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Levels of Life

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Part history, part fiction, part memoir, Levels of Life is a powerfully personal and unforgettable book, and an immediate classic on the subject of grief.
Levels of Life opens in the nineteenth century with balloonists, photographers, and Sarah Bernhardt, whose adventures lead seamlessly into an entirely personal account of the author's own great loss. 

 "You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed..." Julian Barnes's new book is about ballooning, photography, love and grief; about putting two things, and two people, together, and about tearing them apart. One of the judges who awarded him the 2011 Man Booker Prize described Barnes as "an unparalleled magus of the heart." This book confirms that opinion.

144 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 4, 2013

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About the author

Julian Barnes

152 books6,049 followers
Julian Patrick Barnes is a contemporary English writer of postmodernism in literature. He has been shortlisted three times for the Man Booker Prize - Flaubert's Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005), and won the prize for The Sense of an Ending (2011). He has written crime fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh.

Following an education at the City of London School and Merton College, Oxford, he worked as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. Subsequently, he worked as a literary editor and film critic. He now writes full-time. His brother, Jonathan Barnes, is a philosopher specialized in Ancient Philosophy.

He lived in London with his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, until her death on 20 October 2008.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,734 reviews
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,149 reviews1,682 followers
April 10, 2022

Julien Oncete

A bassa voce, dopo aver spento le luci e lasciato solo un abat-jour, Julian Barnes ci porta in alto su aerostati palloni mongolfiere introducendoci ad alcune delle prime esperienze di volo…
E poi, come se il senso di vertigine acquisito ascoltando i suoi racconti non fosse sufficiente, d’improvviso, trasformando pagina 69 in pagina 70, annulla ogni profondità scagliandoci in quella più abissale, la morte, e l’amore…
Ancora più giù, e sempre più su, la morte dell’amore, la morte della persona amata…
Come la terra vista dalla luna (dall’alto?), da quella profondità prospettica è immota pressoché perfetta immersa nella quiete cosmica…
Come osservare se stessi da lontano…
La morte di sua moglie dopo trenta anni di amore vissuto insieme…

Julian Barnes con la moglie.

Elaborazione del lutto?
Inutilità del dolore, piuttosto.
La vita va avanti?
Il pensiero del suicidio che si propone, piuttosto (prestissimo, e molto razionalmente).
Come combattere il dolore, come anche solo arginare la solitudine?
Scrivendo, esercitando il raziocinio.
Operazione che ha successo?
No, dice Barnes – e io gli credo, anche se altri leggendolo diranno che invece è riuscita.

I primi due capitoli sono preparatori al terzo, che è il cuore del libro: come se avesse voluto costruire un’impalcatura per evitare che fosse un puro urlo di dolore.
Il dolore indebolisce, non rafforza, isola, allontana.
Ha continuato a piangere la moglie, a sognarla, a cercarla nella memoria, l’unico modo per noi umani per ripetere la discesa di Orfeo – a parlarle ad alta voce, perché dire che qualcuno è morto non vuole dire non esiste.

Erwin Blumenfeld

L'ha amata così tanto da sostenere che è la vita ad aver perso con la sua morte.

Senza seguire regole precise, che non esistono, non esistono vie d’oro, ma solo aspettare e ascoltare il cuore.
In tedesco esiste la parola “sehnsucht”, che non ha traduzione in inglese, e neppure in italiano, parrebbe: è lo struggimento, l’inconsolabile desiderio per qualcosa o qualcuno che non possiamo raggiungere.

Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews871 followers
December 4, 2013
The title announces the premise: there are definite highs and lows in life and a great author (like Barnes) can lay them out metaphorically and emotionally. At the topmost level we soar, giddy with love, thrilled by the ride. At the unlucky other end, we may have lost a loved one, crashing hard in the fall, crippled by grief. Barnes probed these levels by structuring this short book into three parts:

1) “The Sin of Height” -- this is essentially an extended metaphor depicting freedom and flight by way of three celebrated balloonists in the late 19th century. One was an English officer and adventurer, Colonel Fred Burnaby; another was the most famous actress in her day, the exotic French bohemian, Sarah Bernhardt; and the third was a French inventor who was the first to combine ballooning and photography (another metaphor), a man they called Nadar. This section contains historical snippets, switching often among the subjects. In these we learn that Burnaby is bull-headed, Bernhardt is free-spirited, and Nadar is “very witty and very stupid.” Aside from the factoids about the people and their experiences, we get a sense of the excitement and unpredictability of ballooning and also how the sin of height may be punished. Remember that guy Icarus?

2) “On the Level” -- the focus in this section was on Burnaby and Bernhardt who did meet in real life, but whose full story is left to Barnes to flesh out. Anyone who has read Arthur and George, the historical fiction Barnes wrote about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a falsely accused solicitor named George Edalji, knows how effective this format can be, where actual events are filled in with plausible details and dialog to bring the story alive. The romance between these two larger-than-life figures was not fully requited in the end. Its main purpose, it would seem, was to transition us between the highs of Part 1 and the lows in Part 3. It also spoke in generalities and abstractions. “Why do we constantly aspire to love? Because love is the meeting point of truth and magic. Truth, as in photography; magic, as in ballooning.” The title of this section was repeated in the text. Was Sarah “on the level” with Fred as they came to their understanding?

3) “The Loss of Depth”-- this was the meat of the book; its real, albeit sad purpose. “It was 37 days from diagnosis to death,” Barnes wrote of his dear wife. As long as I’m quoting, he reminded us, too, that “every love story is a potential grief story.” A gifted writer like Barnes speaks of his emotional state with honesty and clarity without any of the overwrought melodrama could have resulted under the circumstances. Nor did he sugar-coat the ordeal. He was frank about how little happiness there is in just the memory of happiness. His pain was displayed at its worst when he discussed his carefully choreographed suicide plan. Fortunately, the time came when he knew he would not kill himself. He said “I realised that, insofar as she was alive at all, she was alive in my memory.” So memory matters after all. I hope, too, that even as he felt “sharply the loss of shared vocabulary, of tropes, teases, short cuts, injokes, sillinesses, faux rebukes, amatory footnotes – all those obscure references rich in memory but valueless if explained to an outsider,” that these things would remain rich.

The goal of this three-part exercise was clear. Parts 1 and 2 were meant to set the stage and provide context for the memoir/essay in Part 3. The grief language was expanded by way of contrast with the earlier theme (or in concert with the theme when it happened to go wrong, e.g., hurtling a balloonist’s legs a foot deep into a flower bed and exploding his organs). The truth is this level breakdown felt a bit forced at times. I won’t criticize too harshly, though, since each section worked well enough individually even if the set of them didn’t cohere.

This had to have been a difficult book for Barnes to write. I imagine a form of tunnel vision applies where you can only see things from your own painful point of view. The solipsistic undertones were no doubt born of honest emotion. Friends typically didn’t help much. He would complain about those who would mention her name too often and those who would avoid mentioning it at all. The words “passing away” and “losing her” irked him, too. And he really hated (as would I) those who would cite as Gospel truth that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. All that is understandable. I suppose, too, that this was meant to be less of a tribute to his wife and more of an in-depth exposition on grief. (See Calvin Trillin’s About Alice for one that is a touching memorial to the love of a man's life.)

