I first came across Barbarians by Tim Glencross on Netgalley and was drawn by its description — “a bold and confident debut novel about politics, money, and art in contemporary Britain”.
The title comes from Matthew Arnold, the English writer and poet. Arnold classified society into Barbarians, Philistines and Populace — the ruling elite, the middle classes and the working class.
Tim Glencross focuses on the elite in Barbarians. The novel opens at a party in Islington in 2008 hosted by Sherard Howe and his wife Daphne, a feminist author. At the party are the central cast of characters. These include the Howe’s son Henry and his adopted sister, Afua — a formidable twenty-something-year-old politician. Among the guests is Elizabeth ‘Buzzy’ Price, an aspiring poet with whom Henry appears to be in love. Buzzy, however, has an unrequited passion for Afua’s partner, Marcel.
Essentially this is a tale of Cambridge graduates carving out their careers in wealthy London society. The action spans 2008 to 2011, coinciding with the great financial crisis.
It’s a story about love with some politics, money and art in the mix.
For me, the characters are somewhat flimsy and Barbarians lacks pace but, to be fair, satire rather than plot and pace is the order of the day and the writing is entertaining which makes for an easy if at times somewhat rambling read.