Monday, 21 October 2013
LEVELS OF LIFE by Julian Barnes
Not sure quite what I had expected. Someone once said to me that they always felt they had somehow missed the point when reading Julian Barnes, and I think I agreed. Levels of Life is a good book, split, on the surface, into three essays - or perhaps 'pieces of writing' is closer. The first two, which concern Nadar and the birth of aerial photography in the first and the affair of aeronaut Fred Burnaby and Sarah Bernhardt in the second provide the metaphorical lexicon with which Barnes describes the nature of his grief at the death of his wife, Pat Kavanagh. Perhaps a tad - forgiveably - disingenuously, he writes that "only the old words would do", because here he is finding a new way to describe an old "banal and unique" thing. Which is one of the things good writers are impelled to do: find new words for old thoughts and feelings. The poetry of grief is rich, and Levels of Life has the richness of poetry - one almost yearns for it all to be written on one page, with wide margins and that Faber font.