Talking It Over

This chronically irreverent Brit (Flaubert’s Parrot, Staring at the Sun) has had a lot of praise heaped upon him over the years, and in this coy, impossibly chatty novel he begins to show the signs of strain. The plot of Talking It Over follows a man named Oliver who runs off with his best friend’s wife. Oliver fancies himself a ”classical humanist of artistic bent and romantic nature,” but is in fact a fatuous hanger-on who teaches English. His best friend, Stuart, is a dullard who works in a bank. And the object of their affection, an art restorer named Gillian, is a ”boring little goodie-goodie.” With this sort of cast, it’s a matter of little interest who winds up with whom. Oliver, Stuart, and Gillian take turns telling the story and one gets the predictable discrepancies and an awful lot of flat jokes. Barnes clearly means to get by on charm, to dazzle readers with a chorus of disparate voices, but as Stuart says of Oliver, ”He’s clever…but not clever enough to see that you have to be more than clever.” C+

Talking It Over
  • Book