Monday, April 28, 2014

Levels of Life

The last two books I've read were both excellent.
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht.
Levels of Life, by Julian Barnes.
I finished the Barnes one just tonight, so while it is fresh on my mind I want to say a few words about it. Firstly -- you should read it. At 128 pages, you can read it in a sitting. It's a slim little thing, but packed with searing relevance.
In 2008, his wife died. I say "died" instead of "passed away" because Barnes dislikes the term. What does "passing away" imply? That it will come back, sometime? That the distance between life and death is somehow bridgeable? 
It isn't. 
They had been married for thirty years -- and in this book, I learned a new word:
I had to look it up.
It means "having or showing an excessive or submissive fondness for one's wife." Julian Barnes was very uxorious towards his wife, and this book is a poignant memoir of the grieving and mourning process that he is still -- processing. It is interesting in its structure. Barnes begins with two chapters that seem to be going almost nowhere. Chapters about the history of ballooning, and photography. In the third and final chapter, we begin to see the significance of the metaphors.
It begins: You put together two people who have not been put together before. Sometimes it is like that first attempt to harness a hydrogen balloon to a fire balloon: do you prefer to crash and burn, or burn and crash? But sometimes it works, and something new is made, and the world is changed. Then, at some point, sooner or later, for this reason or that, one of them is taken away. And what is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there. This may not be mathematically possible; but it is emotionally possible.
I encourage you to read Levels of Life.
Never is Julian Barnes going nowhere in a book. And in this one, by revealing what he lost when the greatest part of who he is was literally… removed, he takes us everywhere. To the most important word in the universe. Starts with "L" and ends in "e".
Just like the book's title.


1 comment:

Stefanie said...

Sounds like a marvelous book. Barnes is definitely a great writer, I agree with you on that!