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Conversations about Death: Julian Barnes’s The Lemon Table


Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario


This article discusses a selection of The Lemon Table’s short fictions as conversations that Barnes is conducting about death and the following related topics: the nature of the aging process and the question of whether it prepares us for and softens the assault of death; the question of the stability and integrity of the self in the face of death; the degree to which values such as love can compensate for the finality of mortal life; and the possibility of some form of immortality, be it spiritual or artistic. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism and Steven Connor’s ideas about the addressive aspect of narrative, the article analyzes the dialogues about death, arguing that some are intratextual in that they involve characters within and across the book’s stories. Barnes is also participating in a kind of dialogue with other writers whose ideas he engages with and whose techniques he adapts. He is also conversing with himself, inasmuch as he revisits topics that he explored in earlier books. Finally, he is also addressing his actual readers. This article shows how the narrative forms and techniques that Barnes utilizes in the stories complicate and problematize this communication with readers, rendering it circuitous and oblique. This complexity, however, strengthens rather than weakens the communicative bonds, because it complements and enhances the stories’ themes.


Keywords: Julian Barnes, death, old age, addressivity, dialogism, identity, memory, immortality, The Lemon Table


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