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Levels of Life
by Julian Barnes

Overview -

An NPR Best Book of the Year
A "Daily Candy" Best Book of the Year
Julian Barnes, author of the Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending, gives us his most powerfully moving book yet, beginning in the nineteenth century and leading seamlessly into an entirely personal account of loss--making "Levels of Life "an immediate classic on the subject of grief.  Read more...


 
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More About Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
 
 
 
Overview

An NPR Best Book of the Year
A "Daily Candy" Best Book of the Year
Julian Barnes, author of the Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending, gives us his most powerfully moving book yet, beginning in the nineteenth century and leading seamlessly into an entirely personal account of loss--making "Levels of Life "an immediate classic on the subject of grief.
"Levels of Life" is a book about ballooning, photography, love and loss; about putting two things, and two people, together, and about tearing them apart. One of the judges who awarded Barnes the 2011 Booker Prize described him as "an unparalleled magus of the heart." This book confirms that opinion.
"Spare and beautiful...a book of rare intimacy and honesty about love and grief. To read it is a privilege. To have written it is astonishing." --Ruth Scurr, "The Times of London"
"A remarkable narrative that is as raw in its emotion as it is characteristically elegant in its execution." --Eileen Battersby, "The Irish Times"

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780385350778
  • ISBN-10: 0385350775
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publish Date: September 2013
  • Page Count: 128


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Artists, Architects, Photographers
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-07-22
  • Reviewer: Staff

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.)

 
BookPage Reviews

A widower's story

A meditation on love and grief, on soaring in hot air balloons and crashing into the Earth, Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life is a memoir occasioned by the death of his wife. But unlike the recent memoirs by Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates on the experience of their own bereavements, Barnes waited five years to craft this book, which is marked by a sense of perspective on the tragedy of loss.

Beautifully reticent with personal detail, Levels of Life opens from the outlook of a Victorian hot air balloon. The stories of three pioneering aeronauts—Fred Burnaby, Sarah Bernhardt and Félix Tournachon—offer a literally distanced view of humanity. These aeronauts were among the first people to look down at the Earth from the airy freedom of the sky. But that freedom comes at the cost of the inherent dangers of crashing and burning.

Which brings us to the love stories of the aeronauts. Burnaby loved Bernhardt, declared his love, and was wounded by her rejection. Tournachon was uxorious (an important word for Barnes): in love with his wife for the 55 years of their marriage until the day she died. We aspire to love like we aspire to the heights, but “every love story is a potential grief story,” says Barnes.

The memoir’s third section takes us to Barnes’ own grief story, when 30 years of love are ripped away in an instant by brain cancer. There were only 37 days, Barnes tells us, from his wife’s diagnosis to her death, and the loss forever of her “radiant curiosity.” This is about the only personal detail Barnes tells us, preferring to muse instead upon bigger questions: love, grief, anger, mourning and loneliness—“just the universe doing its stuff, and we are the stuff it is being done to.”

Levels of Life tells a universal story, a patterning of human existence best seen from the air. Julian Barnes is at his best in this subtle and intelligent memoir, even as it narrates the worst.

 
BAM Customer Reviews

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