Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (read by Julian Barnes) Random House (audiobook) There's an eerie moment in this new recording of Julian Barnes' classic novel about life and literature. 'My wife died,' says the narrator Geoffrey Braithwaite, a former doctor and now biographer of Gustave Flaubert. There is another author here: Barnes, who reads his novel in a considered timbre that brings out its quiet power. When Barnes comes to this line, he pauses - both after the word 'wife' and 'died'. Barnes lost his wife, literary agent Pat Kavanagh, almost three years ago, and I wonder whether that inspired him to read his finest novel again (albeit in abridged form). This is just the sort of question Flaubert's Parrot explores: 'Why does the writing make us chase the writer? Why can't we leave well enough alone? Why aren't the books enough?' The novel doesn't have a plot so much as an idea that unspools. Recovering from his wife's suicide, Braithwaite uses Flaubert's life to make sense of his own. But why is he so interested - not least in a parrot? We gradually learn his wife had an affair, which explains the parallels with Madame Bovary. In the end, the parrot represents all the answers that elude our grasp.