She's certainly one of Fleet Street's finest - even if, as is evident, not the easiest of people (but then this is probably a requirement of being a good journalist). I still remember a number of her Independent on Sunday interviews, and that's without having re-read them in collected, book form. That's pretty good going, given they appeared nearly twenty years ago.
They don't all fix in my memory for particularly profound reasons - Richard Harris playing 'pocket billiards' during a tracksuit-trousered interview at, I think, The Savoy sits there indelibly, for instance.
However, I recall a couple of more serious aperçus. I think she said in the course of an Anthony Burgess interview (or possibly review) that she couldn't believe that someone who purported to love language so much could torture it so.
This comment - which has some truth in it: I don't think Burgess's love was ever a particularly comfortable thing - came to mind in Waterstone's a couple of days ago. I had ten minutes to kill and apart from admiring how the Notting Hill branch seemed to be transforming itself into a neighbourhood bookshop (the recommendations of 'bookseller' staff were prominently displayed) I had a quick look at which authors were being stocked at the moment, using that as a proxy for fashionability.
Poor old AB was only represented by A Clockwork Orange, despite having written over thirty novels. In the early '90s - around the time when Barber was doing her IoS interviews - the newspapers were debating whether Graham Greene or Anthony Burgess was the greatest living (or recently dead - they died in '91 and '93, respectively) English author. So quite a fall.
And I suspect Barber identified one of the reasons why. Burgess was deliberately demanding and, in some eyes, tiresomely tricksy in his use of language. That sort of modernism is not appreciated so much today. Being a devout Joycean he had a parallel earthy relish for the bodily - probably not as much of a disqualification for modern-day popularity. But then his further preoccupation with the mystique of the Catholic Church probably undid this good work.
The famous opening line of 'Earthly Powers' (how could Waterstone's not stock this one?) provides a summation of all this:
It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.
It's all there, really. And if I had to choose the most memorable Burgess word it would, I'm afraid, have to be 'micturate'. His characters do a lot of it in unembarrassed Bloom-like fashion but they never merely take a piss.
Not to everyone's taste, but I like it. And if you enjoy autobiography, his is a great read: the first of the two volumes, 'Little Wilson and Big God', is particularly good. I haven't read the Roger Lewis biography as it's one of those where the biographer comes to hate his subject so much he turns on him, Barberesque hatchet in hand. But it evidently struggles to repress entirely the positive. Blake Morrison summed up what Lewis thought of Burgess: 'lubricious, sentimental, callous, superficial, crapulous, arcane, laborious, sanctimonious and "essentially a fake"'. Who wouldn't want to read someone whose enemies described him thus?