Letters from London by Julian Barnes

November 9, 2009 at 12:00 am 2 comments

lettersfromlondonMy copy of Letters from London by Julian Barnes has an inscription in the front that reads, “To Anne/If writing is the best thing that comes from London — that ain’t bad/Enjoy, Ian, Pippa & Jenna.” While Anne apparently did not agree with Ian, Pippa and Jenna (she did sell it to the Strand, after all), I am in complete agreement with the trio and, what’s more, absolutely adored this book.

Letters from London is a collection of Barnes’ essays from The New Yorker that he wrote when he was their London columnist. The essays span from 1990-1995 and give an absolutely brilliant summary of relatively modern London. As a historian of British history, the last clear grasp of England’s situation that I have is around the waning years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Of how the mighty empire came to its current state with Queen Elizabeth II and Gordon Brown is primarily a mystery to me. Margaret Thatcher is a name I know well enough, but I don’t really know anything about the person or the policies she espoused. Winston Churchill is a similar figure. Letters from London beautifully bridged the gap for me from the British Empire I knew to the modern England I wanted to know better.

The book is divided into essays about various topics, but all mostly pertaining a little bit to politics. Whether this is a comment on the pervasiveness of politics in British society or simply represents an interest of Barnes I can’t say, but it was very helpful to me, the doltish American, and helped me understand the modern British political system.

It is difficult for me to pinpoint what was so wonderful about this book aside from lauding what an excellent education in gave me in regards to modern Britain. Barnes is obviously an excellent writer and, after reading this and Arthur and George, I am extremely excited to read something more of his. But, Barnes’ writing aside, I remain convinced that the best part of this book is that I feel much more equipped to go over to England next year and not have to ask idiotic questions like “So, Labour and Tory…which is Democrat and which is Republican?” So thank you, Julian Barnes, for giving me at least that smidgen of credibility.


Entry filed under: Non-fiction. Tags: , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  November 9, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Hey, this book sounds great and like a wonderful introduction to British politics!

    Also, I now want to name my hypothetical second daughter Pippa. Probably my first daughter, actually, because as much as I love the name “Victoria Grace”, naming my daughter Philippa and calling her Pippa would not only make my father happy, but would evoke Great Expectations as well :D

    • 2. Corey  |  November 9, 2009 at 11:43 am

      Isn’t Pippa a great name?! And it being short for Philippa is even better! It took me a minute to figure out why your dad would be happy, but I’m now on board. :)


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