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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exit Strategy
The Grim Reaper: is he all bad? Having read this book it looks as though Julian Barnes certainly thinks so; some people are afraid of dying and some people are afraid of the blank eternal nothingness of death itself. I'd hold my hand up to the former - just the mere thought of hospital beds and pained-looks from relatives, not to mention all the weeping and wailing, makes...
Published on 29 Mar 2009 by Gregory S. Buzwell

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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Literary Grief
Julian Barnes is a great author and an interesting thinker, and his subject here is perhaps the biggest of all subjects - mortality: specifically, the deaths of one's parents, one's own decline and fall, the meaning of life. Important news, then, and from an important source. I very much looked forward to watching his perspective form, and perhaps finding comfort and...
Published on 8 Oct 2009 by Ms. S. E. Edgar


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Literary Grief, 8 Oct 2009
By 
Ms. S. E. Edgar "sue edgar" (Oxfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Nothing To Be Frightened Of (Paperback)
Julian Barnes is a great author and an interesting thinker, and his subject here is perhaps the biggest of all subjects - mortality: specifically, the deaths of one's parents, one's own decline and fall, the meaning of life. Important news, then, and from an important source. I very much looked forward to watching his perspective form, and perhaps finding comfort and wisdom, or even just a few laughs, in his elegant prose.

Unfortunately the book didn't quite live up to its promise - for me, anyway. This is a very literary book - a self-consciously literary book in which every thought, feeling, experience, is dutifully backed up by a strangely numb Allusion To Literature. Instead of calling on his vast literary experience to enliven or illustrate the deadening weight of the feelings we all experience when our parents die, I felt Barnes was actually using literature as a hiding place from the feelings he meant to engage with. The net effect is an apparent callousness - as if one's dad's death is just an excellent opportunity for another starred First. I'm sure that is not what he intended, and God knows we all need a place to hide ... The book was just a little smaller in scope than I'd hoped.

Still read it, though. He writes like an angel.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exit Strategy, 29 Mar 2009
By 
Gregory S. Buzwell "bagpuss007" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Nothing To Be Frightened Of (Paperback)
The Grim Reaper: is he all bad? Having read this book it looks as though Julian Barnes certainly thinks so; some people are afraid of dying and some people are afraid of the blank eternal nothingness of death itself. I'd hold my hand up to the former - just the mere thought of hospital beds and pained-looks from relatives, not to mention all the weeping and wailing, makes me shiver with horror, but eternal nothingness? No, I can't say I have a problem with that. Barnes sees things from the opposite view-point. Dying is fine, it's just the fact that it results in death which causes him problems.

Barnes is always a joy to read. He writes with a dry elegance and he invariably has interesting things to say. Here, amidst all the staring into the abyss, he writes with humour - and perhaps more warmth than he might care to admit - about his parents and grandparents: their lives and loves, and of course their final release from earthly bonds. He also writes with a fabulous gallows humour about funerals - the fat worm that positively seems to strut in the soil by the open grave - and the way in which we dream about dying (quietly, with dignity and a witty final line) differs from the sadly more common reality (howling into the darkness). He is also good on religion, indeed the book begins with something of an atheist's lament: "I don't believe in God, but I miss Him'. Barnes's brother, a philosopher, regards this sentiment as 'soppy' and I know exactly what he means but I'm with Julian on this one. I don't believe either, but I suspect I'd feel happier if I did.

There is a great deal of gloomy graveside meditation in here but every page is touched with humour, reflection and learning. Barnes is great at wheeling out the apposite quotation or anecdote. He's also good on the nature of memory and the philosophical examnation of death ('to be a philosopher is to learn how to die'). It's not a book for everyone but, for those of us who have ever reflected upon the welcoming grave, it's a beautiful and profound meditation on final things. A book to have by your bedside as the light fades....
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101 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly constructed discourse on life and death, 31 Mar 2008
By 
M. Davey (TELFORD, SHROPSHIRE) - See all my reviews
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I have long been a fan of Julian Barnes and purchased this new volume without reading reviews, as I now tend to do with favourite authors. I took it for granted that the writing would be excellent and it was. However, I was amazed at the feat that he has brought off here. The discourse on life and death, interwoven with autobiographical detail, passages about Jules Renard [and you don't need to know anything about him to enjoy the writing - to me he was only a name],combine to produce a stunning and thought-provoking book. It is one of the best he has written, for sheer content and style. Although death figures large, the result is never morbid. To me it is a celebration of life by one of the most literary of all writers. Where another author might have written separate chapters or disappeared down cul de sacs, Barnes has produced a masterpiece of constrained, fluid writing, integrating all the elements brilliantly.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition disappointing, 4 Oct 2011
By 
K. Thomas (UK) - See all my reviews
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I enjoyed the book, but I've logged on purely to comment on the Kindle edition, which is littered with typos. The numeral 1 is often substituted for the capital letter I, r often appears instead of t, and there are numerous other errors scattered throughout. I can only assume the text was scanned in from a printed version, and nobody bothered to check the text properly afterwards. I expect better.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on death I've ever read, 4 Jan 2009
By 
Until now Julian Barnes has always been opaque - his writing has been brilliant but you never felt you knew much about the man, except that he is clearly a person of exceptional observational skill and insight. Now we have something of him, and my admiration has only grown.

