Book Review: Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

This slender volume – containing three essays entitled “The Sin of Height,” “On the Level,” and “The Loss of Depth”- is an erudite, reflective and profound meditation on love and loss. Of course it is – this is Julian Barnes we are talking about here.

The first two sections deal with early hot-air ballooning (including a fictionalised love affair between Fred Burnaby and Sarah Bernhardt). This sort of folding and involution of “reality” and “fiction” is something Barnes has of course explored throughout his long and storied (see what I did there) career.

The final section brings the strands, and images together to talk about, well, loss, grief, madness. Barnes knows of what he speaks – his wife of more than thirty years died after a sudden and brutal illness in 2008.

I cannot recommend this one highly enough. An hour or two to read, but – I suspect – will stay with you for decades.

[See also Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love]

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