From the award-winning writer, a swift narrative that turns on the death of a vivid and particular woman, and becomes the occasion for a man’s deeper examination of love, friendship and the mysteries of biography.
This novel of unrequited platonic love springs into being around the singular character of the stoic, exacting Elizabeth Finch. When Neil, the narrator, takes her adult education class on Culture and Civilization, he becomes deeply fascinated by this private, withholding yet commanding woman. While other personal relationships and even his children drift from his grasp, Neil hangs tight to Finch and her unorthodox application of history and philosophy to the practical matters of daily living. Neil wants as much to figure her out as to please her intellectually, both impossible.
In Neil’s story, readers are treated to everything they cherish in Barnes: his eye for the unconventional forms love can take, a compelling swerve into nonfiction (this time through Neil’s obsessive study of Julian the Apostate, following the trail of crumbs Elizabeth Finch has left for him after she dies), and the forcefully moving undercurrent of history and biography as both nourishment and guide in our daily lives. Finch is a character who challenges the reader as much as her students to think for themselves, and leaves us searching for a way to deal with one of her simplest of ideas: “Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us.”