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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Talking it Over

Julian Barnes

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To purchase Talking it Over

Title: Talking it Over
Author: Julian Barnes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991
Length: 275 pages
Availability: Talking it Over - US
Talking it Over - UK
Talking it Over - Canada
Love etc. - France
Darüber reden - Deutschland
Amore ... - Italia
  • Talking it Over was made into a film titled Love, etc. (which is also, confusingly, the name of the sequel to the book, published in 2000 (see our review)).
  • Yes, the French translation of Talking it Over really is titled Love, etc. (and the sequel, Love, etc., is titled Dix ans après).

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Our Assessment:

B+ : direct, clever, with some winning details, but not as substantial as one might hope for

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Commonweal A 8/5/1992 Edward T. Wheeler
The LA Times A 17/10/1991 Richard Eder
The New Republic B 16/12/1991 Michael Levenson
New Statesman C+ 19/7/1991 D.J.Taylor
The New Yorker . 23/12/1991 .
The NY Rev. of Books . 5/12/1991 John Bayley
The NY Times A 8/10/1991 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. A 13/10/1991 Josephine Humphreys
The Spectator B- 20/7/1991 James Buchan
TLS . 12/7/1991 Mick Imlah
Voice Lit. Supp. B 10/1991 Laurie Muchnick!
The Washington Post . 13/10/1991 Alexander Theroux

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, with reactions ranging from great enthusiasm to great disappointment. Lots of comparisons with Martin Amis, particularly Success.

  From the Reviews:
  • "We are left asking unreal questions for which there are no real answers. All this seems to make the book bear a burden that never weighs it in the reading (.....) The book's pleasures, beyond the "riffs" and maxims, lie in the directness of the realism." - Edward T. Wheeler, Commonweal

  • "(Barnes) works as if to show that he too can bring off the tight, murderous and comical British set-piece. Talking It Over certainly shows that he can. His triangle -- two men and a woman -- is three acute angles in constant shifting balance. As they shift, they cut." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "This is a hard book, hard to like, hard to discard, in large part because it never gives its people the chance to muddle their way into understanding. (...) What makes Talking it Over such an instructive book, if not a grand one, is that in it Barnes is thinking sharply about himself through the figure of Oliver, another homeless talent who has no beliefs that might keep him from flapping in the wind." - Michael Levenson, The New Republic

  • "The result, painstakingly schematised and worked out, is a novel of deliberate and occasionally stifling symmetry (.....) (T)his is simply the Hampstead novel decked out in pretty camouflage." - D.J.Taylor, New Statesman

  • "Mr. Barnes relates these events with enormous narrative brio and elan. Though the story doesn't have the sort of intellectual afterlife of Flaubert's Parrot -- it evaporates from the mind almost the instant the reader has finished its last pages -- the book as a whole is a marvelously entertaining performance." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "Talking It Over toys with some familiar questions about the nature of fiction: what's real, what's not and who's in charge? These questions are always fun, but risky insofar as they threaten the credibility of the story. Mr. Barnes deliberately flirts with the risk and escapes, allowing the story to emerge stronger for the threat. Encouraged to doubt, we double our faith. This story is more than credible; it's moving, it's funny, it's frightening." - Josephine Humphreys, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Julian Barnes's new novel, Talking it Over, is so like Martin Amis's Success that I couldn't at first believe what I was reading. I thought: is post-modernist English fiction going all the way ? (...) Almost all the ideas in the book (...) are delivered in Oliver's alternately clever and maddening tones. He snuffs out all sympathy for the others and then for himself." - James Buchan, The Spectator

  • "The book is beautifully constructed (.....) As always, Barnes writes like a dream, in control of every tone and nuance, but the book feels slight, an entertainment, because we're being led along too carefully, fed the proper interpretations." - Laurie Muchnick, Voice Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Talking it Over is the story of a love triangle. Stuart and Oliver are best friends. Stuart marries Gillian. Oliver falls in love with Gillian. And then, of course, things get quite complicated.
       The most obvious twist Barnes adds to the story is in how he chooses to tell it: he has the characters address the reader (or at least some "you") directly. Stuart, Oliver, and Gillian each tell their own story (with a few other voices also making themselves heard), each offering a different point of view, a different spin, and, occasionally, an entirely different account of what happened. It is an interesting literary device, and Barnes -- a very fine stylist -- manages a great deal with the voices he employs.
       Stuart is a young banker, careful, a bit unsure of himself, without a university education. Oliver is a pedantic, unfulfilled soul, a wilder, artsy type who travelled, studied, and finally wound up as teaching at the tacky Shakespeare School of English (and eventually actually even manages to get himself sacked from this institution). Gillian trained in social work for while, but then became an art restorer.
       "I met Stuart", Gillian states. "I fell in love. I married. What's the story ?" There is, of course, more to it than that -- including how Gillian and Stuart met ("Gill and I agreed we wouldn't tell anyone how we met", Stuart says, though he does reveal it to the reader.) And though Barnes fills in backgrounds the meat of the tale begins with Stuart and Gillian's marriage.
       Barnes tells the story of the three interrelated relationships -- the unlikely but lasting (at least through the beginning of the book) friendship between Stuart and Oliver, and the changing relationships between Gillian and the two men. Much of the fun is in the details: the different ways of seeing events, the different justifications or explanations for what the characters do (or don't do), though clever Oliver is perhaps too dominant (and Gillian, for much of the novel, not strong enough).
       It is a neatly constructed novel -- and also an obviously constructed one, which is both a strength and weakness. Barnes writes very well, and there are many fine moments, thoughts, and asides. This is not too deep a meditation on friendship, and relationships, but it does chart an interesting threesome, a shifting (and ultimately very misshapen) triangle.
       An odd, and not entirely satisfying novel, but an interesting one.

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Talking it Over: Reviews: Love, etc. -- the movie version of Talking it Over: Julian Barnes: Other books by Julian Barnes under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       English author Julian Barnes was born in 1946. He is the author of several highly acclaimed novels.

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