Friday, March 25, 2022

The Lemon Table by Julian Barnes


15 thoughts on “The Lemon Table — Julian Barnes


    “Does pubic hair go grey?”

    The story of Gregory from boy to older, the ‘ear crust’ of barbers, the perve teachers at school, & in later life being done by a woman hairdresser in the Barnet Shop. Matters concerning his wife and sexual matters, this story as something for the weekend, if not for the rest of my life, except I now do my own hair because of lockdown. Much else here, it being a document to something not for the weekend but for death itself, I guess. And I loved all the granular detail of the barbers, the short back and sides with little off the top, and so forth, and I confidently wave away the oval mirror that they want to use to show me the back of my head — or to show me the past of my life?


    A work of genius, no mistake, carved from the wood of words as finely as the man in the Repair Shop, but nothing can repair a sawmill manager’s life, I guess. Even in Sweden a hundred or so years ago, as now, nothing can change the goading of sarcasms, the feints and counter-feints of woman and man and who loves whom most in and out of marriage; nothing can change whatever the competing gossips create: story truth or legend, a clever rom com disguised as times of yore or a Thomas Hardy saga; the wood of pews, the wood of horse stalls, the logs that men have between their legs compared, the copper mine that is not mine at all, but someone else’s legend…. Whatever awakens the gunshot echoes, I guess.
    (By the way, the steamboat man, I do not hear him as he sings hymns in his new-found honoured pew, his horse in whatever stall he co-opts; I do not hear him as I end up in the deaf and dumb asylum near the shark-infested lake. Who inherits that pew next, by bloodline or by chance, is anyone’s guess.)


    “Do you think there’s a connection between the heart and the heart?”

    Two ageing widows having breakfast in a posh American restaurant, one, Merrill, American, the other, Janice, English, the latter having English tea, and needing, against the grain if not her molar, the second pot fresh not topped up with hot water poured upon the same teabag. ‘Teabag’ that laughably takes on a new meaning momentarily, it seems. They know more about each other’s late husbands than each other thinks the other knows, amidst their debates on the nature of the breakfast waiter’s walk or on the comestibles (granola or toast, poached egg or a repetitive kipper) that they choose to order at this their regular breakfast date together, and debates on the separate establishments where they each require two bedrooms for whatever reason.
    Like this sharply oblique account itself, both women are acutely observant or obtusely ironic. Both of them needing allies, if not sharp elbows.

    “Janice pushed her breakfast away to make room for her elbows.”


    “Just a question of female wiring.”

    The nudge-nudge, man-talk, self-chat-up couched story as a sort of third person singular Molly Bloom-like monologue of a retired soldier off to his annual regimental dinner in London and the woman called Babs he pre-sends a postcard to about their regular sexual encounter in London, all the while his wife Pamela back home, concerned with his buying a new Salad Spinner at John Lewis when in London, has gone off such carnal proceedings with him. What he meets, this time, in London, is more poignancy and misjudged cocking of his ancient gun than anything else, and throwing us as to whom we expected Babs to have been and still was. I am not sure anyone else might interpret this story, as I do, but the sealed window of the train at the end to match the sealed window he looked through at the beginning and the recurrent scraping of wheel-rims on a car park’s payment meter kerbstones like the sound the Tardis often makes when about to set off, cause me to think there was something else involved and that his young wife has now just welcomed him home from war upon his home platform, as she once said farewell to him on the same or similar platform of yore. Made it all seem even more poignant, somehow.


    “Clackety-clack, clackety-clack.”

    A Russian writer of an earlier age who wrote, inter alia, plays, and he thought 40 to be the later age of ‘renunciation’, and, as I once did, thought 60 the beginning of old age. At 60, he falls in love with the actress of what he had thought, did think, would have thought, was a minor character in his play but it turned out to be a major one. By dint of a series of ‘if-only’s and the verb tenses of Tantalus, he meets her midway on her train journey to Odessa, and then gets off while she travels on to her new rôle of theatre or her real rôle as a wife to a typical hussar, with our writer having requited (or not) his love by kissing her hand on the train or doing rude sexual words to her! Whatever the conditional case he later does can-can, much to Tolstoy’s disdain …or could-could?

    My earlier review of READING TURGENEV by William Trevor:


    “…put my hand on his elbow, but not hard enough for the gesture to be unambiguous.”

    This is the best story about people coughing &c. (if not farting) at live classical music concerts, and probably is the only one on that particular subject! It will always be the best, even if there were others! With many likeable references to pieces of classical music that I love. And about the nature of people at such concerts. Ultra-observant. Magnified, but never untrue. From ‘hay wain’ to ‘hay fever’.
    It is utterly lolightful, to coin a word that this very story has stirred me to coin.
    A build up to a crescendo for our ‘angry’ times and sexual mœurs, via a xylophone sequence, towards a Zeno’s Paradox of grudge and grievance, comparing his cyclist ex-partner’s remonstrations at car drivers to his own when facing out those guilty of bad-mouthing (literally and figuratively) during concerts narrated by such stories as this. So, I poked this story, as it upset my rhythm for the day. It was simply too bad it was  toogood. Whereby even my passion of the reading moment became unworthy to stop crescendoes for. Or to hand out cough sweets for unruly phlegm for. Or to tip someone unambiguously arse over tit tantamount into a busy road for.
    (This story needs to be put on audio cassette, by the way.)

