Nothing To Be Frightened Of Paperback – 5 Mar 2009
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"Both fun and funny. It is sharp too, in the sense of painful as well as witty... Barnes dissects with tremendous verve and insight this awesome inevitability of death and its impact on the human psyche. He also tears at your heart" (New Statesman)
"A maverick form of family memoir that is mainly an extended reflection on the fear of death and on that great consolation, religious belief... It is entertaining, intriguing, absorbing...an inventive and invigorating slant on what is nowadays called 'life writing'. It took me hours to write this review because each reference to my notes set me off rereading; that is a reviewer's ultimate accolade" (Penelope Lively Financial Times)
"A brilliant bible of elegant despair...that most urgent kind of self-help manual: the one you must read before you die" (Tim Adams Vogue)
"Intensely fascinating" (The Times)
"An elegant memoir and meditation. A deep seismic tremor of a book that keeps rumbling and grumbling in the mind for weeks thereafter" (Garrison Keillor)
"This is the most enjoyable of all Barnes's books."See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Brilliant, Mr Barnes never fails to write anything that is not worth reading....Published 15 days ago by Thomas Small
Intelligent and witty, readable in every situation and in every mood.Published 5 months ago by Harry
I found Nothing To Be Frightened Of to be a book of two halves, and I'm wondering if Julian Barnes, or other readers, agree. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Roland Boland
'Homespun', entertaining writing, with noted Barnes astute observation of how we humans attempt to give value and meaning to our lives.Published 11 months ago by Michael Grimshaw
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