No kidding. Those ideas, over a 25-year career, have produced ten novels, four additional novels written under a pseudonym, two story collections, two books of essays, lots of journalism and enough awards to make Tom Hanks jealous. And at 60 years of age, Barnes isn't stopping anytime soon. "I know what the next book is going to be, and perhaps the one after it," he says. Then, with the dry sarcasm a British accent achieves best, he says, "I'm beginning to get on top of this business." Barnes will read in Houston today as part of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. Joining him will be the onetime standard-bearer of the "literary brat pack" and legendary partyer Jay McInerney (his new book, The Good Life, comes out at the end of this month).
Barnes's latest novel, Arthur and George, is a fictionalized account of the lives of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the relatively unknown George Edalji, a half-Indian solicitor Doyle helped exonerate after he was imprisoned for crimes he didn't commit. The tale is steeped in truth -- it contains real articles and letters about the case and relies on biographies of Conan Doyle. But Barnes turned to fiction to write about the intimate lives of the two men, including Conan Doyle's lengthy extramarital affair, which he portrays as both passionate and guilt-inducing for the knight. "I think once you embark on fiction, then you follow fiction's rules," he says. "I didn't feel any scruples at all about fictionalizing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; I didn't feel any scruples about George."
Barnes is a cheerful, hilarious man -- the rare likable academic. While he writes frequently about deeply intellectual topics (Flaubert's Parrot, his most successful book, is about an English doctor's obsession with the French novelist), he also writes often about sports, food and culture, and always manages to come off as an expert without sounding snobbish. And he's endearingly eccentric: He composed Arthur and George on the same IBM 196C typewriter he's had for more than 30 years. "When I started this novel, after a few weeks my electric typewriter broke down, and I thought, 'It's time to bite the bullet,'" he says. So he used a word processor, but found that in doing so he "overcorrected," so he quickly repaired his typewriter, abandoning the computer -- mostly. "On the whole I use it for shopping," he says.
Today's Inprint event should be livelier than your usual reading. Barnes and McInerney are old friends; in fact, two weeks ago McInerney made a one-night trip to England to attend Barnes's 60th birthday dinner. Barnes, though thrilled to hear that McInerney was a last-minute addition to the Houston event, expressed a touch of concern: "Oh, dear, this is going to hurt my liver." Barnes and McInerney will read and be interviewed by their mutual editor, Gary Fisketjon, at 7:30 p.m. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-521-2026 or visit www.inprint-inc.org. $5.
Mon., Jan. 23