Julian Barnes’s short story collection The Lemon Table provided a soft beginning for the new reading year.
Any seasoned reader of Barnes will find the themes of mortality and ageing of little surprise. Short stories are not Barnes’s ideal format but the black humour generally substitutes for a lack of depth.
The Complete Review’s review (see bottom of page) is spot on and highlights my favourite of the eleven stories Hygiene:
Particularly poignant: Hygiene, the account of Jacko Jackson’s last pilgrimage to whore Babs. The trip to London is the old military officer’s one annual adventure. It happens to be — or is nominally supposed to be — sexual adventure, but it’s as much a rite as anything. His domestic life is settled, satisfying enough but boring; Babs is a reminder of youth and wilder ways — except that she’s aging just as he is.
Like Jacko, characters in other stories also have to face either mortality or loss: death is the harshest reminder, but other changes (such as the mind lost to Alzheimer’s, or dreams that are remembered but that can definitely no longer come true) are similarly devastating.