Barnes asserted that grief is a state whereas mourning is a process. His book was primarily about the state, but near the end he did mention in more hopeful terms that he’s getting better. One thing that helped was when a widow he knew told him “it hurts as much as it’s worth.” He finally learned to accept his pain in those terms. And, of course, time helps. As does a realization that he’s not alone in missing her; others do too. I also thought that having used “uxorious” half a dozen times (which must be a record) that he wore the word like a badge. If this book was part of the process for moving on, I’m glad for his sake he wrote it.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
778 reviews
February 7, 2018
As I type these words, there's a huge stack of books in my sight line. The books lie horizontally rather than vertically but the spines look interesting laid flat that way. Their various colors and widths are like a graphic representation of the layers of geological strata beneath the earth's surface, a cross section of the world, as it were.

The books in the stack are the ones I selected at the beginning of January from the mountain of unread books I own, and I'm determined to reduce the selected pile to its base by the end of 2018. You may scoff, but in the last three weeks, I've succeeded in lowering it by three books. One was a slim book admittedly, but the pile is noticeably reduced and I feel uplifted.

My unread books project is not a high-level undertaking of course. In a world where volcanos and earthquakes regularly destroy not only peoples' piles of books, if they are fortunate enough to have them, but their entire lives, my little project is as low-level as you can find. However life can sometimes find a foothold in the shallowest of crannies, and I feel a definite level of satisfaction at having successfully begun the year on such a reducing principle. Some people resolve to shed weight, I've resolved to shed unread books.

There are gains in subtraction too. The book pile may be shrinking but I am growing, and this slim book is not without an impact on the heightening of my perceptions and the deepening of my understanding of the world. If you read Levels of Life, you may also see your view of the world expand and deepen.

Now to remove the next top-most book from the pile, one which I've been looking forward to reading for a while. But just as I reach for it, the chunky overly-decorated spine of a book I placed on the bottom seems to taunt me, accusing me of scuppering its chances by relegating it to the most inaccessible position. You don't really want to read me at all, it insinuates, you didn't believe you'd ever get to the bottom of the pile.
I know deep down that there's truth in that accusation - the book was a gift, after all, not of my own choosing, and by relegating it to the bottom level, it's as if I've sunk it to the depths forever. Sympathy for the underdog does battle with my enormous prejudices against the book, but the underdog eventually wins, and with one mighty heave, I haul it up from the underworld of the book stack. Ok, John Banville, I say, I will give you a fair chance, though the echo of Julian Barnes' Knit you own stuff! manifesto rings in my ears as I turn over the first page of Mrs Osmond.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,291 followers
May 1, 2023
Un roman / eseu haotic și inegal.

Despre Niveluri de viață s-a spus, adesea, că e cea mai bună carte a lui Julian Barnes. Nu sînt foarte sigur. Observ că urmează un model pe care autorul l-a mai folosit în Papagalul lui Flaubert și în Bărbatul cu haina roșie: un amestec de biografie și comentariu erudit, de ficțiune și eseu. Fără nici un avertisment din partea povestitorului, întîmplările reale se pierd într-o tramă de întîmplări inventate și, uneori, nu-ți dai seama că ai intrat în ficțiune.

În Niveluri de viață , iubirea fulgerătoare dintre actrița Sarah Bernhardt și „căpitanul” Fred Burnaby este cel mai uimitor exemplu. Portretul actriței este de un pitoresc demențial. Diva ține în casă (ori în preajma ei): două capre, un leopard, o mierlă, un papagal, o maimuță prietenă cu papagalul și un șarpe boa constrictor, care-i înghite pernele de pe canapea și trebuie suprimat cu un glonț. În plus, Sarah este una dintre puținele femei care-și respectă riguros toate promisiunile cu excepția celor pe care nu și le respectă.

Dacă nu vrei să te lași păcălit, va trebui să verifici „faptele”, să citești o istorie a baloanelor cu aer cald (apoi a celor cu hidrogen), să cauți în dicționar nume uitate sau/și exotice, cum e și acest „căpitan” Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, pasionat de călătoria cu aerostatul pe deasupra Canalului Mînecii. Cînd scrie despre argonauții din balon (despre fotograful Nadar - Félix Tournachon, să spunem), Julian Barnes rămîne în văzduh. Cînd povestește relația dintre zburdalnica actriță și bietul Fred Burnaby, coboară pe pămînt. Totuși, nivelul rămîne cel anecdotic.

În fine, cînd meditează la suferința provocată de moartea soției sale, Pat Kavanagh (1940 - 2008), autorul trebuie să coboare, ca Orfeu după Euridice, în lumea de jos. Este partea gravă a cărții, care trimite, evident, la întrebările din Nimicul de temut. Julian Barnes vorbește despre doliu și durere (nu se suprapun), despre încercările stîngace ale prietenilor de a-l îmbărbăta, despre solitudine, despre decăderea limbii engleze („s-a dus”, „a trecut” pentru „a muri”), despre efectul benefic al operei (Don Carlos de Verdi, Orfeu și Euridice de Christoph Willibald Gluck) etc.

Aici am citit și cel mai emoționant argument împotriva sinuciderii: „A durat un timp, dar îmi amintesc momentul – de fapt, argumentul ivit pe nepusă masă – în urma căruia a scăzut probabilitatea să mă sinucid. Mi-am dat seama că, în măsura în care ea era în viaţă, era în memoria mea. Bineînţeles, rămăsese şi în minţile altor oameni; dar eu eram primul pe lista aducerii-aminte. Dacă era undeva, era înăuntrul meu, interiorizată. Era un lucru firesc. Şi era la fel de firesc – şi de irefutabil – să nu pot să mă sinucid, fiindcă ar însemna s-o ucid şi pe ea. Ar muri a doua oară, iar amintirile mele strălucitoare despre ea s-ar estompa pe măsură ce apa din cadă s-ar înroşi” (p.88).

Legătura dintre „nivelurile de viață” nu mi s-apărut deloc evidentă. Julian Barnes sare de la una la alta fără o logică serioasă. Cartea e un mixtum compositum: o colecție de anecdote amuzante urmată de o meditație despre doliu. Părțile nu se întrecuprind...
Profile Image for Paula K .
417 reviews424 followers
August 24, 2015
I was introduced to Julian Barnes with his 2011 Man Booker prize winner, The Sense of an Ending, which is a favorite of mine. After finishing an 800 page book recently, I looked for something shorter this time and chose Barnes' 128 page Levels of Life. It is unimaginable as to how the author was able to fit in so much emotion into this short mix of history and memoir.

