There's no way around the fact that Julian Barnes is smart - very smart. He writes with a refreshing confidence, and line by line, colon by clever colon, I think his work really holds up.
This is especially true of Flaubert's Parrot, a novel which I've meant to read for several years, but which I only finished recently. I think the critics are right to compare this book with those of Nabokov and Calvino: for me, it read part Pale Fire, part Winter's Traveler. This is a novel that dares to have a little fun: it's a sort of self-conscious (often irreverent) meditation on our love of art - and of writers.
I know I'm a little late to this one, but really, Flaubert's Parrot is a great read, if only because it asks us to take ourselves, as critics, just a little less seriously. I applaud you, Julian Barnes, for putting it all out there: "Is the great writer responsible for his disciplines?" you ask. "Who chooses whom? If they call you Master, can you afford to despise their work? On the other hand, are they sincere in their praise?" (1990 ed., 159)