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Nothing To Be Frightened Of Paperback – 5 Mar 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (5 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099523744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099523741
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 120,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"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)

Review

"This is the most enjoyable of all Barnes's books."

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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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Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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.

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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Format: 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.
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