Kate's Reviews > Nothing to Be Frightened Of

Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes
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's review
Mar 31, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: gift, own, nonfiction, favorites
Read in February, 2010

It's hard to know what to say about this book. A lot of reviewers seem underwhelmed, and from what I can tell it has a lot to do with what they expected and how the book failed to live up. I guess I can't really criticize that, because my response to do it was pretty personal, too. Without getting gruesomely intimate, I'll say that I hoped (knowing Barnes's fear of death superficially resembled mine) that reading this book would mean encountering in erudite form the thoughts I've struggled with for years but never been able to put into words. It did, so perfectly that by the last ten or twenty pages, the extent to which he had distilled the terror of extinction was enough to make me put the book down without finishing.

Leaving that aside, I thought this interconnected and self-referencing series of essays and vignettes was fascinating, poignant, educational, funny and unique. Some of Barnes's writerly eccentricities that I found alienating in Flaubert's Parrot, like (what I then perceived to be) an over-familiarity with authors, poets, composers and artists past, are put to good use here. If you are preoccupied with the idea of dying (especially if you lack religious faith and are conscious of the self-satisfied certainty you therefore do not have about death), in this book you will find a like-minded club of thinkers: Stravinsky, Goethe, Turgenev, Maugham, Flaubert (of course) and Barnes himself, among others. But rather than intimidating figures, in this book they are sympathetic and accessible. That's because Barnes weaves their contributions (excerpted from published writings, letters, diaries) into the narrative in a manner akin to conversation, rather than subjecting their views to study. You get the feeling you're participating in a roundtable discussion with the author and these men.

Michel de Montaigne: To be a philosopher is to learn how to die.
Julian Barnes: I wouldn't mind Dying at all, as long as I didn't end up Dead at the end of it.
Jonathan Miller: I cannot actually conceive, can't make sense of the notion of total annihilation.
Jules Renard: The word that is most true, most exact, most filled with meaning, is the word 'nothing'.
Philip Larkin: Not to be here, / Not to be anywhere, / And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

Don't worry, it's not actually written like this.
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message 1: by Lavina (new)

Lavina Eek. Me too.

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