Flaubert’s Parrot

By Julian Barnes
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for November 2012

Why We Like This Book

Every now and then it is refreshing to dip into a piece of fiction that turns in on itself. Flaubert’s Parrot is indeed the type of novel that has very little to do with the conventional structure and devices that readers look for, but instead this work explores the life of a writer along with the critics, the writer’s circle, and confidantes and lovers. Although our narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, has a story of his own, it is buried beneath the fascinating and often bizarre life and actions of the author Gustave Flaubert. We like this book because it offers ironic, hilarious, and interesting perspectives of why fiction matters but also why life actually matters more.

Discussion Questions

1. Is Flaubert’s Parrot a piece of fiction or a work of contemporary literary criticism? How does Barnes push the limits of both? Is it a novel a work of ‘antischolarship’?

2. Who is the central character, Geoffrey Braithwaite or Gustave Flaubert? Can it be argued that Braithwaite is ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’? How does the reader react to both of these men?

3. Why does Geoffrey need to understand Flaubert the man?

4. Discuss how art and life intermingle in the novel. What is Barnes trying to tell us about this relationship? How do both Flaubert and Geoffrey react to it?

5. The novel features a number of unconventional chapters for a work of fiction. Why do you think Barnes includes these formats? Did you find any points that especially resonated for you as a reader?

6. What does this book say about writing through the questions: “Why does writing make us chase the writer?”; “Why aren’t the books enough”? (page 12); and the comments: “Books are where things are explained to you: life is where things aren’t…Books make sense of life….The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people’s lives, never your own”? (page 168)

7. What does the search for the truth about the two parrots tell us about the nature of life and reality?




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