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Julian Barnes: Metroland

Barnes’ first work reads, frankly, like a first work but is interesting nonetheless. It was made into an interesting film, with a great performance by Emily Watson. Christopher and Toni, denizens of Metroland, that strip of suburbia to the North of London served by the Metropolitan Line, are cynics who like to écraser l’infâme and épater la bourgeoisie (this is a novel for the learned intellectual so if your French is weak, tant pis pour toi). But life moves on and you grow up (sort of). Chris, our narrator, goes off to work in Paris and succumbs to every young English intellectual’s dream by shacking up with a liberated Frenchwoman. Then he meets Marion, an Englishwoman visiting Paris, and, to cut a long story short, they get married, start a family and live in the despised Metroland (le syphilis de l’âme, he calls for it for those still coping with the French). But Toni is still around, still the rebel and unable to believe that Christopher has sold out. Before the wedding he writes to Christopher giving a carefully argued case against marriage, which Christopher does not read. But Christopher soon settles down to suburbanity, despite Toni’s prodding. In the film he has a bit on the side but in the book he is merely tempted and when he mentions it to Marion, she is not the least bit jealous, and he ends up fucking her more vigorously than might have been usual in Metroland. He is now Metroland. He is now suburbia and, mes amis, ça c’est tout.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Jonathan Cape