Levels of Life is like nothing else I have ever read. Filled with his personal thoughts about the love and then grief he felt after his wife Pat Kavanagh died in 2008 is extraordinary. The book is broken down into three levels. The first two of which I agree with Stephen Gilbert's review as to being uncertain as to how flying in a balloon fit in and also had a tendency to skim through the first two sections. The third section of the book, The Loss of Depth, is his masterpiece on grief. His description of what he went through - mourning, loss, grief, anger, and suicidal thoughts are words from his soul. Enlightening is the reactions of others to his wife's death from those that don't say anything, like she never existed, to those that do on different levels. Barnes said it so well with this quote -

"This is what those who haven't crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn't mean that they do not exist."

For those that have experienced grief and for those that have not, I highly recommend reading Levels of Life. Unforgetable.

5 out of 5 stars.

Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,207 followers
December 28, 2014
“You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed”, proclaims Julian Barnes in the first two sentences that open this atypical book, an idea that becomes the foundation and pillar of three seemingly unrelated stories that concoct Levels of Life.

Take photography and balloons as the first example.
The French photographer Nadar had a thrill for experimentation and decided to take distance from terra firma to gain a better perspective from afar. He captured the skies with the first aerostatic images in 1868, aspiring to be the eye of God. He changed mankind’s view of the world.

Take the improbable affair between a British Colonel and a bohemian French actress as the second example.
Both Sarah Bernhardt and Fred Burnaby were adventurers and soared the skies in balloons, but their pioneering souls dropped ballast when they looked each other in the eye on ground level. Sometimes "you put together two people who have not been put together before; and sometimes the world is changed, sometimes not.”

Barnes is an elegant illusionist. He is also a virtuoso in the use of metaphor and syllogism. And so displaying a pristine journalistic style straddling historical fiction and specialized documentary, he weaves a subtle internal rhythm between the experiences of these historical figures and something the reader can’t anticipate: a devastatingly introspective and crude autobiographical confession of a personal ordeal such as the loss of his wife, which gives shape to the final section of the book titled “The loss of depth”.
The ground shakes and the mirage of the protective Eye in the sky deflates when the core of a life is ruthlessly taken away, leaving only a carcass that functions like an automaton because the spark that ignited its senses has permanently gone out.

“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.”

With the straightforwardness of expression characteristic of an intimate diary that can easily create discomfiture to the reader for its voyeuristic undertone but successfully avoiding sugary sentimentalism, Barnes writes down how life ebbed away from him after his wife Pat was diagnosed with a deadly tumor that killed her in 37 days after thirty years of marriage.
Grief, bereavement, loneliness, sadness, confusion, retaliation, anger… Barnes’ words carry bits and pieces of his soul that drag the reader down to the currents of a man’s mind in turmoil facing the loss of a beloved and the inherent phases of mourning.
The ineffective appeal to God, the torture of revisiting memories, the intermittent relief of drugged sleep, where the living can be reunited with the dead and consciousness ceases to be, the complex and diverging reactions from friends and acquaintances, the general rejection to address illness and death openly and the tendency to transform those words into taboos to be shunned at all costs, the sense of constant dislocation, the danger of accepting grief as a new given condition.

“What is “success” in mourning? Does it lie in remembering or in forgetting?”

Barnes’ chilling testimony will make the blood run cold in the reader’s veins and his unnerving reflections transcend the personal sphere and reach the status of a universal treaty on how to face death and its dendritic manifestations today. Doubtlessly.
But the humble reader who is typing these letter here and who confesses being a helpless romantic, believes that Levels of Life is ultimately the irrefutable paean to Barnes’ deep love for his wife rather than an ode to his pain.
Finally, the fact that Barnes is not prone to moralizing gives a superior level to his low-keyed reflections on loss, pain and love, which invite the reader to take perspective, look himself in the Eye and guide him to find in love the meeting point between truth and magic.

“Love may not lead where we think or hope, but regardless of outcome it should be a call to seriousness and truth. If it is not that - if it is not moral in its effect - then love is no more than an exaggerated form of pleasure.”

Eye Balloon by Odilon Redon
Eye Balloon by Odilon Redon
Profile Image for Gaurav.
148 reviews1,138 followers
October 28, 2017
Levels of Life
Julian Barnes

Grief is another word for love

“You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed. People may not notice at the time, but doesn’t matter. The world changed nonetheless.”

How difficult is it to write about love? And to express grief is perhaps even more onerous. We have plethora of literature written about both love and grief still we find ourselves quite incompetent on each occasion we try to pen down these feelings. Generally, love seems to elude our writing hand but we write mostly about grief, probably that’s one of the ways to get over the grief i.e. to express it. Possibly we try to understand or just get a handle on grief, which is usually different from what we think it’d be. Well, grief is not merely sadness, it’s much profound than that; the nostalgia we feel when we try to brave ourselves over our memories however only to be further haunted by them. We, in general, grapple around loss, the fear to talk or think about death send chills through our bones. But we have a safe medium where we may be able to express ourselves about grief and that is writing. Though writing is a quite impersonal form of expression but a piece of art becomes independent of its creator after its conclusion and has its unique identity oblivious to that of its creator. And conceivably that’s how we have so many great memoirs, other forms of art about grief since the shyness one may encounter while discussing grief in private domain, reduced to nothingness as one steps in the public space.

It’s not always that you find yourself at loss of words to express these most profound of human feelings but sometimes perhaps you struggle to sort out the right form. One might say that the book is about ballooning, photography, love and grief; about putting two things, and two people, together, and about tearing them apart, but the book is about life, life as we know it build around love, loss, crests/ troughs, pain, emotions. Love which envelops pain inside itself, as we unwrap its covers we find grief hidden below the layers of it. We may get awed of this cognitive and social phenomenon but as we look into deep recesses of our psyche we might find that grief is another word for love.

Grief makes your stomach turn, snatches the breath from you, cuts off the blood supply to the brain; mourning blows you in a new direction. But since you are now in enveloping cloud, it is impossible to tell if you are marooned or deceptively in motion.
Grief is the negative image of love; and if there can be accumulation of love over the years, then why not of grief?

Levels of life is a moving, heartfelt and superbly crafted artifact and a desolating guidebook to the land of loss. It’s the first time I read Julian Barnes but he writes with so aphoristic simplicity and a calm profundity that sometimes it appears profoundly grief-struck but a paean of love and on love- a book full of life. The form of the book may not be categorized to the ‘traditional’ known divisions we have in literature- as it can’t be put in fiction since it is not so (purely) or non-fiction as it has the elements of imagination of author intertwined with facts or neither into a typical biography or memoir, it’s one of the rare achievements in modern times surpassing the boundaries of art.

