Read Before She Met Me Online

Authors: Julian Barnes

Before She Met Me

Praise for
Julian Barnes’s
BEFORE SHE MET ME

“Few will be able to resist its easy humor and almost insidious readability.… Barnes has succeeded in writing one of those books that keeps us up until 2:00 a.m.”


The New York Times Book Review

“Barnes’s books … celebrate the human imagination, the human heart, the boisterous diversity of our gene pool, our activities, our delusions.… They thrill the mind and the emotions; and he achieves, without tricks or puns, what Nabokov loved: esthetic bliss.”


Chicago Sun-Times

“Julian Barnes [is] one of today’s most rewarding writers.”


Chicago Tribune

“There is an irresistible blend of wit and intelligence in his work.”


New Statesman

“Frighteningly plausible … stunningly well done.”


Guardian

“Julian Barnes is one of a handful of innovative English novelists who have succeeded in pulling the English novel out of the provincial rut in which it lay.”


Newsday

“[Julian Barnes] demonstrates what a fabulous independent voice can accomplish when it keeps kicking away the crutches of contemporary fiction.”


Philadelphia Inquirer

“[Barnes] is not merely a dazzling entertainer … he is a no-nonsense moralist as well, and is as dexterous with the darker elements of betrayal and pain as with the farcical mechanics of love and clashing temperaments.”


The New Yorker

Julian Barnes
BEFORE SHE MET ME

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester, England, in 1946, was educated at Oxford University, and now lives in London. His first six novels—
Metroland, Before She Met Me, Flaubert’s Parrot, Staring at the Sun, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters
, and
Talking It Over
—have brought him international acclaim.

ALSO BY
Julian Barnes

Metroland
Flaubert’s Parrot
Staring at the Sun
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters
Talking It Over
The Porcupine

Copyright © 1982 by Julian Barnes

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Great Britain in hardcover by Jonathan Cape, London, in 1982.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Barnes, Julian. Before she met me / Julian Barnes.

p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-79778-0
I. Title. [PR6052.A6657B4 1992]
823’.914—dc20 92-50091

v3.1

To Pat

Man finds himself in the predicament that nature has endowed him essentially with three brains which, despite great differences in structure, must function together and communicate with one another. The oldest of these brains is basically reptilian. The second has been inherited from the lower mammals, and the third is a late mammalian development, which … has made man peculiarly man. Speaking allegorically of these brains within a brain, we might imagine that when the psychiatrist bids the patient to lie on the couch, he is asking him to stretch out alongside a horse and a crocodile.

Paul D. MacLean,
Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases
,
Vol. CXXXV, No 4, October 1962

II vaut mieux encore être marié qu’être mort
.

Molière,
Les Fourberies de Scapin
.

Contents
ONE
Three Suits and a Violin

The first time Graham Hendrick watched his wife commit adultery he didn’t mind at all. He even found himself chuckling. It never occurred to him to reach out a shielding hand towards his daughter’s eyes.

Of course, Barbara was behind it. Barbara, his first wife; as opposed to Ann, his second wife—the one who was committing the adultery. Though naturally, at the time he didn’t think of it as adultery. So the response of
pas devant
wasn’t appropriate. And in any case, it was still what Graham called the honey time.

The honey time had begun on April 22nd, 1977, at Repton Gardens, when Jack Lupton introduced him to a girl parachutist. He was on his third drink of the party. But alcohol never helped him relax: as soon as Jack introduced the girl, something flickered in his brain and automatically expunged her name. That was what happened at parties. A few years earlier, as an experiment, Graham had tried repeating the person’s name as they shook hands. “Hullo, Rachel,” he’d say, and ‘Hullo, Lionel,’ and ‘Good evening, Marion.’ But the men seemed to think you homosexual for it, and eyed you warily; while the women asked politely if you were Bostonian, or, perhaps, a Positive Thinker. Graham had abandoned the technique and gone back to feeling ashamed of his brain.

