This brief book contains three personal essays by Julian Barnes. The first chapter explores the history of hot air ballooning, and, to be completely honest, I was often bored while reading the details of various balloon flights. The history is presented as a series of vignettes, and the overall effect is a bit disjointed and halting. The second essay is also historical in nature and covers a love affair. I found this one to be more engaging than the first but still not as interesting as I had hoped from an writer as great as Julian Barnes. The final essay is, by far, the most personal of the three. It covers Barnes's own grief over the death of his wife of 30 years. This essay is touching and sensitive and worth the price of the book.
Written after the death of his wife, this loosely connected set of three essays is mostly trivial (the first and most of the second) and at others plain spoken and very moving (the third).
a moving picture of mourning, remembering and living a book that I will remember for its message and for the beauty of the writing
ulian Barnes does melancholy and grief with such beautiful restraint, and not the kind that comes off as self-denying or repressed but, instead, feels sacred. There is distance and privacy. He writes: "I look at my key ring (which used to be hers): it holds only two keys, one to the front door of the house and one to the back gate of the cemetery.” Just a glimmer into his life is enough.
Barnes never rips open his heart for us, and yet there's no doubt about his pain and the trauma of his wife's death. But for Barnes's meditative essay on his personal grief, what gives Levels of Life such power and incandescence for me is his weaving of history, fiction, and personal diary. Each mode by itself is solid, but together the writing becomes elevated, incendiary and moving. Flickers of historical account (the days of ballooning) are mixed in with personal anecdotes and reflections in this marvel of intertwined prose. And yet the writing never gets baggy. It is plain and never deflects or obfuscates. Barnes gives us an honest look at what grief does. Barnes also never breaches the privacy of his wife's memory and yet she hovers in the book, the driving force of his words.
Barnes begins with the observation that “you put two things together that have not been put together before. And the world is changed.” Economic progress, artistic expression, scientific advancement, and even the heart and life of a man. The inverse of that: that those two things can be separated and the world can fall apart, is a shadow on the rest of the book, and there is a great, yawning journey before we reach that wrenching realization.
"In Levels of Life, author Julian Barnes, winner of the 2011 Man Booker prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending, mourns his wife's death. He does so at indirectly at first, expressing the love they shared through elegant essays that celebrate the love between 19th-century aeronauts and their passion for flight itself. Finally, Barnes more directly addresses his grief, describing briefly the illness and death of his wife, Pat Kavanagh, and considering at greater length his emotions and the universality of loss and loneliness." Biography and Memoir November 2013 newsletter http://www.nextreads.com/Display2.aspx?SID=5acc8fc1-4e91-4ebe-906d-f8fc5e82a8e0&N=701378
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