The book is written as a long metaphor build around balloon flight, photography to portray freedom, heights, memories, love and grief. It is divided into three sections- The Sin of Height, On the Level and The Loss of Depth- which sound in tune with title of the book, all three sections seem to be allegorically justifying the title. The first section offers a brief history of French ballooning through the entity of Félix Tournachon, alias Nadar – in the starring role. A love story is also a potential grief story as we move down deep into abyss of human emotions, on the similar notes every story of ascending of balloon- its symbolism of freedom- may also be a potential disaster; as well as adventure, there is hubris and farce. The emotions one may feel during flights symbolize giddy elation of first love.
Ballooning represented freedom- yet a freedom subservient to the powers of wind and weather. Aeronauts often couldn’t tell if they were moving or stationary, gaining height or losing it.
Abroad the Dona Sol, ‘the Divine Sarah’ is in heaven. She finds that up above the clouds there is ‘not silence, but the shadow of silence.’ She feels the balloon to be ‘the emblem of uttermost freedom’- which is also how most groundlings would have viewed the actress herself.

The height is used here to embody the abstract thoughts as one would appreciate the lightness of things, which we think are matter of life and death, as one comes out of eccentricity and looks at one self objectively omitting the petty issues. Altitude ‘reduces all things to their relative proportions, and to the Truth.’ Cares, remorse, disgust become strangers: ‘How easily indifference, contempt, forgetfulness drop away… and forgiveness descends.’ Nadar took photography to a different level altogether, he didn't just get up in the clouds, colonizing God's space, he took pictures, when all our previous imagery had been Earthbound. However the new spread in the sky was perhaps too hopeful, probably as sinister as that on earth was, since the state of temporal suspension between dimensions of time signifies the maturity of human race.
And the aerostatic photographs that exist are of only passable quality: we must imagine the excitement back into them. But they represent a moment when the world grew up. Or perhaps that is too melodramatic, and too hopeful. Perhaps the world progresses not by maturing, but by being in a permanent state of adolescence, of thrilled discovery.

You put together two things that have not been put together before; and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
You put together two people who have not been put together before; and sometimes the world is changed, sometimes doesn’t. They may crash and burn, or burn and crash. But sometimes, something new is made, and then the world is changed.

The second section of the book- On the Level-is a fictionalized account of the affair between Burnaby and Bernhardt. She broke his heart. "Love may not be evenly matched; perhaps it rarely is," Barnes tells us. Burnaby keeps asking himself whether Bernhardt was "on the level". Is she on the level? He concludes that she was, but that there are no guarantees in love. And yet we keep on aspire to love, may be because love is the meeting point of truth and magic. Truth, as in photography; magic, as in ballooning. On the Level may represent the settled period of affection, never again flying with excitement and inebriation, however grounded, with all the solaces that security brings. We live on the flat, on the level, and yet- and so –we aspire. Groundlings, we can sometimes reach as far as the gods. Some soar with art, others with religion; most with love. But when we soar, we can also crash. There are few soft landings. We may find ourselves bouncing across the ground with leg-fracturing force, dragged towards some foreign railway line. Every love story is a potential grief story. If not at first, then later. If not for one, then for the other. Sometimes, for both. Bernhardt was not merely flirting, but she live in the moment and sensations those moments may bring are what she longs for, and so commitment was not her feature. Rejected, he wonders if it isn't better to live among clouds, deluded, than on the level. "The pain was to last several years."
’Oh, but I can say. And I do. I am made for sensation, for pleasure, for the moment. I am constantly in search of new sensations, new emotions. That is how I shall be until my life is worn away. My heart desires more excitement than anyone- any one person- can give.’

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 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.
The first two sections acts as preludes to the final section-The Loss of Depth- which is a searing 50-page historical essay that concludes the book describes descent – no upper air, no perspective, just darkness and despair. We get to look into the personal grief of Barnes, a gulf of sorrow in which he calmly contemplated drowning. He meticulously planned his own suicide, should he need to resort to that escape. The enigmatic concept of death is touched upon by the author in relation to his personal grief- how it may be different experience for every person; the grief it may bring is also banal and unique like death itself, for we realize others’ despair only when we personally experience it. The existential tussle between individuality and conformity is contemplated by the author at length in response to the different feelings people develops towards their grief; the irrationality of being angry with the person- who has abandoned us- or God or universe for that matter as they are playing their roles offers some consolation to the grieved soul since the rational process may be logically deductible but it does not balm human emotions.

There is the question of anger. Some are angry with the person who has died, who has abandoned them, betrayed them by losing life. What could be more irrational than that? Few die willingly, not even most suicides. Some of the griefstruck are angry with God, but if He doesn’t exist, that too is irrational. Some are angry with the universe for letting it happen, for this being the inevitable, irreversible case.

It’s just the universe doing its stuff’. That was ‘all’ that ‘it’- this enormous, tremendous ‘it’ –was. The words didn’t hold any consolation; perhaps they were a way of resisting alternative, false consolations. But if the universe was just doing its stuff, it could do its stuff to itself as well, and to hell with it. What did I care about saving the world if the world couldn’t, wouldn’t, save her?

‘Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away.’
There are two essential kinds of loneliness: that of not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love.

Pain shows that you have not forgotten; pain enhances the flavor of memory; pain is a proof of love. ‘If it didn’t matter, it wouldn’t matter.’

It is all just the universe doing its stuff, and we are stuff it is being done to. And so, perhaps, with grief. We imagine we have battled against it, our soul, when all that has happened is that grief has moved elsewhere, shifted its interest.

Levels of Life is one such book that levels with us just to a limited degree. Its reverberation originates from everything it doesn't state, and in addition what it does; from the profundity of affection we induce desert of anguish as the author says that each romantic tale is a potential painful one. This is the first time I read Julian Barnes and thoroughly enjoyed it. I would say anyone who wants to understand the underlying human emotions beneath the veneer of so called simple love or grief could read it. It would, however, touch upon the paining strings of your heart but as your move through the book it would propels a balmy, soothing sensation to your troubled soul.

Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews205 followers
June 27, 2017
Levels of Life

★★★★★ 5 Heart-rending stars!

I've frequently found that reading a story that reliably takes you where you hoped it was going all along can be wonderfully soothing. There are times when, as a reader, you crave exactly that: the comfort that a predictable story can bring. Then there are other times when you stumble upon a book that takes you in such an unexpected direction that you find yourself, not only surprised by the unique nature of what you are reading but actually thrilled by its unpredictability and pleased for allowing yourself to step out of your comfort zone.

Levels Of Life squarely falls into that latter category. A short book whose blending of essay collection and personal memoir makes it difficult to describe or characterize. And because I'm afraid that writing a fitting review is way above my paygrade, I am just going to share a few of my favorites quotes and passages here:

“Love may not lead where we think or hope, but regardless of outcome, it should be a call to seriousness and truth. If it is not that - if it is not moral in its effect - then love is no more than an exaggerated form of pleasure.”

“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.”

“This is what those who haven’t crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn’t mean that they do not exist.”

“Opera cuts to the chase—as death does. An art which seeks, more obviously than any other form, to break your heart.”

“Look what she has lost, now that she has lost life. Her body, her spirit; her radiant curiosity about life. At times it feels as if life itself is the greatest loser, the true bereaved party because it is no longer subjected to that radiant curiosity of hers.”

