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Love, etc. by Julian Barnes
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Love, etc. (2000)

by Julian Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Talking It Over (1)

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
All I could think when I was reading Love Etc. by Julian Barnes was the Rashomon effect. Here we have three friends, Oliver, Stuart, and Gillian, in a classic love triangle. But Barnes gives the love triangle a postmodern, playful twist where each character speaks to us, the reader, with face-to-face candor, as if we were some therapist in an office listening to their contradictory interpretations, feelings, and thoughts of the same events. This books is less about narrative and more about character and voice. That said, Barnes has an amazing ear for voice. Reading the book, hearing these characters speak their thoughts, I knew them. It's an intimate connection with characters that I don't think I've ever had with other books I've read.

This book is a continuation of another book by Barnes, Talking it Over, where we are first introduced to the trio. In Love Etc. the devastation wrought in the first book is summarized for us: Stuart lost Gillian to his best friend Oliver. In the present day of Love Etc., Stuart is back in the picture just as Gillian and Oliver are experiencing strains in their marriage.

The two friends have all but flipped in terms of their fortunes. Oliver is down in the dumps, depressed, unemployed. He makes up for this with feckless witticisms, last ditch efforts to maintain some dignity. Of the three characters, Oliver talks a lot, goes off on tangents. He wears his bruises on his sleeve. Meanwhile straight-man Stuart has morphed himself into a successful entrepreneur. He owns a chain of organic, green grocery stores in the States. Where he was once considered plain, awkward, he is reborn confident and wealthy. Stuart still pines for Gillian though—that's the crux of all this, and he tries to woo her back with a vengeance.

Gillian is the most interesting character for me. She is the object of desire for these two men, whether she wants to be or not. She works in art restoration and seems to be the one who holds their world together. She seems like the only grownup in the room, frankly. She is self-aware of her actions and what her actions have wrought. She confesses early in the book: "The point is you can love two people, one after the other, one interrupting the other, like I did. You can love them in different ways. And it doesn't mean one love is true and the other is false. That's what I wish I could have convinced Stuart. I loved each of them truly... Being in love makes you liable to fall in love. Isn't that a terrible paradox? Isn't that a terrible truth?"

The title is telling. I read somewhere that this is an echo of Oliver's observation in the earlier book when he says: "The world divides into two categories: those who believe that the purpose, the function, the bass pedal and principal melody of life is love, and that everything else—everything else—is merely an etc.; and those, those unhappy many, who believe primarily in the etc. of life, for whom love, however agreeable, is but a passing flurry of youth, the pattering prelude to nappy-duty, but not something as solid, steadfast and reliable as, say, home decoration.''

The big event of the novel takes place in the last twenty pages or so. Stuart forces himself on Gillian. They have passionate sex. She is raped. It's hard to say with certainty what has happened, and it changes depending on who's describing the event. This heightens the tensions, which Barnes never really resolves for us. There is so saving objectivity. He just leaves it hanging.

By the end, I was left wondering what the hell just happened. I didn't trust the characters' accounts anymore. But wasn't that the point all along? The apt ending to a story of mutual betrayal and love lost and regained? (I have to check and see if Barnes has a third novel that follows up this one.)

Love, Etc. is filled with deep insights into love, relationships, and life. Barnes's writing is breathtaking sometimes. It punches you in the gut. This book could have devolved into soap opera hysterics, but it never does. Instead it is a cacophony of pain and bitterness and joy and passion that is intense, cunning, and delightful.

Stand-out quote:
"Beforehand you think: when I grow up I'll love someone, and I hope it goes right, but if it goes wrong I'll love another person, and if that goes wrong I'll love another person. Always assuming that you can find these people in the first place and that they'll let you love them. What you expect is that love or the ability to love is always there—life—are like that. You can't make yourself love someone, and you can't, in my experience, make yourself stop loving someone. In fact, if you want to divide people up in the matter of love, I'd suggest doing it this way: some people are fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to love several people, either one after the other, or overlapping; while other people are fortunate, or unfortunate,enough to be able to love only once in their life. The love once, and whatever happens, it doesn't go away. Some people only do it once. I've come to realize that I'm one of these. " - Stuart ( )
  gendeg | Sep 7, 2014 |
Stick with this one, it may seem a bit weird at first; as if you are dropping in on a conversation among strangers. At first you can't figure out what's happening, or who is who. But eventually it sorts itself out and you discover some very fine dialogue on the the issues of life and relationships. Barnes has a fine ear for the spoken word. I applaud him for trying a different technique to tell a story. ( )
  ArtRodrigues | Jan 9, 2013 |
Very well written, with a toe-curlingly pendantic main character, Stuart, who indirectly seeks revenge through being "nice". The book has some of the most depressing and yet in some way true insights about relationships that I have read in a long time. ( )
  paulb | Jul 29, 2012 |
Love, etc. is apparently a sequal to Talking It Over. The story is told from a multiple perspective, which at first looks like a dialogue, and later takes the form of extended turns. The plot is rather boring, and nothing really happens. It could not hold my attention. Well-written, but uninteresting. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jan 2, 2012 |
In the sequel to "Talking it Over", we meet Stuart, Gillian and Oliver 10 years after we left them. A lot has changed, and a lot more will change over the course of the book. This wasn't as funny as "talking it over", but it was darker and just as thrilling. Again, I'm left wanting to know more. ( )
  Amzzz | Feb 17, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Julian Barnesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hörmark, MatsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Hello! We've met before. Stuart. Stuart Hughes.
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Talking it over est traduit en français par Love etc.
Love etc est traduit en français par Dix ans après.
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Sequel to Talking it Over.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375725881, Paperback)

Oliver, Stuart, and Gillian have been friends and lovers. But it's been 10 years since this backbiting trio, which Julian Barnes first introduced in Talking It Over, last met--and a lot has changed. For starters, Oliver has married Gillian, and Stuart, his erstwhile best friend, hates him for it. Not just because Stuart was once married to Gillian, but because he still loves her and has never ceased to regard himself as her savior. Under the guise of repairing old friendships--"all blood under the bridge"--this mild-mannered third wheel insinuates himself into the couple's life by offering advice, providing support, and even giving Oliver a job. Once he's maneuvered his nemesis into a crippling depression, Stuart unveils his master plan.

In Love, Etc. Barnes adopts the same technique he used in the earlier installment, allowing his characters to speak their innermost thoughts and secrets directly to the reader--and just about everybody gets some good lines. (Oliver: "Yes, everything went swimmingly, which is a very peculiar adverb to apply to a social event, considering how most human beings swim.") But the book is also a bewitchingly intimate excursion into betrayal and jealousy. With painstaking detail, Barnes creates a vibrant portrait of a modern love triangle--as funny as it is cruel, as absurd as it is deep. Few contemporary writers can portray Middle England, with all its temptations, so darkly. --Matthew Baylis

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:12 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Julian Barnes revisits Stuart, Gillian and Oliver, using the same intimate technique of allowing the characters to speak directly to the reader, to whisper their secrets and to argue for their version of the truth.

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