Julian Barnes’s most recent books are Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art and The Noise of Time, a novel.
 (April 2017)

IN THE REVIEW

A Marvelous Moment for French Writers and Artists

The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels

by Anka Muhlstein, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter
The close friendship, interaction, and parallelism between writers and artists in nineteenth-century France are the subject of Anka Muhlstein’s The Pen and the Brush. Balzac put more painters into his novels than he did writers, constantly name-checking artists and using them as visual shorthand (old men looked like Rembrandts, innocent girls like Raphaels). Zola, as a young novelist, lived much more among painters than writers, and told Degas that when he needed to describe laundresses he had simply copied from the artist’s pictures. Victor Hugo was a fine Gothicky-Romantic artist in his own right, and an innovative one too, mixing onto his palette everything from coffee grounds, blackberry juice, and caramelized onion to spit and soot.

Even Worse Than We Thought

The synagogue in Jedwabne, Poland, before World War II

The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne

by Anna Bikont, translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles
Anna Bikont’s book The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne is meticulous in its procedures, absolute in its commitment to truth, and—perhaps therefore—powerfully dispiriting.

‘For Sorrow There Is No Remedy’

Joyce Carol Oates, Paris, 2008

A Widow's Story: A Memoir

by Joyce Carol Oates
A friend of mine, widowed in his sixties, told me, “This is a crappy age for it to happen.” Meaning, I think, that if the catastrophe had happened in his seventies, he could have settled in and waited for death; whereas if it had happened in his fifties, he might have been able to restart his life. But every age is a crappy age for it to happen, and there is no correct answer in that game of would-you-rather. How do you compare the grief of a young parent left with small children to that of an aged person amputated from his or her partner of fifty or sixty years? There is no hierarchy to grief, except in the matter of feeling.

Flights

John Updike, Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, 1984; photograph by Dominique Nabokov

My Father's Tears and Other Stories

by John Updike

Endpoint and Other Poems

by John Updike
Hearing of John Updike’s death in January of this year, I had two immediate, ordinary reactions. The first was a protest—“But I thought we had him for another ten years”; the second, a feeling of disappointment that Stockholm had never given him the nod. The latter was a wish for …

Such, Such Was Eric Blair

George Orwell, Walberswick Beach, Suffolk, 1934

Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays

by George Orwell, compiled and with an introduction by George Packer

All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays

by George Orwell, compiled by George Packer, with an introduction by Keith Gessen
You have to feel a little sorry for Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan Wilkes, or “Sambo” and “Flip” as they were known to their charges. During the first decades of the twentieth century, they ran St. Cyprian’s, a preparatory school in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. It was no …