This book may not be a memoir, but it is beautifully revealing. Barnes talks us through the various ways death has been, and can be, approached, and is by turns darkly hilarious and darkly terrifying - his gallows humour is about the best you'll ever read. But always, always, he is sure-footed and ferociously honest.

See []
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Locked in his Head, 27 Feb 2013
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Julian Barnes thinks of death every day, and it horrifies him to think that, as for every one of us, one day sooner or later will be his last. He looks at the views of various writers on death, particularly the French writer Jules Renard, and considers the worms crawling in and out of the putrifying body. He does not believe in God, but wishes he did, and God is very much a character in this book as Barnes argues with him, contradicts him, points out various unwise and unfair parts of his creation; Barnes' God is a stern, tough, grumpy old man. Well, Barnes writes well and often amusingly, but he has no concept of what God might be, no concept of the spiritual, no confidence in anything other than the standard materialist scientific view of life today. He has no emotional understanding of his characters (this coldness being the chief fault of his novels) or appreciation of anything other than logic and reason. He found his mother a talkative pain in the neck, and this may be one reason why he is locked in his narrow, urban (nature? Forget it) ultra cerebral male world.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Julian Barnes does not need a Memento Mori, 21 Mar 2009
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Nothing To Be Frightened Of (Paperback)
Page 34: "This is not, by the way, `my autobiography'." The book is, however, intensely autobiographical, in a discursive rather than chronological or comprehensive way. It deals mainly, but not exclusively, with two themes that have occupied much of Julian Barnes' life: the fear of death which, despite the book's title (ah! but what if you take the word Nothing to mean Nothingness? p.99), has become an essential part of me" (p.62) and his attitude to religion: "I don't believe in God, but I miss Him." (p.1)

Julian has an elder brother Jonathan, a rather donnish philosopher, and he uses Jonathan's views as a foil to his own, for Jonathan seems genuinely not to be bothered by the prospect of death, and is philosophical not just in an academic but in a temperamental way.

And Julian discusses his memories with Jonathan who points to the unreliability of memories. (And this will be demonstrated beautifully towards the end of the book by a long and fascinating passage about a visit by Stendhal to the Church of Santa Croce). No matter: Julian's memories are recalled so vividly, so stylishly and so wittily that one can only say "si non e vero, e ben trovato" (if this francophile will pardon an Italian instead of a French expression). Besides, in another fine passage towards the end, Julian finely describes the craft of the novelist as the interplay between and the merging of memory and the imagination.

Julian draws richly on what other philosophers, composers and writers have said about death and how they have died. In the context in which this information appears, it is infinitely more rewarding than the lists Simon Critchley has provided in The Book of Dead Philosophers (see my recent review.) Julian must have made a note throughout his voluminous reading whenever the subject of death came up.

For he had always feared death, resented it, protested about it, and, in one of several incongruously vulgar expressions which mar an otherwise delicious and elegant prose, is `pissed off' about one of Montaigne's consolatory statements about it (p.42). (And I find it depressing to see this fine stylist stoop to the wholly gratuitous use of the F Word on a couple of occasions.)

He has progressed from very early atheism to agnosticism in his later years, but there is always a strong whiff of regret, a feeling that atheists and even agnostics miss something important. "God is dead, and without Him human beings can at last get up off their knees and assume their full height; and yet this height turns out to be quite dwarfish." (p.57)

There are some fascinating meditations about the response to religious art by people who no longer share the ideas that went into its creation. He wrestles, not all that originally but with his usual elegance, with age-old problems: whether we have Free Will or not; whether, and if so, how we differ from animals in this respect; of whom or what the `I' consists; what is our place in a world which is billions of years old and has billions of years to come; reflections that a good writer can expect go out of print a decade or two after his death (if not during his life-time), and even a great one will no longer be read a few centuries later: so not much of an after-life there either. And there are some delicious and, as far as I know, original extended metaphors: a particularly felicitous one is on p.191: perhaps God has set up a kind of labyrinth without exits to an after-life, just to watch us, as an experimental scientist watches rats scurrying around to find a non-existing piece of cheese behind a door that won't open.

