Book clinic: which authors can be likened to Julian Barnes?

Comparisons to the Man Booker prize-winner are tricky, but our expert suggests an excellent starting point

I have just finished The Only Story and loved it – as I love all Julian Barnes’s books. Which other authors have a similar appeal?
Monica Verea, 65, Mexico

Rachel Cooke, author and Observer writer/critic, writes:
This is tricky question to answer: there’s no one quite like Julian Barnes, for which reason I’m wary of making comparisons. But perhaps a good place to start might be with a writer he admires. No, not Flaubert; I’m thinking, in this instance, of Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000).

Fitzgerald wrote nine brilliant and sometimes powerfully strange novels, among them The Blue Flower (1995), a fictionalised account of the life of the young Friedrich von Hardenberg (later better known as Novalis, the philosopher of German Romanticism), and The Bookshop (1978), recently made into a film starring Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy (set in Suffolk, The Bookshop comes with a wonderfully salty geography, and a stunningly weird early scene in which its heroine, Florence, is required to hold the slippery tongue of a horse while a marsh man called Raven files its teeth).

You might, however, want to try first Innocence (1986), a recent new edition of which comes with an introduction by Barnes. Set in Florence, Italy, in 1955, this is a comedy of manners about a guileless young woman, Chiara Ridolfi, who is the daughter of an old but increasingly impoverished Italian family, and her new husband, a communist doctor called Salvatore Rossi, who is violently in love with her. It’s a novel that seems to me to be an almost perfect late-summer read.

Submit your question for Book Clinic below or email


Rachel Cooke

The GuardianTramp

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