man finds himself in the predicament that nature has endowed him essentially with three brains which, despite great differences in structure, must function together and communicate with one another. The oldest of these brains is essentially reptilian. The second has been inherited from the lower mammals, and the third is a late mammalian development, which ... has made man peculiarly man. Speaking allegorically of these brains within a brain, we might imagine that when the psychiatrist bids the patient to lie on the couch, he is asking him to stretch out alongside a horse and a crocodile.

Paul D. MacLean, Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases
Vol. CXXXV, No 4, October 1962
Il vaut mieux encore être marié qu'être mort.

Molière, Les Fourberies de Scapin.
Dedication
To Pat
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The first time Graham Hendrick watched his wife commit adultery he didn't mind at all.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0330300059, Paperback)

Graham was an historian: he was meant to be an expert on the past. But there were aspects of it, he discovered, that couldn't be subdued, that simply carried on, lively and painful, as if they were the present. He began to mind. He minded very much indeed. While those around him look on - with concern, with contempt, with amusement - Graham's meticulous passion gradually begins to run out of control. Julian Barnes presents an unnerving version of sexual jealousy and shows it to be not just living, but reasonable, ordinary, funny, dangerous and consuming.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:47 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Graham was a historian, so he was perfectly used to dealing with matters of the past. But there are some aspects of what has gone before that he is not so comfortable with, specifically that of his wife's sexual history. What begins as an amusing diversion now threatens to send Graham's life out of control.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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