I’d just come straight from a terrible book called John Dies at the End by David Wong which. I admit, I mainly bought because of the title. It was really bad (contrived, smug, trying too hard to be wacky, not as clever as it thinks it is) and I couldn’t even finish it (I hate not finishing books). I’d previously loved The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes so I thought I’d go for another of his. I ended up reading his very first novel; Metroland.
Metroland is about a bloke called Christopher Lloyd and his experiences growing up in the suburbs of London, his brief life in Paris as a graduate student and the early years of his marriage. As adolescents Christopher and his childhood friend Toni had shown contempt for the bourgeois establishment but this lifestyle is one that Christopher ultimately chooses, much to Toni’s disappointment, obtaining a secure job in publishing, marrying, buying a house and having a child. Christopher realises that his normal life and somewhat mundane marriage are not perfect, nor are they necessarily more exciting than his time in Paris with his bold French girlfriend, but he does love his wife and is happy.
JB is a brilliant writer so it goes without saying that this book is good. It falls far short of The Sense of an Ending though, I reckon. It’s really accessible and completely absorbing but there’s something about the characters that spoiled it for me. I just found them a bit too posh and sneery. I could get over that in the childhood section of the story but even when the characters had grown to adulthood they remained posh and sneery and it just stopped me identifying with them or caring about them. Also, there’s lots of very meaningful talk about art and life and it just doesn’t ring true. The odd filthy word here and there doesn’t make it ring true either. Who talks like that?! Posh, sneery people, I suppose. Most of us don’t talk about those things, do we? We may think about those things. Mostly, though, we talk about bacon sandwiches and traffic.
Despite that, this is a Julian Barnes book. Even if it’s not his best, it’s still a trillion times better than John Dies at the End.