"Pain shows that you have not forgotten; pain enhances the flavor of memory; pain is a proof of love. “If it didn’t matter, it wouldn’t matter.”

“You lose the world for a glance? Of course, you do. That is what the world is for: to lose under the right circumstances.”


Levels of Life is a beautiful book, even more achingly so because Barnes's loss is so palpable and the memories he shares with us are so personal. Listening as he narrates the audiobook, which he performs flawlessly, only adds to that level of intimacy.

As I was writing this review, I noticed he never mentions his wife by name, instead he always refers to her as "She" or "Her", but of course there's only one "She" he can be referring to. My impression is that this was his way to preserve those precious memories and a reaffirmation of the life and the love they shared.

Finally, let me add that I believe this book could be especially valuable to people who have lost a loved one and might be struggling as they adjust to a new reality. Barnes's candid descriptions of his own grieving process could be a source of validation, empathy and solace to some.
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 6 books1,203 followers
June 4, 2021
Oh wow...

I need to strike while the iron is hot with this one.

Don't be fooled by the apparent anecdotal aloofness of the first two sections of this recollection of grief. They deal with balloons and height and stories of Englishmen and Frenchmen, famous and less famous. They deal with Sarah Bernhardt and Nadar and officers and life lived "on the level" (I will let you discover exactly what that means). The third section's more personal narrative could not have been written without them. Their context is what underlines every single word that follows.

Here, even in mourning, Julian Barnes is Julian Barnes. A writer obsessed with leitmotifs, patterns, stories as they are told to us and learned in books, historical anecdotes as they serve to illuminate our own lives, animating them like shadow-theatre. A writer obsessed with metaphors. A writer obsessed with connecting and interweaving past events with our trembling, seeking present.

Julian Barnes writes about love and life and grief through the most delicate exploration of the "levels of life", from intoxicating heights to unbearable lows, with the radical intelligence and beating heart that inhabit all his books.

This is simply one of the most beautiful declarations of love that I have ever read.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,291 reviews21.7k followers
December 24, 2018
A friend contacted me during the week and asked if I had this book. He knows I like Barnes’ writing – and so he wanted to know if I’d read the last story in this book in particular. I hadn’t. He said the other two weren’t nearly as good, but thought I might like this last one. I’ve only read the one he suggested. I went to my local library and borrowed the book – realising with a kind of shock that I hadn’t been to my local library in a years, so long that they had to reactivate my library card. It had been so long that it had died, although perhaps more like Lazarus than Jesus, because with hardly any fuss at all it was alive again.

I’ve had something of a charmed life with death – we have kept more or less a respectful distance from each other. My life has been much more charmed than that of my eldest daughter to whom death has crept closer in her nearly 30 years than it has in my nearly 60. Even the death of one of her grandparents was made intimate and personal to her by her being the person who found her nanna at the bottom of the stairs. The charm my life has been blessed with and the trouble of hers seem oddly out of joint. It is not that I would exchange one of the deaths she has had to live through for someone just as close to me that I could live through in her stead. The idea is monstrous. Nor would my dying in the place of one of the others have improved the situation any for her. But I’d have liked to have taken away the pain if that could be done in a way that wouldn’t also take away the love. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? And therein lies the impossibility.

This is less a story about death and much more a story about grief. While I was reading, I thought it might be a nice thing to recommend this to people. It is always hard to know if there is such a thing as a good book to recommend to people in grief. And then I thought of people I love very dearly who have lost partners, significant others, lovers, family members, parents, siblings. At first, I thought maybe I would just send them a photocopy of the story with a note. Or rather of flipping this into a pdf and attaching to an email. But I haven’t done that, as easy and hard as it would be. I’m not even all that sure why. My friend intended to do exactly this, and has with me. And part of me thinks it is a lovely thing to do – so, why wouldn’t I do the same?

My older sister is in hospital. She has had her bowel removed this week. I get to hear the doctors’ reports second hand and as reinterpreted by my parents – both approaching 80. My elder sister is, and has been all her life, intellectually disabled. A quarter of her brain was destroyed in the oxygen tent she was placed in as a baby in yet another hospital half a world away. She is two years older than me. Both of the women I’ve considered life partners, even if neither have proven such, have been two years older than me. A psychologist I went to with my first wife as our marriage was ending and I was falling in love with my other significant life partner that has never quite proven to be, suggested that I was looking for a substitute for my effectively lost, or perhaps more or less dead, older sister. Death takes so many shapes, far too many of which are metaphorical.

I started reading this book sitting in a café at the hospital where my sister was being gutted. I was drinking overly strong and bitter coffee and flicking over the pages increasingly tentatively. Her operation was but one more indignity in a life composed of a certainty and an all too clear awareness of her difference, of her lack, of her outsideness. And this will be one more hurdle for her to stumble over. I started reading this book in public and then I thought, fuck, what if I cry? I mean, this is an essay by a man who has lost someone he loved very dearly, who he felt had complemented and completed him, who had remembered his life with and for him, who disappeared out of his life in ways that those of us who have never experienced such loss fear. Tears would hardly be an irrational response to the reading about such a book. But to sit in a hospital café, crying, that has meanings, too. Meanings that others do not expect to need explained to them.

A strange symmetry presented itself to me, how I try to avoid reading very funny books in public. Of Pascal saying ‘we laugh and cry at the same things’.

Sometimes, although not nearly often enough, my brother and I sing together. We sing Irish songs we learnt from records purchased by our parents when we were young. I told him once, when our children were still in primary school and we were away together and singing and talking over too many beers, that when our father dies I planned to sing ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ at his funeral. My mother told me once that my father has sung that song all of my life, and so I would have, of necessity, have heard him singing it all of my life too – but I remember the first time I really heard him sing it. I remember standing, listening to the words, to the lilt of the tune that shakes like wind in barley, and, back then, as a young man, being nearly moved to tears, in a room crowded, and me surrounded by people I knew. And listening to him and knowing that I certainly would not want to be seen crying in front of them all. I’ve regretted since telling my brother that this has been my plan. I’ve worried that in singing the song that the hammer blows of the alterative k’s in ‘clay cold corpse’ will prove too much for me.

A year or so ago I realised I’d never thought about what I would sing or say or do at my mother’s funeral. The idea of her death being too absurd to contemplate.

I read this, almost exclusively, with one person in mind, someone mentioned here but also hardly alluded to. Someone who holds much more experience with grief and also with death than I have (or even my daughter has) and who I hope, despite knowing how awful and selfish this is to hope, that she will be left to grieve the loss of me.
Profile Image for Nat K.
415 reviews155 followers
June 20, 2020

"Love may not lead where we think or hope, but regardless of the outcome, it should be a call to seriousness and truth."

This is such a difficult book to review coherently for so many reasons. Perhaps the disparity between the topics of the three essays threw me somewhat.

