Julian Barnes's writing, with its carefully calibrated shifts of tone, gently mocking humour and focus on affairs of the heart, is perfectly suited to the short-story format. Although his third collection, Pulse, is less thematically structured than his previous work, there is a fluidity and playfulness to this varied body of stories which, if not always successful, is often very pleasing.
Pulse is divided into two halves, the first being the funniest and most persuasive. The protagonist here is Barnes's version of The Good Bloke – a nice enough chap in early middle age, well meaning but liable to become hopelessly entangled by his insecurities. His antagonist, scarcely glimpsed