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Pulse: Stories by Julian Barnes

Pulse: Stories (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Julian Barnes

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2651143,112 (3.61)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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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
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 |
Well-done stories. Some are conversations, some are more traditional, some funny, others not, some with action -- but all are character-driven.

I enjoyed "Pulse" more than any other modern collection of stories since Alice Munro's "Runaway" from six or seven years ago. ( )
  wrk1 | Jan 15, 2014 |
I have come late to Julian Barnes, to my regret, but I’m glad to have finally arrived. His Booker-winning [b:The Sense of an Ending|10746542|The Sense of an Ending|Julian Barnes|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1311704453s/10746542.jpg|15657664] was my introduction, save for some short stories I’d read here and there in the New Yorker and Granta. Some of the short stories in ‘Pulse’ were published between 2003 and 2011, and Sense of Ending was released in mid 2011. Some of these short stories are echoed in Sense of an Ending.

In “At Phil & Joanna’s 4: One in Five”, a character says “…I remember some intellectual on the radio discussing the start of the second World War, and coming to the conclusion that all you could say for certain was, ‘Something happened'." This was a key launch point for the story in Sense of an Ending, in which Adrian says, “But there is one line of thought according to which all you can truly say of any historical event — even the outbreak of the First World War, — is that ‘something happened’.”

"Something Happened" could be a good title for several Julian Barnes stories (but the title has been well used already by Joseph Heller).

In “Trespass”, first published in 2003 in the New Yorker, Geoff struggles to understand the disintegration of his relationship with Cath. He says to her, “I thought we were going to get married.” And she replies, “That’s why we aren’t,” When he asks her to explain she refuses. Why won’t she explain? “Because that’s the whole point. If you can’t see, if I have to explain — that’s why we’re not getting married.” This is redone again in Sense of an Ending, where Veronica says “You just don’t get it, do you? You never did, and you never will.’, and she refuses to explain further.

These are not sentimental stories yet they are often poignant (Pulse, Marriage Lines), and often funny too. Geoff in “Trespass” is trying to make a go of it with a new girlfriend. He becomes ever more pedantic but just can’t stop himself and it’s killing them. He really just doesn’t get it. He is unrelenting in his unwanted helpfulness. He and his girlfriend are avid hikers, but she is tiring of him. At one point toward the end of their time, he advises her not to walk in the bracken, or downwind of it for that matter, between August and October. — “you’re going to tell me why, aren’t you?” she says. So he proceeds to tell her about spores, which could get into lungs or stomach and become carcinogenic, and Lyme-disease-causing ticks; she would need to wear a face mask. “ ‘A face mask?’ ‘Respro makes one.’ Well, she’d asked, and she was getting the bloody answer."

There are several related “Phil & Joanna” short stories, which recount the witty banter amongst two married couples who get together several times for dinner, and those were fun reads. “Pulse” was especially good; it described simultaneously his perception of his parents’ wonderful marriage and his own failing marriage. Again he plays on the theme of perception vs versions of reality. And he does this again in a different way in “Limner’, the story of an itinerant portrait painter in the 1800s.

His prose is wonderful. He captures the intangibles and then presents them to us, and we feel a jolt of recognition. That is the best kind of writing. ( )
  BCbookjunky | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (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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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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