AMONG THE CHINESE the lemon is a symbol of death, presumably because of its bitterness. The elderly German composer in 'The Silence', the final story in this unremittingly gloomy collection about old age and impending death, dines with the other old men at 'the Lemon Table' to talk about mortality. He looks back with sourness over his long and succful life: no memory pleases. The present is merely a period of waiting, punctuated by annoyance at those who enquire: When will your Eighth Symphony be finished? The only thing that lifts his heart is the flight of cranes - symbols of his lost boyhood. He wants to be buried with a lemon in his hand.
Now a ripe fifty-seven, Julian Barnes must be surveying the prospect of h sixties and presumably doesn't like what he sees, for acerbity and complaining curdle h tales like citric acid dropped in milk. 'A Short History of Hairdressing' contrasts three visits to the 'Barnet Shop' by the narrator -