Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Levels of Life," by Julian Barnes

The wonderful writer Julian Barnes, about whom I have written here several times, has written a wrenchingly sad new book, “Levels of Life” (Knopf, 2013). It consists of three essays, the first two of which provide a sort of historical/philosophical context for the third. The third is the one that many people will go directly to: the author’s description of his mourning for his wife, with whom he had been for 30 years, and who died about four years ago, suddenly (“thirty-seven days from diagnosis to death”) and too soon. He takes us through his feelings, struggles with various aspects of grief, and is unsparing in depicting the depth and unrelenting character of his loss. Grief, he tells us, is “unimaginable: not just its length and depth, but its tone and texture, its deceptions and false dawns, its recidivism” (p. 75). Apparently he and his wife Pat had a very close relationship, and after she dies, he cannot imagine going on without her. Barnes avoids sentimentality; instead, he cuts to the core of elemental feelings. Although his situation is particular to him, it speaks universally to the terrible truth of death and the unfathomable pain it leaves behind for those who have loved the one who died.

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