Talking It Over Talking It Over
by Julian Barnes

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Talking It Over

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

TALKING IT OVER is Julian Barnes’ sixth novel. He has made a reputation for writing dazzling fiction and is probably best known for his remarkably inventive novel FLAUBERT’S PARROT (1984). Barnes has been criticized in the past for being too clever for his own good, and in TALKING IT OVER he cannot resist the urge to show off his verbal wizardry. The three Londoners of the story are in their thirties. Stuart Hughes is a banker who meets his future wife, Gillian Wyatt, through a dating service. The third member of the triangle is Oliver Russell. He has been Stuart’s best friend since grade school, and he has struggled to make ends meet as an English instructor. Gillian had been a social worker, but that became too depressing for her, so she changed to restoring old paintings.

Each of the three characters reveals his or her personality through narrative voice. Stuart comes across as solid, if not a little plodding, whereas his colorful friend Oliver talks like a dictionary. Gillian, sensible and shy, unintentionally comes between Stuart and Oliver when she marries Stuart. TALKING IT OVER allows these characters to analyze the dilemma in which they find themselves. Stuart and Oliver become rivals, since Oliver decides that he also truly loves Gillian. Oliver speaks to the reader and criticizes his longtime friend as being unworthy of Gillian. Barnes manages to interject comedy as the three characters make a mess of their lives. Gillian is finally won over by Oliver and leaves Stuart. Eccentric goings on seem to take on a life of their own; the characters flounder about attempting to make sense of what it means to be in love in the contemporary world. For all the hilarity of TALKING IT OVER, there is a tinge of sadness that pervades the atmosphere as human vulnerabilities are laid bare.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. October 20, 1991, XIV, p. 3.

Library Journal. CXVI, September, 1991, p. 227.

Los Angeles Times. October 17, 1991, p. E4.

New Statesman and Society. IV, July 19, 1991, p. 35.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, October 13, 1991, p. 9.

The Observer. July 7, 1991, p. 57.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, August 2, 1991, p. 63.

The Spectator. CCLXVI, July 20, 1991, p. 25.

The Times Literary Supplement. July 12, 1991, p. 19.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, October 13, 1991, p. 5.