This book wonderfully articulates what not only Julian Barnes but many other people have thought about death - though perhaps most of us have such thoughts only in the small hours of the morning when we cannot sleep, in the occasional conversations we might have with family or friends, or at times when our friends or relations have a distressing and lingering end. Julian Barnes conveys the impression - perhaps wrongly, because this is after all NOT an autobiography, but mainly musings on Death, God, and The Human Condition - that he thinks about these things obsessively all the time; and I have to say that, in the end, I found 250 pages of it just a little excessive.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think, but not all of the time!, 11 Aug 2009
This review is from: Nothing To Be Frightened Of (Paperback)
I'm glad I discovered Julian Barnes. His command of English and ability to summarise an idea is sublime - what most people have only as a vague soup of subconscious thoughts, he can put down on paper, to leave you lost in new trains of thought for a long time. This works well in a book that's mostly about dying, specifically Barnes' self-confessed fear of it. It's not a self-help book, and neither does it offer THE answer, or any answers at all. It actually digresses quite a lot on topics of the author's childhood, the unreliability of memory, and appreciation of art which dilutes the effect, unless you are interested in the particular topic. But every few pages or so it swells to deliver a statement where you just have to close the book and reflect on it. I personally found the general effect quite calming - perhaps because of my age, perhaps because of my own 'we'll cross that bridge when we come to it outlook on things. There is also quite a lot of humour. This book just worked for me at the time I read it - not that its intention is to calm or stoke your fear of death, such as it may be. It is food for thought, and probably worth re-reading every ten years to see how your opinions have changed. It is definitely worth reading just to enjoy the beautiful style of writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest book which offers many perspectives, 19 Jan 2013
By 
William Cohen (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nothing To Be Frightened Of (Paperback)
This book could be subtitled 'An anthology of literary anecdotes about death', Julian Barnes recounts the thoughts of literary figures on mortality as asides, woven into his own story of the death of his parents and grandparents. I picked it up in a bookshop in Brussels. I always enjoy reading Julian Barnes when I'm abroad.

Having had quite a religious upbringing, I was quite surprised by the author's lack of familiarity with organised worship and his bafflement at spirituality. I think I enjoyed it more because I studied French at university, so I knew all about Flaubert, Montaigne and the Goncourt brothers. It raised some important questions like 'should we die in character' - can we expect to live into very old age and retain our identity? It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, even if his conclusions are a bit bleak.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barnes sheds light on Death, 7 April 2008
"I may be dead by the time you are reading this sentence."

Julian Barnes gets all his thoughts on death down on paper before his doctor gets to him in the future to deliver the, Mr Barnes - I'm afraid it's not good news.

So the book is like a will drawn up in preparation for his inevitable death, by whatever form it takes. Although by all accounts Barnes is in good health and has many more years before him, he's written this book now as insurance against a rushed job as his draws his final breath.

So instead of a thinned narrative of a dying man, we get the literary genius of Barnes saying in full health ...

"Let's get this death thing straight."

And for us this is good news.
The book is thought provoking and demonstrates the ability of Barnes to intelligently consider a taboo subject. And far from being macabre, you feel like you are being invited to chat with Julian over an after dinner cigar. It's all very english:

"My fear of death is low-level, reasonable, practical."

Some would run around screaming, "We are all going to die!" in the face of death. Julian in effect says, calm down stop running around like a headless chicken, or worse still sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich and let's talk about it calmly over port and cheese.
He brings death out into the light, where it is less frightening.
Leaving it in the dark, is never a good idea - it's far scary. Julian flicks the light on for us and attempts to dispel the lurking beast from under the bed.

Julian also brings a good dose of humour in to wash down the bitter pill.

"Sometimes (I) find life an overrated way of passing the time."

Into the mix then are thrown God, Barnes' brother, French writer Jules Renard and some Barnes family memoir ( although he says "this is not my autobiography." )
So, for example, we get Barnes giving account as to how he let go of a possibility of religion as an adolescent,

"hunched over some book or magazine in the family bathroom, I used to tell myself that God couldn't possibly exist because the notion that He might be watching me while I masturbated was absurd."

and

"I don't believe in God, but I miss him."

Hmm - so God was there in the bathroom, until Julian couldn't bear the thought and banished him?!

Barnes' stance now? An agnostic -

"How can we be sure that we know enough to know?"

One of Barnes' recent books was called The lemon Table - a collection of short stories - The lemon being the Chinese symbol for death.
What Barnes does in Nothing to be Frightened of, is invite us in around his own lemon table and opens the discussion.

It feels like he really hopes he won't have the last word.
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Nothing To Be Frightened Of
Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes (Paperback - 5 Mar 2009)
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