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The Man in the Red Coat

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This could easily go in the Literature section, but since the book uses a John Singer Sargent portrait as its launchpad, I figured I'd put it here.  By now, I'll read anything new from Julian Barnes:  his novelization of Shostakovich's life in The Noise of Time is compelling and plausible, while Keeping an Eye Open is aspirational reading for me, as a lucid analysis of great paintings of the 19th and 20th Centuries, mingled with biography and history.

It took me a while to get on board with his latest, but it's a keeper.  On the surface, it's a biography of the man in the red coat, pioneering Parisian gynecologist Samuel Pozzi.  But it ends up being far more panoramic: a look at Belle Epoque Paris, the corrosive power of cultural chauvinism, turn of the century LGBT culture and attitudes, gun control then and now (France was gun crazy in the early 1900s, with famous docs like Gilles de la Tourette being fired upon by distressed patients), and much more.

Barnes is a master of the well-turned phrase and apt quotation (Flaubert is rightly one of his faves).  And as one who incorrigibly collects books, this is a thing of beauty: it's heavy in one's hand, has a satisfying number of full page painting and photo reproductions, as well as numerous smaller reproductions of collectible photos that were stashed in Felix Potin chocolate products (we got Honus Wagner baseball cards, they had pics of Sarah Bernhardt and Claude Monet).

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa


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