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First edition cover
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Flaubert's Parrot is a novel by Julian Barnes that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1984 and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize the following year. The novel recites amateur Flaubert expert Geoffrey Braithwaite's musings on his subject's life, and his own, as he tracks a stuffed parrot that once inspired the great author.
The novel follows Geoffrey Braithwaite, a widowed, retired English doctor, visiting France and the Flaubert landmarks therein. While visiting various sites related to Flaubert, Geoffrey encounters two incidents of museums claiming to display the stuffed parrot which sat atop Flaubert's writing desk for a brief period while he wrote Un coeur simple. While trying to differentiate which is authentic Geoffrey ultimately learns that (n)either could be genuine, and Flaubert's parrot could be any one of fifty ("Une cinquantaine de perroquets!", p. 187) that had been held in the collection of the municipal museum.
Although the main focus of the narrative is tracking down the parrot, many chapters exist independently of this plotline, consisting of Geoffrey's reflections, such as on Flaubert's love life and how it was affected by trains, and animal imagery in Flaubert's works and the animals with which he himself was identified (usually a bear, but also a dog, sheep, camel, and parrot).
One of the central themes of the novel is subjectivism. The novel provides three sequential chronologies of Flaubert's life: the first is optimistic (citing his successes, conquests, etc.), the second is negative (citing the deaths of his friends/lovers, his failures, illnesses etc.) and the third compiles quotations written by Flaubert in his journal at various points in his life. The attempts to find the real Flaubert mirror the attempt to find his parrot, i.e. apparent futility.
- Julian Barnes discusses Flaubert's Parrot on the BBC World Book Club
- Julian Barnes Website (Flaubert's Parrot), with extensive bibliography of translations and scholarly articles.
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