The only book I'd previously read of Julian Barnes' was "Metroland". I still have the tattered paperback on a bookshelf somewhere. I carried it around in my handbag for months, long after I'd finished reading it, I loved it that much. Even thinking of it, takes me back to the time and place when I read it. That's how good his writing was. But then for some reason I can't explain, I never continued on my book journey with him. Until now. So when Dawn suggested "Levels Of Life" as our next buddy read with Ron, I was really happy to re-acquaint myself with Mr Barnes.

I have to admit to being perplexed with the first third of the book. It's an essay which talks about the history of hot air ballooning. Something to do with the freedom ballooning represents? Beats me. Small wicker basket, big balloon, bigger sky... I'm ok to wave from here thanks. Sarah Bernhard, George Sand, Jules Verne & Victor Hugo were all early ballooning enthusiasts. Such adventurous folk!

"Icarus messed with the Sun God: that was a bad idea too."

Ballooning segues to photography in its' early stages. Man's quest for progress? Seeing the world through new eyes? Finally being able to look at ourselves?

But then it slowly dawned on me that this book was about love. All the way through, from beginning to end. Obscure the references may have been in the first portion of the book, with the ballooning and the flirting, however the threads grew between the three essays. Yes, love it is.

And connections. That cosmic "click" that happens between two people every so often, where the connection is audible and undeniable. Two people that are just destined to meet and to be together. This is what Julian Barnes had with his wife Pat Kavanagh. That rare "click". This is his dedication to her. It makes me cry to think of it. It is beautiful. It is achingly sad.

"You can no longer hear yourself living."

The final essay "Loss of Depth" will leave you shattered. He writes of his grief at the loss of his wife with absolute clarity and honesty. It's as if you are looking into his heart and soul, which has lost its' anchor. It is so incredibly RAW, I cannot begin to explain how much. How it felt to read something so absolutely and utterly personal. Unashamedly so. It is an emotional rollercoaster. It shook me to my core.

I cannot pretend that this was easy to read, but I am so glad that I did. Sadly, grief is a part of life. As Julian Barnes says, it's something we turn away from, as if we fail to acknowledge its' existence, it won't happen to us.

What stood out to me and made me ponder at us supposedly intelligent humans was our not having the ability to reach out to someone who is obviously hurting. His friends who didn't want to offend or hurt him by mentioning his wife's name at a dinner party, when all he wanted to do was to shout her name from the rooftops, and acknowledge how much she meant, and still means to him.

"Grief is the negative image of love; and if there can be an accumulation of love over the years, then why not grief?"

3.5★ aching stars for me.

And yes, despite the vast difference between "Metroland and "Levels Of Life", I plan on not leaving such a time gap before I read another one of his books.

*** Shout out to Dawn & Ron who I buddy read this with - make sure you read their reviews too! Thanks to Dawn for picking such a thoughtful book.


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ***
Profile Image for Hilda hasani.
120 reviews134 followers
June 9, 2020
در چند تذکار ابتدایی کتاب اینگونه آمده است :«آقای بارنز شیوه‌ی کار ظریفی در داستان نویسی دارد. روایت کردنش رقصی نامریی است در میان تاریخ و حافظه و خاطره و داستان».
با خواندن این دومین کتاب از بارنز به شدت به این جمله ایمان پیدا کرده‌ام. بارنز انقدر با مهارت روایتش را با تجربه‌ها و زندگی خودش و آن‌ها را با شخصیت‌ها و روایت‌هایی از دل تاریخ در هم می‌آمیزد که مرز میانشان مخدوش می‌شود. خواننده در نهایت یک معجون دلچسب را از دستان نویسنده دریافت می‌کند.
اولین بار که کتاب را در دست می‌گیرید و عنوانش را می‌بینید با خودتان می‌گویید حتما قرار است ارتباطی بین این سه یعنی عکاسی و بالون‌سواری و عشق و اندوه وجود داشته باشد یا حداقل جولین بارنز ارتباطی بین آن‌ها یافته باشد و بخواهد برای ما بگویدش. خب اقرار می‌کنم که این سه هرکدام به نوع خودشان، موضوع‌های بسیار جذابی هستند. با خواندن هرکدام از بخش‌های کتاب کیف کردم. اما لغزشی این وسط به چشمم آمد؛ در نظر من هدف نویسنده از نوشتن این کتاب توصیف عاطفه‌ی انسانی اندوه در ارتباط نزدیک با عشق بود ، و خب آنقدر اندوه را خوب از هم واشکافته بود که از بعد از تمام شدن کتاب تقریبا یک روز است که فکر اندوه‌های از سرگذرانده و از سرنگذرانده‌ی زندگی‌ام رهایم نمی‌کند! آن بخش‌‌هایی هم که داستان‌های پر فراز و نشیب بالون‌سواران را نقل کرده بود در نوع خودش خوش قلم و گیرا بود. ولی ارتباط اندوه و بالون سواری و عکاسی اندکی سست بود. در ذهنم احتمال می‌دهم که همه‌ی این‌ها موضوعات مورد علاقه نویسنده بودند و خب نتوانسته ازشان دل بکند، او حس کرده برای صحبت از زندگی و حس و حال انسانی‌اش باید از این مقولات استفاده کند. اما لحظات گیرای کتاب کم نیست، قلم نوشته دلنشین است و ترجمه‌اش لذت خواندن نثر انگلیسی بارنز را تمام می‌کند.
بله!‌ترجمه کتاب به نظرم واقعا خوب است، مترجم دقیق و حساس عمل کرده، پانوشت‌های مفصلی در انتهای کتاب آورده که تک تک آن‌ها نشان دهنده‌ی دقت عمل و ظرافت او در مواجهه با متن است. این کتاب ترکیبی از ترجمه‌ی خوب و موضوعات گیرا و قلم خوب است که پس از اتمام خواندنش خواننده را پشیمان رها نمی‌کند.
Profile Image for Agnieszka.
258 reviews924 followers
May 4, 2017

People very differently deal with own feelings after the death of their beloved ones. Denying, anger, withdrawing into oneself, despair. In fact, how many mourners so many ways to pass through bereavement and grief. Julian Barnes’ Levels of life is a strange novel. Though from the cover the subject is already known you’re nevertheless confused. Novel, written after the death of his wife, consists from three , seemingly not connected, parts. Barnes takes you for a strange trip. From the firm ground to the clouds and then again to the ground. And a soft landing is not always provided.

In two first essays ( respectively The Sin of Height and On the level ) Barnes muses upon beginning of ballooning and photography, summons pioneers and enthusiast for both disciplines, adduces anecdotes and titbits. It’s all very interesting but you still do not know what is on his mind. He tells about perspective and distance, depth and height, euphoria and excitement, maiden flights and failures. He mentions people who desired height and freedom. And borders to cross. And love to last forever. And then, gradually you begin to fathom what he is trying to convey. You discern the pattern, you see love like something magical, like flying, like feeling of freedom and lightness even though sometimes that flight ends up with disaster.

