cover image Nothing to Be Frightened Of

Nothing to Be Frightened Of

Julian Barnes, . . Knopf, $24 (243pp) ISBN 978-0-307-26963-8

In this virtuosic memoir, Barnes (Arthur & George ) makes little mention of his personal or professional life, allowing his audience very limited ingress into his philosophical musings on mortality. But like Alice tumbling through the rabbit hole, readers will find themselves granted access to an unexpectedly large world, populated with Barnes's “daily companions” and his chosen “ancestors” (“most of them dead, and quite a few of them French,” like Jules Renard, Flaubert, Zola). “This is not 'my autobiography,' ” Barnes emphasizes in this hilariously unsentimental portrait of his family and childhood. “Part of what I'm doing—which may seem unnecessary—is trying to work out how dead they are.” And in this exploration of what remains, the author sifts through unreliable memory to summon up how his ancestors—real and assumed—contemplated death and grappled with the perils and pleasures of “pit-gazing.” If Barnes's self-professed “amateur” philosophical rambling feels occasionally self-indulgent, his vivid description delights. (Sept.)