Sunday 10 November 2013

'Levels of Life' by Julian Barnes

Ballooning, photography, love, and grief. Not an obvious combination of topics for a book. Split in to three sections, the first on ballooning and photography, the second a fiction about love, and the third about grief; it deals with big ideas and very real emotions.

I found the first section interesting, the second quite forgettable, and the third incredibly moving. The start of each section begins with an idea of putting two people/things together that haven't been put together before, and the consequences of this. This is pretty much the extent of the connectedness between each section, beyond a few mentions of characters throughout, and a couple of ideas that spring up in all of them.

The third, and longest, section focussing on life after the death of the author's wife is the most engaging and feels like the main purpose of the book. I almost decided against picking up this book because of some negative reviews saying Barnes comes across as bitter and self-centred, as though his pain is worse than that felt by others. I'm glad I ignored them and gave it a chance. It's a very honest portrayal of a deep grief, and one I think useful for those in a similar situation, or those wishing to understand what it's like to lose your partner. Although, as he says, grief is unique, and one grief can't explain another, there is a lot in here that will no doubt be familiar to others. One idea that I think will stick with me for a long while is that 'it hurts as much as it is worth'.

I'm not sure the book really works as a whole, but it is well written throughout and thought provoking. His portrayal of his grief over the death of his wife is honest and brave. Definitely one I'll come back to again and again.

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