Published in 1980, Julian Barnes’ Metroland chronicles the coming of age story of Christopher Lloyd who grows up in the suburbs of London, his exciting time in Paris in 1968 as a graduate student, and the beginning of his ensuing marriage. The book took Barnes between seven and eight years to write and can be read as a largely autobiographical account of Christopher Lloyd and his best friend Toni who share a disillusionment with the bourgeois lifestyle of the establishment forces of cosmopolitanism (Bailey).
The book traces the diverging paths that both Christopher and Toni as they enter adulthood through three parts. The first part outlines the subversive relationship between Chris and Toni in the suburbs of London. Part two is the account of Chris’ time in Paris during the 1968 uprisings in Paris, which he misses because he ‘is too busy having sex’ with his girlfriend at the time. This period in his life, humorously recounted by Barnes, attempts to draw a distinction between the radicalism of Chris’ ideals and the practices he takes up in his everyday life. Barnes brings out this diversion in a memorable scene when Chris is drunk and wants to have sex with Marion but she can hardly recognize him when she quips, “Anyway, I want it to be you that I make love to.” Chris replies, “It’s me! It’s me, darling.” Then Marion counters, “No, it’s not. It’s eight pints of lager with an erection.”
The third part brings us to Christopher’s next phase where despite his youthful anti-establishment ethos, he eventually takes the route of a bourgeois lifestyle when he takes a publishing job. He gets married to a safe and secure woman and they have kids and buy a house. Meanwhile Toni becomes disillusioned with his one-time ally that now embodies everything they once stood against. Christopher comes to the realization that his current existence is normal and mundane, but this does not necessarily mean that he is unhappy or unsatisfied.
The book calls into to question what it means when you become what you once despised (Levin). The tumultuous generations that came to consciousness during the 1960’s, as Christopher does, continue to face this reality as they enter retirement and begin to adopt conservative ideals and politics as their life takes on new responsibilities. Julian Barnes’ Christopher epitomizes this inherent contradiction through this first person account that draws you into a dichotomy we all may have to face in our lives.
Bailey, Paul. “Settling for Suburbia.” Times Literary Supplement (28 March 1980): 345.
Levin, Bernard. “Metroland: Thanks for the Memories.” Sunday Times (London), 6 April 1980: 42.