More than once, Flaubert’s parrot, put me in mind of Poe’s raven:
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Poe’s bird was capable of speech in a limited way – “never more” – while Flaubert’s parrot was dead and stuffed and completely silent. The narrator in Barnes’ novel is a widowed phsycian whose hobby is Flaubert, his writings and what could be called Flaubertiana, that is, the letters and memoirs, real estate and things associated with the French author of Madam Bovary. Two museums have rival parrots, one of which may have been the stuffed bird which inspired LouLou, the live bird in Flaubert’s A Simple Heart. Whatever LouLou had to say, her prototype explains nothing.
Things and events come in two and threes: two parrots, three statues of Flaubert in Rouen, two or three mistresses. Early on, the narrator complains about this sort of complexity.
When a contemporary narrator hesitates, claims uncertainty, misunderstands, plays games and falls into error, does the reader in fact conclude that reality is being more authentically rendered? When the writer provides two different endings to his novel (why two? Why not a hundred?), does the reader seriously imagine he is being ‘offered a choice’ and that the work is reflecting life’s variable outcomes? Such a ‘choice’ is never real, because the reader is obliged to consume both endings.
Barnes then proceeds to spin a tale or tales of multiple endings, multiple interpretations. I think I prefer the raven, enigmatic, but a single bird.