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.
I enjoyed "Pulse" more than any other modern collection of stories since Alice Munro's "Runaway" from six or seven years ago.
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.
...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.
I 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.