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4.3 out of 5 stars
138
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 24 April 2013
Briefly - I thought this book was a slightly self-indulgent ramble.
The third section, dealing with his grief after the loss of his adored wife was puzzling.
Grief and grieving is such a personal thing - no special insights - a private trawl though his feelings.
I adore his writing, but not this book.
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on 23 April 2015
Very moving and thought provoking discussing the feelings and thoughts one has experienced the ultimate in pain - when someone you love dies.
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on 24 March 2014
Painfully honest book about love. A wonderfully written biographical book about love and loss and the unique woman married to the author.
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VINE VOICEon 24 September 2014
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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on 10 August 2015
Absolutely wonderful especially for those who who's partners have died, really helps to organise and express your feelings and thoughts.
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Levels of Life is an unusual thing. It is not a novel; not a biography and not a memoir. The closest it probably comes to classification is a long essay, bound in its own hardback cover.

The subject matter: grief. Julian Barnes's grief.

We start out with a couple of rather dull stories about ballooning. The central conceit is that sometimes, when two things come together the world is changed. The first story is a mini-history of ballooning, ending when ballooning and photography come together to create something new.

The second story is a sort of love story between the French actress Sara Bernhardt and an English balloonist, Frederick Burnaby. It doesn't quite work out.

The third, longest section, is Barnes's outpouring of grief about the death of his wife. He expresses the intensity of loss, and also the undiminishing nature of the loss. He appears to take a swipe at others who experience grief in a lesser form - perhaps they simply did not love their lost ones as much as Barnes loved his wife. As he keeps reminding us, he is uxorious. Similarly, he swipes at those who grieve publicly in outpourings of tears - perhaps they are less dignified than Barnes.

Julian Barnes does convey his grief and despair in a most effective way. However, by opening a window onto his soul, one inevitably passes judgement on the soul. The result is not favourable. Barnes criticises the reactions of his friends as though they are unfeeling. They might avoid mentioning his wife's death at all, or perhaps use the wrong words, or perhaps seek to console. Nothing is quite good enough for Barnes. This may be his point, that there simply are no words that could work. But it makes him look churlish and miserable. And it's not as though his past works suggest he was a laughing boy before his wife died - The Lemon Table was a lengthy whinge about the injustice of ageing.

This reader, at least, was left wondering why Julian Barnes felt that the world had to know the extent of his grief. Were we supposed to think he was a man of unusual delicacy? Were we supposed to be impressed by the extent of his love and the length of his devotion? Were we meant to feel pity? Were we meant to wonder how he had managed to write something as impressive as Sense Of An Ending in such terrible circumstances? And on that subject, Barnes mentions a friend of his who was given a Damehood long after her partner had died - with the result that she felt she wasn't fully a dame because her partner didn't know about it. By extension, we are presumably to infer that Barnes does not feel himself to be fully a Booker Prize winner...

The sadness is that this reader was left rather cold, rather uninterested (see, Julian, I used the right word!). A man who appeared petty and humourless was unhappy. Big deal. Remind me precisely why I should have paid $15 to discover that.

As an essay goes, there are occasional attempts to cross-refer between the ballooning and the death of his wife, but they feel rather stretched. The first sections feel like padding to justify the sale of what would otherwise have been a 50 page vanity piece.

Others may get something from this, and fair play to them. There is good writing in the text and there is no doubt that Julian Barnes suffered for its creation. But it didn't feel like enough to justify the claim on readers' time.
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on 9 April 2016
Nobody writes better than Julian Barnes. This book is so well written, so concise, and has so much meaning. It's to treasure.
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on 4 November 2016
I would highly reccomend this book to anyone who is grieving or has ever grieved. It is quite simply astonishingly brilliant.
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VINE VOICEon 10 April 2013
This is a very short book at less than a 120 pages - but such is its artistry that it says so much more than many a bloated 600 page so-called literary masterpiece.There are three sections - the first a factual account of the early days of hot air ballooning and photography, the second a fictionalised account of the love affair between two of the real life characters mentioned in the first part. The final section is memoir - a first person account of the impact on Julian Barnes of the death of his wife. It is extremely moving and part of its power is the way that Barnes revisits the the first two parts and their metaphors and images in such resonant ways. This book is about the heights to which love can take you, about being on the 'level', and about times when there appears to be no depth at all. Highly recommended.
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on 21 December 2015
Arrived promptly as promised. Excellent writing. Short book, big themes, warrants a slow or repeated read. Most valuable.
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