Levels of Life

Julian Barnes. Knopf, $22.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-3853-5077-8
British novelist Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) offers a delicately oblique, emotionally tricky geography of grief, which he has constructed from his experience since the sudden death in 2008 of his beloved wife of 30 years, literary agent Pat Kavanagh. The “levels” of the title—a high, even, and deep “moral space”—play out in the juxtaposition of two subjects that are seemingly incongruous but potentially marvelous and sublime together, as Barnes delineates through his requisite and always fascinating historical examples: the 19th-century French photographer Nadar’s attempts to unite the evolving science of aeronautics (“the sin of height”) with the art of photography for the first astounding aerial views of Earth; and English traveler and avid balloonist Colonel Fred Burnaby’s passion for the bold, adventurist French actress Sarah Bernhardt. The shocking death of Barnes’s wife left him feeling flattened and suicidal. In his grieving turmoil, he questions assumptions about death and mourning, loss and memory, and he grapples eloquently with the ultimate moral conundrum: how to live? (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/22/2013
Release date: 09/24/2013
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