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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barnes offers a unique insight into love, loss, and grief: a not to be missed experience
You wonder where this book is going shortly after you start it, what with 19th century French and British balloonist heading aloft into the unknown, unable to navigate the unpredictable winds, encountering risks (often fatal), and landing who could foretell where. But it is a fitting metaphor for Barnes' journey through the unpredictable adventure of married love into...
Published 15 months ago by James Connelly

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Picture of a private, individual, unrequited grief
Solipsistic and raw, rejects others' well-meaning gestures. I presume there are no children and my own experience (my wife of 33 years died at the same age at the same time) this does make a big difference to the grieving process. But many thoughts and metaphors that made me nod my head and sigh / chuckle / take a deep breath / shake my head in recognition. Writing it...
Published 19 months ago by pimlicon


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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barnes offers a unique insight into love, loss, and grief: a not to be missed experience, 8 Sep 2013
By 
This review is from: Levels of Life (Hardcover)
You wonder where this book is going shortly after you start it, what with 19th century French and British balloonist heading aloft into the unknown, unable to navigate the unpredictable winds, encountering risks (often fatal), and landing who could foretell where. But it is a fitting metaphor for Barnes' journey through the unpredictable adventure of married love into death and absence. He begins with the notion that "You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed. People may not notice at the time, but that doesn't matter. The world has been changed nonetheless."

It's all too easy to skip over that wonderful opening, for it seems so abstract. But the passage crystallizes his theme. So, it probably helpful to go back to the opening passage from time to time in reading this short but moving book. Early ballooning, its novelty, its risks (and perhaps inevitable crashes and fatality) prove to be an insightful metaphor for the married life Barnes shared and then lost with Pat Kavanagh. The final chapter on Barnes' experience of the enduring pain of loss and grief, persisting as others around him cannot understand how utterly grief still grasps him, resembles nothing else one is likely to have read in so distilled a treatment.

The book should not be missed; few authors have had the capacity to write something so personal, yet so authentic and immediate that it speaks directly to a reader. Don't be put off by the initial oddity of the extended ballooning metaphor: it is integral to Barnes' experience and purpose and seems in its way like the extended metaphors (metaphysical conceits) of John Donne and others. Barnes' prose is spare and masterful, but one would expect that of him.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, 28 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Levels of Life (Hardcover)
I have always been a fan of Julian Barnes. I must admit that with this book I read the last section first. I wept throughout. My husband died six and a half years ago. What Barnes describes are emotions, experiences, sad, laughable, incongruous, things I went through then, feelings that still engulf me. "Entrañable" is a word in Mexico I have never been able to translate satisfactorily but which exactly describes this book. Thank you, Mr. Barnes.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional book of love and loss; like no other, 22 April 2014
This review is from: Levels of Life (Paperback)
This book is heart-warming and heartbreaking at the same time.

It's non fiction and autobiographical and is 118 pages long.

It weaves the history of hot air ballooning and the loss of author Julian Barnes' wife.

This combination may seem implausible, but somehow it works to great success.

The book is split into three sections:

1. The Sin of Height - the history of hot air ballooning. This section is very factual and unemotional. In fact I struggled to get into the book on three separate occassions because the beginning was so dry. It was worth persevering of course, as the book is exceptional and very different to anything I've ever read before.

2. On The Level - describes the personal relationship between two of the hot air balloonists from the first section.

3. The Loss of Depth - is written in the first person and solely about Julian Barnes' grief at losing his wife four years previously. It is beautifully written, very honest and in places sad, but mostly it is a testament to how much he loved her. I have never read a more accurate portrayal of bereavement, in either non fiction or fiction before. Whilst reading the last chapter, I found myself rationing the pages left to read, as I didn't want the book to end.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well written, intelligent and deeply moving literature about what it is to be human.
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An essay on grief..., 4 April 2013
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Levels of Life (Hardcover)
In this short book, Barnes gives an intimate picture of his on-going grief over the death of his wife in 2008. It is not easy reading as it touches on aspects of grief that most of us will have faced at some time and will either still be going through or will with luck have moved on from. He starts with a contemplation of ballooning as a metaphor for love raising us to a higher level, but the bulk of the book is about how he has lived with his grief, including his musings on whether he would or will commit suicide.

I would prefer not to give this a 'star-rating' as it surely cannot be defined as 'I love it', 'It's OK' etc., but Amazon's review system doesn't allow for the unrated or unrateable. It is undoubtedly skilfully written and moving in parts. It is, and I'm sorry to say it, also self-indulgent - while accepting that other people have undoubtedly undergone grief, Barnes writes as if he is the first to truly experience and understand it. It also seemed strange that this man in his sixties writes as if he is encountering grief for the first time in his life. I suspect he is subtly making a case for the grief of an uxorious husband (he uses the word uxorious himself, several times) being greater than other griefs.

I would, I suspect, have found this deeply moving had it been a letter from a close friend, but its intimacy is too intense - it left me with an uncomfortable sense of voyeurism. He criticises, in ways that I'm sure would enable them to recognise themselves, his friends' attempts to console him with clichéd expressions of condolence and encouragement. Have we not all felt that? But have we not all understood the genuine warmth behind these clichés and forgiven the clumsiness? Indeed, have we not all been as clumsy when the situation was reversed? But I think it is his musing on the possibility of his own suicide, a future he does not wholly rule out, that left me feeling I had read a private letter addressed to someone else.

