Julian Barnes has a reputation for being unduly "cool" (due chiefly, I think, to fiction like Flaubert's Parrot). Even Salman Rushdie (no slouch among the ironically detached) had to admit his favourite portion of A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters was the half-chapter essay. I'm fond of Barnes's fiction and his essays. I think of them as the products of a gifted man working diligently to tease apart The Big Problems. And I'm grateful to anyone who takes a sincere crack at the task.
Don't miss this essay in The New Yorker.