On that warm April night, leaning against Jack’s bookshelves and away from the turmoil of warbling smokers,
Graham gazed civilly across at this still anonymous woman with neatly-shaped blondeish hair and a candy-striped shirt that was silk for all he knew.

‘It must be an interesting life.’

‘Yes, it is.’

‘You must … travel around a lot.’

‘Yes, I do.’

‘Give demonstrations, I suppose.’ He imagined her cart-wheeling through the air while scarlet smoke hissed from a canister strapped to her ankle.

‘Well, that’s the other department, really.’ (What department was that?)

‘It must be dangerous, though.’

‘What—you mean … the flying?’ Surprising, Ann thought, how often men were scared of aeroplanes. They never bothered her.

‘No, not the flying bit, the other bit. The jumping.’

Ann put her head on one side by way of interrogation.

‘The jumping.’ Graham placed his glass on a shelf and flapped his arms up and down. Ann put her head further on one side. He grasped the middle button of his jacket and gave it a sharp, military downward tug.

‘Ah,’ he said finally, ‘thought you were a parachutist.’ The lower half of Ann’s face formed itself into a smile, then her eyes moved slowly from sceptical pity to amusement. ‘
Jack
said you were a parachutist,’ he repeated, as if the reiteration and the attributed authority made it more likely to be true. In fact, of course, the opposite was the case. It was doubtless another example of what Jack called ‘making the knees-up go with a swing you silly old cunt’.

‘So in that case,’ she replied, ‘you aren’t a historian and you don’t teach at London University.’

‘Good God no,’ said Graham. ‘Do I look like an academic?’

‘I don’t know what they look like. Don’t they look like everybody else?’

‘No they don’t,’ said Graham, quite fiercely. ‘They wear glasses and brown tweed jackets and have humps on their backs and mean, jealous natures and they all use Old Spice.’ Ann looked at him. He had glasses and a brown corduroy jacket.

‘I’m a brain surgeon,’ he said. ‘Well, not really. I’m working my way up. You have to practise on other bits first: stands to reason. I’m on shoulders and necks at the moment.’

‘That must be interesting,’ she said, uncertain how far to disbelieve him. ‘It must be difficult,’ she added.

‘It is difficult.’ He shifted his glasses on his nose, moving them sideways before settling them back exactly where they had been before. He was tall, with an elongated, squared-off face and dark brown hair erratically touched with grey, as if someone had shaken it from a clogging pepper pot. ‘It’s also dangerous.’

‘I should think it is.’ No wonder his hair was like that.

‘The most dangerous part,’ he explained, ‘is the flying.’

She smiled; he smiled. She wasn’t just pretty; she was friendly as well.

‘I’m a buyer,’ she said, ‘I buy clothes.’

‘I’m an academic,’ he said. ‘I teach history at London University.’

‘I’m a magician,’ said Jack Lupton, loafing at the edge of their conversation and now canting a bottle into the middle of it. ‘I teach magic at the University of Life. Wine or wine?’

‘Go away, Jack,’ said Graham, firmly for him. And Jack had gone away.

Looking back, Graham could see with urgent clarity how beached his life had been at that time. Unless, of course, urgent clarity was always a deceptive function of looking back. He had been thirty-eight then: fifteen years married; ten years in the same job; halfway through an elastic mortgage. Halfway through life as well, he supposed; and he could feel the downhill slope already.

Not that Barbara would have seen it like this. And not
that he could have expressed it to her like this either. Perhaps that was part of the trouble.

He was still fond of Barbara at the time; though he hadn’t really loved her, hadn’t felt anything like pride, or even interest, in their relationship, for at least five years. He was fond of their daughter Alice; though, somewhat to his surprise, she had never excited any very deep emotions in him. He was glad when she did well at school, but doubted if this gladness was really distinguishable from relief that she wasn’t doing badly: how could you tell? He was negatively fond of his job too; though a bit less fond each year, as the students he processed became callower, more guiltlessly lazy and more politely unreachable than ever.

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