Julian Barnes is one of a handful of authors whose books I order without reading reviews or even knowing anything about the content of the book.. I have never been disappointed. Clever writing, a quirky sense of humor, interesting insights into the human condition, challenging questions. I love the way he writes, but even more, I love the way he thinks - and provokes my thinking.
So when my brother called to suggest Levels of Life, I immediately downloaded it and read it in an afternoon - it's a short read. This time, I was glad to have a heads up about the structure of the book, divided into three sections that didn't come together until the final section - and the nature of the last section, the powerful, deeply personal and pain-full essay, "The Loss of Depth", in which Barnes shares his five year journey in "the tropic of grief", following the death of his wife from a brain tumor.
This book is not for the faint of heart. Barnes' pain is palpable, and he is unflinchingly honest - whether he admits to contemplating suicide or describes the reactions of others, some helpful, and others not. (I winced when I recognized some of my own inadequate, unhelpful responses to loved ones traveling this terrain.) He doesn't seek to reassure or instruct. No sidebars about research on grief, no details that might evoke sympathy.
In the Independent from the U.K., the reviewer concluded with this paragraph: " "Every love story is a potential grief story," writes Barnes early on. Anyone who has loved and lost can't fail to be moved by this devastating book." I would add that anyone who has been bewildered, uncomfortable or impatient with the grief of another, as I admittedly have, can't fail to be enlightened by this intimate and courageous essay. It may well be that ultimately this latter contribution may be the most significant.
If you want to know more about the book in its entirety, I found this review to be particularly well done...