Julian Barnes is a bit of a wino. I meant this not in the American way; I mean he is an enthusiast and connoisseur. A month or so I bought and read “Pulse”, his most recent publication of short stories, and it was so good I subsequently bought “The Lemon Table” which so far, at least to my taste, is even better. Indeed one story – the “The Story of Mats Israelson” – is why I’m here.
The master of literature, or at least modern literature, as far as I am concerned, is Mr Rushdie. I met him once – Waterstone’s in Notting Hill, early Summer of 1997. I had accepted my first job in the wine business that same day. He jumped when I said hello – this makes for a rather good story as he had every reason to be jumpy at the time. I congratulated him on “The Moor’s Last Sigh”, though to say that I congratulated him is rather like saying that I congratulate the Sun on a good Summer day. I rather thanked him for it. And to translate into the vinous, Salman Rushdie is Haut-Brion: the best though, as with Haut-Brion, not everyone knows it. Though those that do know that they are right. The Moor’s Last Sigh is up there with the 1989 or 1990.
I remain a fan of Martin Amis. And yes: he’s a first growth too, albeit a rather inconsistent one. And his flashiness, combined with the on-off brilliance, is rather Mouton-esque. “London Fields” or “Money”: you’d be hard pushed to find a better read (in coach to NY). The finish is occasionally short: comes quicker than you would think. But both “Time’s Arrow” and “The House of Meetings” are genuinely profound. “The Pregnant Widow” is what I would describe as “complete, if a little over-ripe, too well-made”. That would be modern Mouton. Brilliant, though just asking for a kicking from the snobs and the critics. 2009.
Norman Mailer? Brilliant. But he’s a Dom Perignon and cocaine mixer and driving your Porsche home at high speed after the two. You almost ride his novels: you get on them. “The American Dream” is probably 1996 Dom Perignon and powder fresh from the mountains. The Porsche is a late 1970s Turbo.
But back to Julian Barnes and the Story of Mats Israelson.
On finishing this, I felt complete. I felt like a man who had smoked his last cigarette and was enjoying the air in his lungs. The story is lost love, but that’s not the point. The point is the style – the precision. A precision that I struggled to define, though the memory of something similar was filed somewhere in my brain, albeit in a non-literary drawer. The memory was 2001 Chevalier-Montrachet, Leflaive. You could put this note to the story or the wine:
Impeccable precision. Defined, balanced; impeccable focus. Multi-layered within the precision. No gloss, just pin-sharp polish. Complete.