Elizabeth Finch: A novel by Julian Barnes. Published by Knopf, Penguin Random House Canada. @PenguinCanada #BlogTour @RandomTTours

From the best-selling, award-winning author of The Sense of an Ending, a magnetic tale that centers on the presence of a vivid and particular woman, whose loss becomes the occasion for a man’s deeper examination of love, friendship, and biography.

“I’ll remember Elizabeth Finch when most other characters I’ve met this year have faded.” –John Self, The Times

This beautiful, spare novel of platonic unrequited love springs into being around the singular character of the stoic, exacting Professor Elizabeth Finch. Neil, the narrator, takes her class “Culture and Civilisation,” taught not for undergraduates but for adults of all ages; we are drawn into his intellectual crush on this private, withholding, yet commanding woman. While other personal relationships and even his family drift from Neil’s grasp, Elizabeth’s application of her material to the matter of daily living remains important to him, even after her death, in a way that nothing else does.
In Elizabeth Finch, we are treated to everything we cherish in Barnes: his eye for the unorthodox forms love can take between two people, a compelling swerve into nonfictional material (this time, through Neil’s obsessive study of Julian the Apostate, following on notes Elizabeth left for him to discover after her death), and the forcefully moving undercurrent of history, and biography in particular, as nourishment and guide in our current lives.

Editorial Reviews:

“A novel of ideas . . . with barely a sentence in it that doesn’t have some nutritional value . . . I’ll remember Elizabeth Finch when most other characters I’ve met this year have faded.” —John Self, The Times (UK)

“A singular tale.” —Daily Mail (UK)

“Everything Barnes writes changes everything . . . Barnes’s latest novel, must be read at least twice for the full force of its voltage to be felt . . . A cryptic crossword of a novel, Elizabeth Finch is a trickier and even brainier version of Flaubert’s Parrot.” —Frances Wilson, Oldie

I was very excited to read this beautifully written book. Short at 192 pages but filled with entertaining observations. Although I would say it caters more to academics (unlike me) and those who enjoy deeper philosophy. Written in the past, the first third of the book is told by Neil—a former actor and the narrator of this story—who attends a course on Culture and Civilization taught by Elizabeth Finch.

EF, as he privately referred to her, cuts an intriguing figure. It’s easy to see why she was so memorable. Sharp and witty, her sayings were something to savor and she certainly left her students with something to think about. I loved the way the author mined this entertaining vein during her teachings and it made me understand why Neil held her in such high intellectual esteem. In fact, he was so smitten, they lunched together, two academic minds perfectly synchronized. After she died of cancer, Neil is determined to make something of the academic writings she left behind.  

Part two is somewhat dry. Inspired by EF’s notes, Neil delves into the life and philosophy of Juliun the Apostate and writes up a study, one that should have been handed in to EF before she died. This part is the unifier of part one and part three and will probably remind some readers of Uni days.

In part three, we see Neil attempting to dig deeper into who was the real EF which, after her death, seemed almost futile to me. The novel deals more with the platonic love between a man and a woman and Neil’s images of her. But Neil’s obsession, his investigations of EF’s relationships with other people, produce marvelous quotes and a host of beautiful writing.

Overall, I enjoyed this book (4 stars). The writing styles in part one and part two were very difference, but it’s plain to see that Julian Barnes is an exemplary writer who certainly brought the enigmatic Elizabeth Finch to life.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Penguin Random House Canada for the privilege of reading this advance reader copy.

About the Author:

JULIAN BARNES is the author of twenty-four previous books, for which he has received the Man Booker Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Prix Médicis and Prix Femina in France, and the Jerusalem Prize. In 2017 he was awarded the Légion d’honneur. His work has been translated into more than forty languages. He lives in London. 

Other Books by the Author:

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