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The Porcupine. Julian Barnes


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Superbly humane in its moral concerns...an excellent novel' The Times

About the Author

Julian Barnes is the author of twelve novels, including The Sense of an Ending, which won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. He has also written three books of short stories, Cross Channel, The Lemon Table and Pulse; four collections of essays; and two books of non-fiction, Nothing to be Frightened Of and the Sunday Times Number One bestseller Levels of Life. He lives in London.


Though Barnes generally excels at the novel of ideas ( Flaubert's Parrot ) and is a master at disclosing character through adroit dialogue ( Talking It Over) , his latest effort, an interesting thesis conveyed in verbal interchanges between two characters, doesn't cohere into a dramatic narrative. The deposed president of an Eastern European country newly liberated from the Communist yoke is put on trial for the crimes he committed during his 33-year iron rule. The state's prosecutor general tries without success to make wily, cunning Stoyo Petkanov admit his guilt, but Petkanov cleverly represents himself as a man of the people whose only desire was to serve the state. Turning the tables, he deftly questions the competence of the new regime, whose efforts to achieve a market economy have produced economic chaos. Moreover, he insidiously suggests that the prosecutor, a former Communist who rebelled against the system that rewarded him, is himself no less venal, greedy and opportunistic: the accused and his accuser are both corruptible. Barnes is most effective in getting inside the head of an unreconstructed hard-line Communist, showing the mental set of a staunch believer in the ``one true scientific path of Marxism-Leninism.'' Yet in expounding his dark and cynical view of human nature and the nature of all political systems--democratic and despotic alike--Barnes has created a bloodless, fleshless argument between two talking heads. (Nov.)

Critics have overlooked his tenderness, underestimated his intelligence, and denied his wisdom... The Porcupine is a superbly accomplished novella * Nick Hornby *
A minor masterpiece of political satire: compelling, funny and frightening * Robert Harris *
The Porcupine is a new indisputable proof of Mr Barnes's creative power, yet what really astonished me, the Prosecutor, was the amazing precision of the intellectual's view of a socialist dictator, which so accorded with Zhivkov's true character * Prosecutor Zhekov, official prosecutor of the deposed Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov *
The neatness of the novel's structure is complemented by the rampageous energy of the characters for which it is the cage * Daily Telegraph *

The upheavals that have recenty rocked Eastern Europe provide the inspiration for Barnes's ( Flaubert's Parrot , LJ 4/1/85) latest novel, an intelligent, if strangely passionless, examination into the nature of political reality. It focuses primarily on the interaction between two men, former Communist party head Stoyo Petkanov, for 33 years the leader of his nation, and Peter Solinsky, newly appointed chief prosecutor for ``justice.'' Rather than adopt a meek, defensive posture, the recalcitrant party chief thrusts out some barbs of his own, suggesting that the new leadership is no less susceptible to lies and hypocrisy than his own government was. In any given circumstance, Barnes implies, it is simply fate that determines who becomes the accuser and who the accused. Unfortunately, Barnes's success in exploring the mind-set of a Marxist-Leninist hard-liner must be set against the story's overall pallidness. A short, interesting work for those not driven by a need for lots of action or high drama. For larger academic and public collections.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.

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