  7. BARK

    “The more reason why the populace should be prompted to vigilance.”

    The story of tensions within the self, here a Frenchman it seems, at the time of ‘droit du seigneur”, I guess, and about templates of the temperaments as gestalt, here gourmandism versus gambling, by toss of the coin, leading to a Tontine (many of my reviews reveal fictions based on such a thing; Google ‘Tontine’ and ‘Nullimmortalis’) whereby he becomes stricter with himself in his diet, often chewing on bark, after his wife dies as a proximate cause of his actions, while later his having an affair with a woman working at the Tontine’s ‘municipal baths’ investment, whereby his pleasure in life is now in outliving others, regular sex being good for you, he thinks, until his life and soul happens to buzz off too early? The synchronicity of life’s own gestalt where all is connected, is this story’s main theme. Love is like that, cooing from dovecote to dovecote. Breeding rabbits and warrens, too. What of the bark, though? Where does that come in? And the wet nurse? 

    “Wet nurse,
     with your bark cracked, your leaves wilting
     your hands on the ursupator’s child”

    Start of a Googled poem


    A series of letters from Miss Winstanley to the actual real author as she proceeds through her early eighties having intentionally pre-empted fate by putting herself in an ‘Old Folkery’ with the ‘deafs’ and ‘mads’. A rich brew of developing perhaps increasingly eccentric wit and showing off her French and literary interests. Made me think that this was entertaining but also comforting about my own ageing fate. Fatalistic, and with the letter writer’s exercise in discussing the Confirmation Bias of Coincidences or Synchronicities and of Intentional Fallacy, all of which have been important to my equivalent real-time epistolary gestalt of book reviews. For example, just an hour or so ago, I wrote a review of Miéville that featured the concept of earworms (here) and this Barnes mentions ‘earthworms’ twice! And I am a great fan of Anita Brookner, if not of ghosts that appear as green flashes.

  9. And so to another caring story…


    “On the other hand, he doesn’t want me to go straight to what he likes. I have to seem to stumble across it.”

    As I often do, when helping authors with their own fiction works by means of gestalt real time reviewing. As this lady does — I think I stumble upon the fact she is his second wife — was he a dentist for whom she once worked? — now he is in a home for the incurable and the demented, although I am possibly stumbling badly myself now …she seems to make stabs at reading aloud phrases from fine cuisine recipe books and eliciting from him, in a Proustian vicarious taste sort of way, his stream of memories, some of them skew whiff, if not properly uploaded at all, and they are mingled with his obscene requests. aimed at her, sometimes forgetting who she is. Although he is proper and particular in himself, as evidenced by his slippers, however much he might or she might otherwise slip up. He remembers all the restaurants where particular recipes were eaten, or does he? He certainly correctly remembers the restaurant pianist who did not like playing on Sundays if not for the right reason, although I am myself uncertain about any of that. Please read aloud to me quotes from books I once reviewed and see how well I remember them. My cup overfloweth.

    “Which was disappointing in a way, because you want connections to be there, don’t you?”

  10. Pingback: Obscenities | Megazanthus — The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews Edit


    “Is anyone spared mortal terror?”

    A son’s speculations on his ageing parents and their sex life past and future, even in their eighties based on evidence if not this son’s once youthful smell-test, life being like caged in the fruit cage in one’s potting garden whence one is dragged out at the end of one’s days, accused of trespass, and finally crucified…
    Half amusing, half tedious, half accusative of probable marital abuse and an unlikely adultery, and half poignant with someone’s subtle dementia. But whose subtle dementia? His mother’s, his father’s or the other woman’s? Probably mine.

  12. THE LEMON TABLE, oops, no, the last story is called THE SILENCE

    “Cheer up! Death is round the corner.”

    …towards another octogenarian, the final fruit CAGE that is Death. Death as that four minutes thirty three seconds of Zeno’s-Paradox silence. The ever final silence. That 32 years silence of Sibelius and still going even after he died? A lemon as the symbol of death or just a false connection with a table at the Kämp or just another Wagnerian leitmotif? This book’s black humour of age and death has this story as the clinching of its final guesstalt, one embodied in this monologue by — WILDLY GUESSING — a mutant version of Sir Malcolm Arnold who wrote nine symphonies. There is more bark, here used in a recipe of bread. I shall deserve a statue, as a ‘critic’, more than people do who use Art as a means to avoid insanity and depression. But my reviews ARE ART, I say! And I shall no doubt finally croak in a classical concert during one of the silences. “It was indeed a violin case, but inside was a leg of smoked lamb.” Not lemon or lamprey.