Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Staring at the Sun is only Barnes’s fourth novel, but his career to date has been distinguished. His first novel, Metroland (1980), won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1981, while his third, Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Barnes received the E. M. Forster Award in 1986 from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He must be regarded as one of the most promising writers in the English-speaking world.

Barnes’s novels are distinguished by complexity of structure, varying from the extensive flashback technique of Metroland to the daring tripartite structure of this work, and the quasi-academic brooding of Flaubert’s Parrot (which should perhaps not be regarded as a novel at all). His themes include the multivalency of experience, the tricks of memory, and the nature of literary creation. Above all, though, Barnes is capable of extraordinary fullness of description and analysis, often succeeding in extracting fresh insights from yet one more account, or view, of incidents handled several times already. The achievement of Staring at the Sun is to persuade the reader that beauty and intelligence may lie beneath the most mundane of exteriors. It also acts as a searching examination of the nature of courage, or of courages, along a whole range from that of a fighter pilot to that of a frail and half-blind old woman.