Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The position and function of art in the social and cultural environment is, as in much of Julian Barnes’s work, a central concern in “One of a Kind.” Petrescu’s plan is to manipulate the social and cultural climate of Romania. If the plan is successful, the Communist Party will champion his novel as a great work of socialist art, and as a sanctioned edifice in the prescribed culture, it would, over time, insinuate its subversive irony into the national consciousness.

While writing The Wedding Cake, Petrescu, according to Tiriac’s tale, consulted frequently with other writers at regular meetings sanctioned and monitored by the party committee. During the consultations, he feigned befuddlement as he attempted to portray certain aspects of Soviet-dominated life, seeking advice and, in effect, making the party and its stable of writers complicit in his creation. The prescribed culture informs the very work of art designed to stealthily ridicule it. Culture and art inform and create each other in a messy partnership.

However, there is another thematic thread in the story that is also a recurring topic in Barnes’s work: the intermixing and unreliability of social, national, and personal history and the blurry distinction between fiction and fact when looking backward from the present. Petrescu’s book, as he conceives it, is to be, among other things, an epic history of Romania with all the required nods to its inevitable and...

(The entire section is 424 words.)