Pulse : stories

by Julian Barnes

Other authorsJulian Barnes
Paperback, 2012




New York : Vintage International, 2012.


A volume of fourteen stories about loss, friendship, and longing includes the tales of a recently divorced real-estate agent who invades a reticent girlfriend's privacy, a couple that meets over an illicit cigarette, and a widower who struggles to let go of grief.

Media reviews

Mr. Barnes’s latest collection, “Pulse,” is filled with both gems and should-have-been discards. The title story and “Marriage Lines” are beautiful, elegiac tales about how marriages endure or change over time: stories that attest to the new emotional depth Mr. Barnes discovered in his
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2004 collection “The Lemon Table.” Unfortunately, many other entries in this volume are brittle exercises in craft: a writer writing on automatic pilot, substituting verbal facility for genuine humor or real feeling, a scattering of social details for a persuasive sense of time and place.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Pulse is a sublime collection of short stories by Julian Barnes. In 14 stories Barnes explores the theme of what makes a good marriage, in particular focussing on the role of communication in relationships. It is sometimes said that great artistry is borne out of misery, and that a happy marriage
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is often improductive, at least to some authors. Barnes collection Pulse seems some proof towards that statement. While Barnes openly mourned his wife, who died in 2008, in Levels of Life, Pulse published in 2011 is a superb collection of tales looking at various aspects of perfect and failed marriages.

Various stories in the collection explore the role of communication in relationships: what is said, and what isn't; what cannot be talked about, or a free flow of banter. The four stories centred on Phil and Joanna are about such a flow of easy-going, witty but not overly serious conversation. In "East Wind" the lover's prying into privacy and (unspoken) acknowledgement of what the woman tried to conceal breaks up the relation, while in “Trespass” the man treats his new girlfriend as a pure substitute for his ex, falling into the same behavioural patterns, and failing to see why she does not want to marry him. His need to make that explicit is just why.

Several of the stories deal with rutted-in behavioural patterns, including, for instance, 'dirty talk' in the title story, "Pulse" which is the last story in the collection.

Most stories are characterized by a sublime subtlety, surpassing Barnes previous work. As the theme of the stories is language, likewise the reader must be fine-tuned to listen and spot Barnes' subtle wit, as some irony is explicit and some implicit. Still, there are a number of hilarious moments, which may make you laugh out loud, as in the story Carcassonne".

The 14 stories in Pulse are divided into two sections, the division is not very clear, except that the first nine stories in Part One seem a bit closer to everyday life, while the five longer stories in Part 2 seem more serious. Conversation in fiction does not seem Barnes strongest point, nonetheless the conversations in the various stories, while perhaps not the most natural, serve their purpose. In prose, Julian Barnes seems best when the stories take on the hue of non-fiction, as do the stories in Part 2. These stories, with apparently fictionalized autobiographical elements, are most effective, and various are unforgettable.

Having read several works by Julian Barnes, it must be said that Pulse belongs to the toppers, on a par with Flaubert's Parrot.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member libsue
I'm not usually a short story reader, but when Julian Barnes publishes a short story collection I'm going to read it. He writes the mundane, everyday lives of his characters in such a way that the reader doesn't realize the craft of writing behind them, one reads each story and relates. Each of his
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characters could be someone you know, and in so few pages you do get to know them. I couldn't help reacting as I was reading with a sigh, a snigger, a raised brow, a tear, or a chuckle. Give Julian Barnes a try.
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LibraryThing member triscuit
As always, he writes beautifully but after the first few stories you descend into mild depression brought on by all the middle-aged uber-ennuie. If you enjoy French films or fiction about educated, well-off Parisian bourgeoisie who find life flat and unsatisfying, you will like this.
LibraryThing member willmurdoch
Cool contemporary short stories from England...
LibraryThing member wrk1
Well-done stories. Some are conversations, some are more traditional, some funny, others not, some with action -- but all are character-driven.

I enjoyed "Pulse" more than any other modern collection of stories since Alice Munro's "Runaway" from six or seven years ago.
LibraryThing member jdth
I wouldn't give five starts for the entire book, but the "At Phil & Joanna's 1.. 2.. 3.. and 4" (chapters of numbered gatherings of six friends at Phil & Joanna's house) I enjoyed tremendously.
LibraryThing member espadana
Barnes, you bastard. I'm sure you did it on purpose. You spent more than half your book with stories that were... well... nicely written but... lacking something? Uninteresting? Something like that. I was seriously considering stopping reading and starting some other book (something I almost never
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do, so I just kept going).

...and then you did that thing. You finished the first part of the book with a beautiful story, made even better by contrast with the previous. Not only that, but you included the five stories of part II. And that is where you finally laughed at me, at us, for doubting you. You sir, are a bastard, but a really talented one. I loved those stories, much more than I didn't the first ones.

Four stars. On to the next one now.
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LibraryThing member camharlow2
The overall theme of this collection of short stories is the personal relationships between couples, whether married or unmarried. The quality of the stories is variable, with the least successful and interesting being four interlinked tales featuring gatherings of friends at Phil and Joanna’s
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house. However the others illustrate the sometimes unsettling realisation that partial knowledge and misunderstandings can lead to the ending of love and friendship. But not all partnerships end unhappily and one of the secrets of successful compatibility would appear to be the sharing of small pleasures in life.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
A wet afternoon's first half is redeemed by a sunlit second half; if I had to read one more of those interminable sketches of the dinner party I would have thrown the book across the room.
LibraryThing member cookierooks
Acerbic and British to the core.
LibraryThing member Helenliz
This is a set of short stories in 2 parts. The first part are all modern, quite quick moving, quite light in tone. The second half are longer and more intense. Having listened to this, I didn't get the clear division of the book into 2 sections, however the stories themselves do that naturally.
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enjoyed the visits to Phil & Joanna's, with the middle class, middle aged couples sitting around the table discussing the great (and not so great)issues of the day. I think I know them!
Most of the stories concern relationships that are not going entirely smoothly, meaning it is not necessarily the sunniest of selections.
The best story, to my mind, was the final one and the titular story, where the protagonist is dealing with the break up of his marriage and contrasting it with his parents, as that also comes to an end. Moving and thought provoking.
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
Leaning towards fours stars, I resigned myself to the lower designation as though the observations were impressive, there wasn't an all becoming instant, there were no talons which lingered after the turning of the page. Sad, that.
LibraryThing member JRCornell
A volume of fourteen stories about loss, friendship, and longing
LibraryThing member adzebill
I enjoyed Barnes's case studies of imperfect or failing relationships and human frailty. The series of over-dinner dialogues with very wordy middle class chatterboxes "At Phil and Joanna's" was not as fun.
LibraryThing member kjuliff
Barnes is one of my favorite authors and there are a few gems here. The waitress. The dinner party conversations. Perhaps I would have not listened one after the other, but I got a bit bored with the narrator’s tone. The world-weary Britishness of it was a bit much and not appropriate for all
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stories. Stilling worth a read in these dark times of Covid lockdown.
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LibraryThing member saschenka
Solid collection, Barnes is best when novel length; some of the humour and language a little forced in places but there are classic Barnes observations throughout. “Marriage Lines” and Pulse” the two best entries. Barnes is truly admirable in his devoted query of love and relationships, he is
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unflinching yet compassionate. A bit commonplace for Barnes, no risks and no rewards overall. Going for poignancy but occasionally ends up a bit treacle.
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