If you’re a denizen of literary media, you certainly know Julian Barnes. The Man Booker-prize winner (and four-time nominee) is one of the most decorated British writers working today. But with 14 novels, eight works of non-fiction, three short story collections, and one translation, where is one to begin? Here are our suggestions.
Flaubert’s Parrot (1984)
One of Barnes’s four Booker Prize-nominated novels, Flaubert’s Parrot is the literary detective story of a retired doctor who is obsessed with the 19th century French author Flaubert—and with tracking down a stuffed parrot that once inspired him. It’s playful, funny, and a tribute to the joy of reading.
Arthur & George (2005)
Arthur & George is a historical epic based on real-life events involving Sherlock Holmes-creator Arthur Conan Doyle. As boys, George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, living in shabby genteel Edinburgh, find themselves in a vast and complex world at the heart of the British Empire. Years later—one struggling with his identity in a world hostile to his ancestry, the other creating the world’s most famous detective while in love with a woman who is not his wife–their fates become inextricably connected.
The Sense of An Ending (2012)
If you’ve read just one Julian Barnes novel, this is it. And with good reason. This Man Booker-winner is so compelling that it begs to be read in a single setting. The novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present.
Elizabeth Finch (2022)
If you are the kind of reader who likes to be reading books that are currently being talked about, Barnes’s latest, Elizabeth Finch, is your pick. It’s a novel that revolves around the singular character of the stoic, exacting, and unintentionally hilarious Professor Elizabeth Finch. It is an exploration of the different forms love can take and the how the forceful undercurrent of history affects our everyday lives.