In the third essay The Loss of Depth Barnes doesn't need any smokescreen, any grandiloquent symbols, any refined metaphors and crowd of more or less known persons to hide behind them. He stands alone, clothed only in his love. And with muted tone, honestly and precisely with visceral prose tries to come to terms with wife’s death and own sense of loss.

Carefully chooses words, disdains all these substitute words for death, all these passing and loss . Just calls spade a spade. Establishes new time frames, something between yesterday and today. Yesterday where they were together and today where his wife is absent though still present in every thought and dream. Gains a new perspective, counts passing without wife years as some strange reverse weddings. It is the most personal Barnes’ novel, understated, poignant and very intimate portrait of life, love and loss.

Every love story is a potential grief story .
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,685 followers
September 26, 2016
Every love story is a potential grief story. If not at first, then later. If not for one, then for the other. Sometimes for both.
- Julian Barnes, Levels of Life


'Levels of Life' is hard to categorize. It is cut into three sections, three discrete chunks. Part 1: The Sin of Height is about balloons and photography. It reads like narrative nonfiction, like John McPhee at his most poetic. It focuses on the life of Félix Tournachon aka Nadar. Part 2: On the Level is about love. It is written like historical fiction. Barnes delves into the affair between Colonel Fred Burnaby of the Royal Horse Guards and Sarah Bernhardt, an erotic, 'slavic' Parisian actress, often referred to as "the most famous actress the world has ever known". Bernhardt is a woman who enchanted Kings, Freud, and even Mark Twain. Part 3: The Loss of Depth is a memoir of grief. It is Julian Barnes giving words to his loss. It is one of the most poetic odes to a dead lover (Barnes' wife Pam Kavanagh) I have ever read. It is a meditation on grief, love, life, and utilizes images and ideas from the previous two sections. While Barnes utilizes different techniques while writing this short book, it becomes obvious after finishing the book that Sections 1 & 2 are meant to provide a grid, a map, coordinates to allow Barnes to map his loss, his love and his grief. His images and his metaphors are amazing.

Before I even started my review, I ordered a copy for a good friend who lost a spouse three years ago. Barnes, through his own loss, captures both the height that love gives us and the crash it inevitably always brings. It was sad, poignant and beautiful.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
352 reviews397 followers
April 1, 2015
Levels of life. What a fitting title for this novel, overflowing with metaphor. It reads as three different books all in one slim novel. Three different levels of emotion, as well as the physical level of height.

The first section deals with aeronautics, in the form of ballooning. It depicts the first view of our world from above and at a distance. A beautiful quote was, "Altitude reduces all things to their relative proportions, and to the truth. Cares, remorse, disgust become strangers: How easily indifference, contempt, forgetfulness drop away...and forgiveness descends."

The second section is an account of a love affair. Those involved derive from the first section. It asked me the question of what makes me complete. Who is really "on the level."

The third section is Barn's deeply touching thoughts and emotions of his wife's death. It is full of some of the most profound insights I have ever read. It really helped me, as I have not lost a deeply loved one to death. Knowing now what a person experiences at the most extreme level, has given me insight into the complex emotions experienced, and the tools necessary to help instead of hinder.

I must say, that the more involved I became in writing this review, the more connections, and metaphors I found all around me. Each section is intricately wound in another. And here I thought this would be an easy review!
Profile Image for Sepehr.
112 reviews78 followers
February 23, 2023
و همه‌چیز مهاجر است

نمی‌شود خرده گرفت. ما محکوم به از دست دادن‌ایم. هرچند بیشترمان دوست داریم پیش از عزیزانمان برویم، ولی معمولا این طور نمی‌شود. روزی می‌رسد که دیگر صدایی که هر روز قربان صدقه‌ت می‌رفت، دیگر در خانه نمی‌پیچد. دیگر دست‌هایی که با گرفتنشان آرام می‌شدی، خلأ لای انگشتانت را پر نمی‌کنند. نه خبری از بغلی که تسلای خاطرت بشود هست، نه خبری از حضور گرمش. تو او را برای همیشه از دست داده‌ای. و سرزنش کردن خودت او برنمی‌گرداند. این بزرگ‌ترین تراژدی انسان است. که قدرتش با دوام آوردن بعد از از دست دادن‌هایش سنجیده می‌شود. هرچند مرگ غیرقابل برگشت است ولی قطعیت‌ش مایه‌ی تسلا است. این که دیگر از میان ما رفت، و وقتش است که تا ابد با او وداع کنیم. اما گاهی آدم‌هایی در اطرافمان هستند که همواره به زندگی خود ادامه می‌دهند ولی برای ما می‌میرند. ولی خاطرات و ساعت‌هایی که با آن‌ها سپری شده مایه‌ی عذابی مزمن و آزاردهنده در مغز ما به زیست خود ادامه می‌دهند. این نوع مرگ، مثل یک کمای ابدی است. هم مرده هم نمرده. دیگر به کار تو نمی‌آید، دیگر متعلق به جهان تو نیست ولی نمی‌توانی خودت را تسکین دهی که او مرده و باید با آن کنار بیایی، چون کامل نمرده است. دومین مرگ، عذابش بیشتر است.
این تنها کتابی بود که با آن گریه کردم، چون تک تک جملاتش خالصانه و عاشقانه بود. و امتیاز کتاب هم صرفا برای فصل سوم است. همانگونه که می‌توان دو فصل اول را نخواند، فصل سوم را می‌توان بارها و بارها خواند. این کتاب، راه‌های کنار آمدن با سوگ را نشان نخواهد داد. نمی‌گوید برای برون‌رفت از این وضعیت چه باید کرد. اشک شما را در می‌آورد. ولی در نهایت حس می‌کنید آدمی آن‌سوی دنیا وجود دارد که عمیقا درد شما را می‌فهمد. و این چیزی است که گاهی بیشتر از راهنمایی‌های روانش��اسانه به آن احتیاج داریم. تسلای این که بدانیم کسی هست که ما را درک کند.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews762 followers
December 27, 2014
I was going to lazily steal the pithy expression "devastating" from the blurb on the front, but that would be an insult to a writer who makes such precise use of language himself. For what exactly does devastating mean? To lay waste. And in fact Mr. Barnes does quite the opposite. He builds. He builds metaphors, he builds connections, he builds bridges. He constructs a dizzying architecture of bold, he tells stories and flies balloons and peoples his pages with extraordinary characters and there is not one word that is extraneous to his central pillar of thought, that when you put two people together, sometimes it can work, and something new is made, 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 read the third part of this exquisite collection with tears streaming down my face. I can only hope, I desperately hope, that practising his craft, that of turning his raw experience into a web of words, has been, for Mr. Barnes, in some way, well, I will not use the trite word 'therapeutic' for ill he is not. Helpful. Beneficial, perhaps, can it be helpful to hold your pain up to the light and examine its every crack and fissure? Observe it from above, from the side, from below, does that steal a shade of its power to catch you unaware and knock you from your feet? I hope so. I hope so.

