“Pulse” stories by Julian Barnes

Pulse”  – stories by Julian Barnes (2011) – 227 pages

 Four of the stories in Julian Barnes’ new collection, “Pulse” are almost entirely dialogue.  These stories are called “At Phil and Joanna’s: 1,2 3 , and 4″.  These take place at a dinner party made up of at least two couples.  After a short paragraph setting the scene, the rest of the story is completely dialogue.  Here is a sample.

    “Plastic’s replacing money, the Internet’s replacing everything else. And more and more people speak English, which makes it even easier. So why not admit the reality?”

    “But that’s another British trait we cling to. Not accepting reality.”

    “Like hypocrisy.”

    “Don’t get her started on that. You rode that hobbyhorse to death last time, darling.”

    “Did I?”

    “Riding a hobbyhorse to death is flogging a dead metaphor.”

    “What is the difference between a metaphor and a simile, by the way?”


 Notice the dialogue is unattributed.  The conversation is quite witty and interesting in itself about such things as smoking, the Euro, cooking, and so on.  However it doesn’t go anywhere.  To me, these were conversations, but  however witty, these were not stories.  I have read real stories made up entirely of dialogue that have conflict and progress to a resolution, but the “At Phil and Joanna” dialogues in this collection do not progress, and thus are just witty talk strung together.   

 “Pulse” is divided into two sections.  The first section is made up with stories that take place in a contemporary setting, while the second section contains stories which take place in the near or distant past.  Besides the dialogues I discussed above, there are some real stories in this collection.

 The writing is always entertaining, very readable, and does not get in the way of the story itself.  My main concern with these stories is their lack of ambition.  The really great story writers like William Trevor, Alice Munro, Elizabeth Taylor, and John Updike could fill entire collections with near-perfect stories.  Using a baseball metaphor nearly every story in their collections would be a home run.  In “Pulse”, none of the stories is bad; there are some singles, a few doubles, and maybe even a triple or two, but no home runs. 

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