Flaubert’s Parrot (1984) by Julian Barnes is a masterpiece of a novel. The smart, quiet, witty book explores the thoughts of an English Doctor, Geoffrey Braithwaite as he thinks about Flaubert and his life.
The book has no conventional narrative and instead goes over the life of Flaubert, his work and how to think and study literature. The book’s title stems from the search for Flaubert’s parrot and using it to reflect on how people look into the trivia of lives of famous writers and whether revealing truth and more information can be found while looking for these things or merely trivia. The book looks at the question of what should be taken from literature and what can be found by studying the writers of great books as well as their books.
The main character, and almost only character of this subtle cerebral work Braithwaite does expose something of himself, writing about his deceased wife and their life together. In doing this an echo is made of looking to understand writers by understanding their lives and comparing this to understanding characters by understanding their backgrounds.
Describing the book doesn’t do any justice to the book itself. The book is superbly written, the subject matter fits perfectly and the sum of the parts is still greater than the whole. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this book and each time there is something new.