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Pulse: Stories by Julian Barnes

Pulse: Stories (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Julian Barnes

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2851339,557 (3.65)21
Title:Pulse: Stories
Authors:Julian Barnes
Info:Knopf (2011), Hardcover, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, short stories, Borders, going-out-of-business sale, 2011, new

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Pulse by Julian Barnes (2011)


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The overall theme of this collection of short stories is the personal relationships between couples, whether married or unmarried. The quality of the stories is variable, with the least successful and interesting being four interlinked tales featuring gatherings of friends at Phil and Joanna’s house. However the others illustrate the sometimes unsettling realisation that partial knowledge and misunderstandings can lead to the ending of love and friendship. But not all partnerships end unhappily and one of the secrets of successful compatibility would appear to be the sharing of small pleasures in life.
  camharlow2 | Sep 28, 2015 |
Barnes, you bastard. I'm sure you did it on purpose. You spent more than half your book with stories that were... well... nicely written but... lacking something? Uninteresting? Something like that. I was seriously considering stopping reading and starting some other book (something I almost never do, so I just kept going).

...and then you did that thing. You finished the first part of the book with a beautiful story, made even better by contrast with the previous. Not only that, but you included the five stories of part II. And that is where you finally laughed at me, at us, for doubting you. You sir, are a bastard, but a really talented one. I loved those stories, much more than I didn't the first ones.

Four stars. On to the next one now. ( )
  espadana | Jun 24, 2015 |
A very good writer, but I didn't enjoy these stories. ( )
  keithostertag | Nov 16, 2014 |
I wouldn't give five starts for the entire book, but the "At Phil & Joanna's 1.. 2.. 3.. and 4" (chapters of numbered gatherings of six friends at Phil & Joanna's house) I enjoyed tremendously. ( )
  jdth | Jul 12, 2014 |
Pulse is a sublime collection of short stories by Julian Barnes. In 14 stories Barnes explores the theme of what makes a good marriage, in particular focussing on the role of communication in relationships. It is sometimes said that great artistry is borne out of misery, and that a happy marriage is often improductive, at least to some authors. Barnes collection Pulse seems some proof towards that statement. While Barnes openly mourned his wife, who died in 2008, in Levels of Life, Pulse published in 2011 is a superb collection of tales looking at various aspects of perfect and failed marriages.

Various stories in the collection explore the role of communication in relationships: what is said, and what isn't; what cannot be talked about, or a free flow of banter. The four stories centred on Phil and Joanna are about such a flow of easy-going, witty but not overly serious conversation. In "East Wind" the lover's prying into privacy and (unspoken) acknowledgement of what the woman tried to conceal breaks up the relation, while in “Trespass” the man treats his new girlfriend as a pure substitute for his ex, falling into the same behavioural patterns, and failing to see why she does not want to marry him. His need to make that explicit is just why.

Several of the stories deal with rutted-in behavioural patterns, including, for instance, 'dirty talk' in the title story, "Pulse" which is the last story in the collection.

Most stories are characterized by a sublime subtlety, surpassing Barnes previous work. As the theme of the stories is language, likewise the reader must be fine-tuned to listen and spot Barnes' subtle wit, as some irony is explicit and some implicit. Still, there are a number of hilarious moments, which may make you laugh out loud, as in the story Carcassonne".

The 14 stories in Pulse are divided into two sections, the division is not very clear, except that the first nine stories in Part One seem a bit closer to everyday life, while the five longer stories in Part 2 seem more serious. Conversation in fiction does not seem Barnes strongest point, nonetheless the conversations in the various stories, while perhaps not the most natural, serve their purpose. In prose, Julian Barnes seems best when the stories take on the hue of non-fiction, as do the stories in Part 2. These stories, with apparently fictionalized autobiographical elements, are most effective, and various are unforgettable.

Having read several works by Julian Barnes, it must be said that Pulse belongs to the toppers, on a par with Flaubert's Parrot.

Highly recommended. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jan 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
The ghost of John Updike, that master delineator of couples and how they talk, haunts many of these stories. Barnes is both beneficiary and victim of Updike’s own double-edged gift: a dazzling facility of phrase that sometimes feels like an end in itself...

“Carcassonne,” the collection’s standout, is a welcome reminder that Barnes can still weave together historical reconstruction, biographical acuity, personal essay and sheer oddball association with the verve he achieved in what remains his best book, the wondrous “Flaubert’s Parrot.”
Mr. Barnes’s latest collection, “Pulse,” is filled with both gems and should-have-been discards. The title story and “Marriage Lines” are beautiful, elegiac tales about how marriages endure or change over time: stories that attest to the new emotional depth Mr. Barnes discovered in his 2004 collection “The Lemon Table.” Unfortunately, many other entries in this volume are brittle exercises in craft: a writer writing on automatic pilot, substituting verbal facility for genuine humor or real feeling, a scattering of social details for a persuasive sense of time and place.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Julian Barnesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vlek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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He had thought he could recapture, and begin to say farewell. He had thought grief might be assuaged, or if not assuaged, at least speeded up, hurried on its way a little, by going back to a place where they had been happy. But he was not in charge of grief. Grief was in charge of him. And in the months and years ahead, he expected grief to teach him many other things as well. This was just the first of them.
He told Calum the story he was already weary with repeating. The sudden tiredness, the dizzy spells, the blood tests, the scans, hospital, more hospital, the hospice. The speed of it all, the process, the merciless tramp of events. He told it without tears, in a neutral voice, as if it might have happened to someone else. It was the only way, so far, that he knew how.
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A volume of fourteen stories about loss, friendship, and longing includes the tales of a recently divorced real-estate agent who invades a reticent girlfriend's privacy, a couple that meets over an illicit cigarette, and a widower who struggles to let go of grief.… (more)

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