If Julian Barnes' new collection of stories has a theme it is 'rage in age'. Among the Chinese the lemon is the symbol of death. At the 'lemon table' (a coinage of Sibelius, protagonist of the final story) it is permissible - indeed obligatory - to talk about death, and each of Barnes' characters is facing death, but each in a very different way. The settings range from eighteenth-century Sweden and nineteenth-century Russia to the 'Barnet Shop', a hairdessing salon where an old man measures out his life in haircuts, or a South Bank concert hall where a music lover carries out an obsessive campaign against those who cough in concerts. In 'Knowing French' an eighty-four-year old woman, a former teacher 'incarcerated' in an old people's home, begins a correspondence with an author - 'Dear Dr Barnes' - that enriches both their lives. In 'Appetite' a woman reads elaborate recipes to her sick husband as a substitute for sex. In 'Hygiene' an old soldier makes his regular trip to town to do errands for his wife - stilton from Paxton's, rubber rings for Kilner jars, Elizabeth Arden powder - and to spend the afternoon with a tart called Babs. These stories are wise, funny, clever and moving.
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