Books: Pleasures of Merely Circulating Flaubert's Parrot

by Julian Barnes; Knopf; 190 pages; $13.95

Almost any literary contrivance can be called a novel nowadays, so the label will do for Flaubert's Parrot. What the book turns out to be, though, is a brash, footloose ramble through the life and works of Gustave Flaubert, and it is hard to think of a work starting from such a narrow, scholarly premise that is so free of preciousness. Julian Barnes does provide one conventional feature: a narrator, in this case Geoffrey Braithwaite, a retired English doctor and Flaubert amateur. He first visited Normandy, the novelist's native ground, as a soldier in 1944, and after 40 years returns to--well,...

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