31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
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....