Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

(Book 118) Our second read in the year of This Book Club Has Gone to the Birds is Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes. Our hostess for the evening had suffered a traumatic experience the week before when her small dog Tucker was attacked by a much larger dog and died as a result of his injuries. The subject line of my thank-you email and summary was “Karen’s Pupper.”

No, I’m not going to write a book about Tucker and whether there were two of him or as many as 50. I’m just going to say that as a book club group of gals we have weathered many things and, at least in my experience, it has always helped to talk it out, vent, laugh and cry with all of you. I’m also going to compliment Karen for the fortitude to host us after such a traumatic event, and Marcia for helping Karen through the previous week and preparing such a lovely meal.
Melissa and I celebrated four birthdays on the heavily-trafficked drive to Evanston, but luckily when we arrived there was immediate wine, which was recommended by Marcia’s wine guy at Trader Joe’s who when told what book we’d be discussing responded (and I paraphrase) “Were you able to finish it?!?” I’m also told that he found wine with a bird on the label though I didn’t check out the bottle myself. There was crudité with spinach dip, so many kinds of cheese with crackers and toasts, and my favorite, paté! We’ve already had two accent aigus in this description, so it was clearly French in inspiration.

It was while we were eating the lovely appetizers that I gave Karen her hostess gifts, a journal adorned with birds and the original bird art “True” by my brother Paul Yohnka. True references the heart the bird is wearing, true love, but Barnes book is all about the parrot from Flaubert’s Un Coeur Simple. Instead of a simple heart, I gave her a true heart, or Un Coeur Vrai?

The meal was a lovely salad with cubed beets, an incredible potato dish with leeks and mushrooms (recipe, please) and the most delicious prime rib with horseradish sauce. I saw something I don’t remember ever seeing: Mary had seconds! As amazing as the dinner was, the true pièce de résistance was the mixed berry pavlova for dessert. (Somehow my piece was cut up and served to all at table.) Marcia was alarmed to learn that in addition to Geri’s gluten issue, she is also allergic to eggs, so could not enjoy the pavlova. Luckily, there were also heart-shaped chocolates on the table which kept Geri satisfied with both dark chocolate and loving messages. (I hope Jack can live up to that.)

There were eight of us tonight. Marcia and Karen were in the kitchen when this photo was taken and the picture I took of them was blurry.
Marcia put this down at my place at the table. Wouldn’t you think it was a single serving? I did, but I was wrong.

The book: Well, it was challenging. I said that it was one of those books that was smarter than me and had me looking up latin phrases, character names from Madame Bovary and “what does Anthony Powell have to do with coincidence?” From the general reaction, I could tell that most felt it was a little more challenge than we want out of a book, Linda commented that the animal chapter did her in, but Marcia said she’d made a few notes of moments that stood out as profound, and Chris found it delightfully clever (or should I say hilarious?) throughout. We straightened out that Anthony Powell wrote Dance to the Music of Time which is filled with a kind of irony or coincidence. Chris read a passage that suggested that the book was very much about literary criticism. We talked about the often noted requirements for happiness: stupidity, selfishness and health and tried to pin down why the British equivalent of DNR is No 333. One of my favorite aspects of the book was the Flaubert claim: “I attract mad people and animals.” It so resonated with me, I had to ask how many of us felt that way and I was joined by Geri and Chris. Linda was hesitant; she felt she could claim she attracted animals, and I have to guess that maybe her long-time friend Geri is the only mad person she’s ever attracted.
Karen and Marcia, thank you for hosting such a lovely evening and thanks to all of you girls for the entertainment. I just wish Mary and Linda wouldn’t have talked about sex all night and that the parrot could have kept his beak out of the wine.
Our next meeting to discuss the 607-page-long Wind-Up Bird Chronicle will be Tuesday, March 24 at Geri’s.
Votre Chef Intrépide (sans peur)

Oh, wait, that wasn’t Mary and Linda who talked about sex all night, that was me. It came from my frustration of being worked up by reading City of Girls. While I enjoyed everything that was involved in the theatrical production of the stage play City of Girls, I thought the book as an explanation to Angela about what her father was to Vivian was ludicrous and that there was waaaaaaaay to much sex. I reiterate I am no stranger to sex but why would you write about your abundance of sexual encounters in a letter to a woman who is curious about your relationship to her father. Eeww, says Angela. TMI.
And in fairness, the parrot did not consume any wine. While he was asleep, I posed him in compromising positions. I regret that now.

Flaubert’s parrot was tres gentille, friendly, talkative, fun to be with at the outset.
The more he dipped his beak, the more defensive and argumentative he became.
By 10:00 he’d passed out cold, it was just so embarrassing. Don’t over-serve your parrot, even if he repeatedly says: Polly wants a pinot.