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Levels of Life

By Julian Barnes (Random House)


I’ve thought about it for weeks and I still can’t wrap my head around this book. Sometimes, that’s a good thing–not here. Barnes’ last book, The Sense of an Ending, was infinitely re-readable, gorgeous and effective. I expected more of the same. But subject matter got in the way. When Barnes’ wife passed away, he devoted this book to the subject of grief–through a thinly veiled exploration into the history of ballooning. He makes a few weak metaphorical comparisons between the two, but ultimately, grief wins out. In the final third of the book, “The Loss of Depth,” Barnes’ agenda becomes clear: he is an atheist coming to terms with his belief that his wife is now nowhere; nothing. Ultimately, he reminds us, cynically, “Every story is a potential grief story.” The reader is made victim to Barnes’ gravitational pull; he succeeds only in demonstrating that what comes up, must come down.

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