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England England - Julian Barnes

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Julian Barnes / Edition: 4 / Paperback / 272 Pages / Book is published 2005-03-18 by Picador

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      08.11.2009 16:50
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      not for me

      England, England is a book written by Julian Barnes and was nominated for the 1998 Booker prize. It concerns a flamboyant tycoon who decides to buy up The Isle of Wight and turn it into a giant theme park based on England expecting everyone to pay for the privilege of seeing everything that is great about the country. In it he places miniature versions of Stonehenge, Big Ben and the actual Royal Family. In turn he gets rid of the local population and replaces everything with an air of Britishness. However, beneath all of this plottage is an undertone of sexual malice and stiff upper lippidness along with filthy sleazy monarchs and a unionised Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

      The idea behind England, England is pretty solid but it's just so full of unbelievable moments it is very hard to think it could ever happen. On one hand Barnes tells an interesting story about a middle aged woman and her place in the world, on the other is this ridiculous 'buying' up of the Island from the mainland and this is where the book fails to deliver.

      I actually live on the Island myself and obviously have a very different viewpoint from the thousands of others who have read this book, I initially found out about it while trailing the trivia section of Wikipedia. Because of this I got annoyed by the characters that were obviously meant to be the 'heroes' of the story when in actual fact they were the ones who had taken over the Island. I also totally disagreed with their view on how 'England' appeared.

      I don't know much about Julian Barnes and I'm assuming that they never lived on the Isle of Wight and wanted to make the book as accessible to Americans as possible. In doing so he presents England much more like an episode of Friends in London, full of Cockerney Dick Van Dyke chappies which got on my nerves. Rather than filling The Island with black cabs, Routemasters and Beefeaters we all know it would be full of Jordan wannabees and Chavs.

      It's an odd and quaint version of England and while it tries ever so hard to be clever and philosophical it comes off pretty naff. Its extremely philosophical, nothing really happens for the first hundred or so pages making it a very hard read. In fact, the only reason I did read it was because of the Isle of Wight connection.

      However, I was only 269 pages long so I got through it in a couple of days whilst on holiday and made for an interesting diversion.

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