*SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA BOOK AWARDS 2020*
'A bravura performance, highly entertaining' Evening Standard
The Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel Pozzi.
In the summer of 1885, three Frenchmen arrived in London for a few days' shopping. One was a Prince, one was a Count, and the third was a commoner, who four years earlier had been the subject of one of John Singer Sargent's greatest portraits. The commoner was Samuel Pozzi, society doctor, pioneer gynaecologist and free-thinker - a scientific man with a famously complicated private life.
Pozzi's life played out against the backdrop of the Parisian Belle Epoque. The beautiful age of glamour and pleasure more often showed its ugly side: hysterical, narcissistic, decadent and violent, with more parallels to our own age than we might imagine.
**SHORTLISTED FOR THE DUFF COOPER PRIZE 2019**
Inspired by seeing John Singer Sargent's portrait of Samuel Jean Pozzi at the National Gallery in London, Booker Prize winner Barnes (The Only Story) investigates the life of the 19th-century French "society doctor" in this wry, essayistic, and art-filled account. Crediting Pozzi with "transforming French gynaecology from a mere subdivision of general medicine into a discipline in its own right," Barnes sketches his subject's relationships with Henry James, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde, among others, and illuminates the Belle poque in France, a period that might retroactively appear as "a last flowering of a settled high society," but at the time felt more like "an age of neurotic, even hysterical national anxiety." Beginning with Pozzi's June 1885 trip to London, Barnes episodically charts the doctor's rise from "Bergerac boy to Parisian high society," recounting his marriage to a railroad heiress; his numerous affairs, including with actress Sarah Bernhardt; and his advancement of modern medical procedures. Barnes's wit ("bad smells are good reminders") and expert plundering of source material (the Princess of Monaco called Pozzi "disgustingly handsome") add a lightness of touch that counterbalances the heavy load of names, dates, and obscure historical events. Full of admiration and deep feeling for its "progressive, international, and constantly inquisitive" subject, this sparkling account takes on added resonance in a moment marked by a return of nativism.