We will all react differently to this book and for some it may provide comfort to know that the feelings we feel are not unique to us. I wish I could have written an uncritical review of this - I considered not posting a review at all, but it seems to me that some people will be misled by the publisher's blurb, as I was, and find themselves reading not a novel about 'ballooning, photography, love and grief' but an essay on Barnes' personal road through his own grief - a road it seems he is still travelling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, understated, moving, 24 Sep 2014
By 
Jl Adcock "John Adcock" (Ashtead UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Levels of Life (Paperback)
Grief is such a personal thing that it is hard to write about, and even harder, surely, to share in the public domain. It either comes over as self-pitying or sensationalist, and yet Julian Barnes has managed to avoid those pitfalls here and produce an honest, pared back exploration of what it means to have loved someone and then lost them.

"Levels of Life" pulls no punches. It is direct, stripped back, and told with an economy of style that Barnes has really honed in much of his recent output. Whether it be in short stories, novels or memoir, he seems to have reached new heights in telling powerful stories in honest, beautiful language.

As other reviewers have commented, the opening sections on various characters and their love of ballooning and adventure don't initially seem much related to the powerful last third of the book. And yet they are important in sketching out the connections we make, the views of life we discover, and the patterns we inevitably look for in order to make sense of life and what it brings us.

The point that Barnes makes about not having loved at all being worse than having found someone and then lost them is extremely powerful. Almost a wake-up call to get out and live llife to the full and to share it, even though what lies in store is never going to be anything less than painful when grief and mourning come calling.

Not since Blake Morrison's "And When Did You Last See Your Father?" - have I read such a restrained and honest account of one of life's most feared - yet inevitable - experiences. Moving, elegant, essential - read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short and beautifully written, 12 Jun 2013
By 
Valley (Bournemouth) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Levels of Life (Hardcover)
Julian Barnes writes beautifully and this book begins with the story of a balloonist and an actress and their love story. This is very interesting but outside of the author but seems to give the author permission in the second half of this book to share his love story and his loss. He writes this without sentimentality, but in a very moving way. He shares much that remains in my mind and prompted reflection - I feel a sort of privilege to have been able to share this snapshot of him. An excellent read which leaves much to remember.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written.., 20 April 2014
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This review is from: Levels of Life (Paperback)
Very poignant account of loss and its sequelae.
Written with great lucidity and sincerity.
Highly recommended for those who have lost a spouse or partner.
Thank you for sharing this!
M C
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Picture of a private, individual, unrequited grief, 21 May 2013
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This review is from: Levels of Life (Kindle Edition)
Solipsistic and raw, rejects others' well-meaning gestures. I presume there are no children and my own experience (my wife of 33 years died at the same age at the same time) this does make a big difference to the grieving process. But many thoughts and metaphors that made me nod my head and sigh / chuckle / take a deep breath / shake my head in recognition. Writing it down: a task I have begun but not (yet?) completed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exquisite book, ingeniously linking an fascinating insight into ..., 13 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Levels of Life (Kindle Edition)
An exquisite book, ingeniously linking an fascinating insight into the history of hot air ballooning with a personal essay on the enduring pain of loss. The third section, dealing with Mr Barnes' deep sorrow at the death of his wife is a searing read but one which will resonate with those who have undergone such sorrows. This is a book which I am sure I will re-read many times.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "perhaps, with luck, to France", 5 April 2013
By 
emma who reads a lot (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Levels of Life (Hardcover)
We meet in this book a man who feels his life has been completely, irretrievably ruined by the loss of his wife. Though two interesting stories come before (about ballooning and Sarah Bernhardt) the main energy, soul, focus of the book is the last section, a grief-drenched piece of writing by her widower, describing what came after the death of Pat Kavanagh.

Barnes has always dedicated his books to his wife, and this one is no exception, and I found myself at times almost feeling envious of the extent of feeling he had for her. How lucky he was (and so also, how unlucky) to find someone he was able to love with such longevity and depth, feeling she was 'sexy', clever AND the ideal long-distance walking companion - there's not many that can say that.

Others have already remarked on the discomfort that attacks the reader as they glimpse the world of a mourner who cannot forgive clumsy, ill-thought ventures by others to say 'the right thing'. I thought this third section was brutally frank but also beautifully constructed - it doesn't have his prose's usual balance and wit, which isn't surprising given the subject matter, but it does have all its traditional power. He is able to capture so perfectly his own desire to watch unimportant football matches and his new addiction to opera, with all its dramatic, over-the-top emotions - suddenly making sense to a grieving husband.

The book repays re-reading. It ends with an odd sentence about escaping, 'perhaps with luck, to France'. This brings the whole book back to its beginning with the very earliest attempts to cross the channel in balloons. I loved this sense of completeness and circularity, in a book which seemed so ravaging at times. I loved how it connected with all his other writings and his passionate sense of France. (And I loved how it reminded me of standing on those clifftops by the Bleriot memorial looking back towards England!) It's by far his saddest book, but don't miss it.

PS To remind yourself that Pat was also lucky to have him, try afterwards reading Nothing To Be Frightened Of, one of the best, funniest, sweetest, most fantastic books about being afraid of dying / families / memory. A great counterbalance.

Update, 22 May
I just re-read this book, and on re-reading I noticed even more the connections between the different sections. On first go, the bareness of the grief in the final chapter is so raw that I ended up ignoring what a well-textured book it is overall (I see other readers here have been flummoxed by the same contrast). Second time around I saw how much the earlier sections emphasise lifting off, viewing the world from above, leaving earthly cares behind; I felt this clearly related to the ideas of the third section, about loss, suicide, death. And I was much more moved by the details of section 2: a tall Englishman meets a tiny, fine-boned, beautiful, Slav-eyed foreigner and falls completely in love with her, but cannot keep her with him.... His name is Mr 'Burnaby' - too close to Barnes! These first two sections now seem to me completely relevant, essential, and beautiful.
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Levels of Life
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (Hardcover - 4 April 2013)
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