Read this. At the very least it will save you from crass mistakes when friends and colleagues are going through grief. And it will make you kinder to your spouse.
Profile Image for João Barradas.
275 reviews32 followers
February 10, 2019
Com o poder outorgado por Deus, o Homem sempre almejou conquistar todos os meios que Ele lhe ofertou. Desbravou os terrenos, iniciou a prática agrícola, descobriu o fogo e inventou a roda, que lhe permitiram ser o rei da Terra (e do Mar, com a tão fadada contribuição portuguesa nos Descobrimentos). Mas isso, não chegava. O mundo subterrâneo despertou a curiosidade, tanto pela conotação sombria que tem associado como pelas imaginárias riquezas que esconde. Mas a tarefa final, seria conquistar os ares, esse espaço vedado às aves e aos anjos. Há a referência de Ícaro, cuja ambição conduziu a queimaduras de terceiro grau, os desenhos de Da Vinci, a ambição de Baltasar Sete-Sóis e Blimunda Sete-Luas em accionar a sua passarola. Enfim, uma crendice disseminada de desfraldar a bandeira nos céus. E tudo tomou um rumo vertiginoso com as viagens de balão.

Inspirado na ideia de liberdade conferida por um objecto a pairar no ar, Barnes apresenta uma tese sobre a essência da vida - e da morte -, dividida em três actos, baseado nesses diferentes espaços tomados. Na primeira parte, descreve a pretensão da conquista de algo quase inatingível, cuja percepção é melhorada com a distância e a paralisação do tempo. Na segunda, narra o assentar dos pés na terra, a aceitação de que, por muito que se pretenda encontrar a peça que complete um puzzle, tal poderá não passar de uma fantasia infundada pelo prazer que supera a emoção pretendida. Tudo culmina, na mais fantástica declaração de amor alguma vez lida, com uma alusão ao mito de Orfeu, intricadamente imiscuído com os conceitos de sofrimento, solidão, suicídio, solidariedade e saudade.

Cada palavra encaixa na outra e forma um descomunal flecha, magistralmente directa ao coração. O autor é um mestre na arte de ofertar ao leitor uma viagem de balão por um mar idílico de palavras, onde a cada recanto o espera uma imagem inebriante merecedora de uma fotografia que possa eternizar esse momento glorioso. O design das edições da Quetzal editora já é, por de mais, reconhecido mas esta capa é sublime: os dentes de leão, tão livres como os balões de ar quente, tão belos como o mais perfeito amor, tão fecundos como a mais pura da uniões e tão naturais como a morte. Esta foi uma leitura feita num fôlego, com um tremor inesgotável pelo êxtase no estado mais puro, que a acompanha. Dela ficam frases que para sempre pretendo gravar na minha mente (e que reproduzo abaixo). Mas não são frases desconexas que lhe conferem a genialidade. Entre elas há uma história bem intrincada na outra, pairando no ar entre várias escarpas da vida.

"Juntamos duas pessoas que ainda não se tinham encontrado, e às vezes o mundo transforma-se, outras vezes não. Podem despenhar-se e arder, ou arder e despenhar-se." (pág. 35)

"Todas as histórias de amor são potenciais histórias de dor. Se não ao princípio, depois. Se não para um, para outro. Às vezes para ambos." (pág. 40)

"E não estava enganado. Mas antes que a dor se instalasse, tinha tempo para se lamentar. Tinha entregado tudo, o melhor de si, e não fora suficiente." (pág. 59)

"Cedo na vida, o mundo divide-se entre os que praticaram o sexo e os que não o praticaram. Mais tarde, entre os que conheceram o amor e os que não o conheceram. Mais tarde ainda (...) entre os que sofreram o luto e os que não sofreram. Estas divisões são absolutas; são trópicos que atravessamos." (pág. 66)

"O facto de alguém estar morto pode querer dizer que não está vivo, mas não quer dizer que não exista." (pág. 95)

"O sonar da vida avaria-se e deixamos de poder saber a que distância se situa o fundo do mar." (pág. 101)
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,042 reviews902 followers
December 31, 2017
This was my first Julian Barnes book/audiobook, and it kills me to admit that I won't be able to write a review worthy of this historical essays collection. So, I'll just write down a few thoughts.

When I borrowed this book, I had no idea what to expect, as I didn't read the blurb, I just saw it was available, and since Barnes was on my TBR, I downloaded it.

I enjoyed this audiobook from the very beginning, as Julian Barnes' narration was music to my ears - I love his proper, educated, English accent. Barnes is a wonderful narrator, who managed to keep my interest, even when the story was getting a bit drier, with ballooning terms and other technical aspects. I must confess, I knew almost nothing about ballooning, so it was interesting to learn a few things. If it makes any sense, I was fascinated with his fascination for ballooning, and that he had obviously thought about and researched it.

In this first part, we learn about the British Frederick Barnaby who managed to cross the English Chanel in 1882 in a hot air balloon. Also, the earlier days of photography and aerial photography come into play, through Nadar. I guiltily admit that I had no idea who Barnaby or Nadar were. But that's one of the amazing things about Levels of Life, it made me look up more information on the people mentioned in it.

Masterfully, in the second part, Barnes managed to move on to the relationship between Barnaby and the famous French actress, Sarah Bernhardt (I did know who she was). Bernhardt had been extensively photographed by Nadar, who had also flown in a hot air balloon with Barnaby. We learn about Barnaby's infatuation with Bernhardt and their brief relationship.

Without a doubt, the pièce de résistance is the last part, The Loss of Depth, which is autobiographical and reveals Julian Barnes astounding grief following his beloved wife's death in 2008. I cannot remember ever reading anything about grief and a partnership that was so beautifully articulated, so raw, and so heartwrenching. I had to take a couple of breaks, as it was too much to take in. The fact that Barnes himself was narrating it, made me sob even more. That last essay is mostly about grief, but also about memory. Just thinking about it makes my eyes fill up with tears.
As far as I'm concerned, The Loss of Depth is a masterpiece.

Before I got to the last essay, I was contemplating a 4-star rating, but The Loss of Depth elevated the entire book to 5 stars +.

I am convinced I have found a new favourite writer in Julian Barnes. I am looking forward to reading more of his books.
Profile Image for Roya.
180 reviews
February 15, 2022
آخ قلبم 😭😍
خوشحالم که نوشته شدی، چاپ شدی، ترجمه شدی، منتشر شدی. اونم توسطِ چنین نویسنده ی خفن و مترجمِ کار درستی
از اون کتابای بغل کردنیِ پرستیدنیِ زیبایی بود که آدم هر لحظه دلش میخواد کتابو قورت بده🤩😅
خیلی وقت بود که چشم انتظارت بودم و از همون 16 بهمنِ بارونی که واردِ کتابخونه م شدی، عاشقت شدم. درسته که میگن کتابا رو نباید از روی جلدشون قضاوت کرد؛ ولی من حتی شیفته ی جلدت شدم عزیزِ من *ـ* شیفته ی اون نورِ قشنگی که از پنجره افتاده روی دیوار، رنگِ سبزِ دلنشینِ دیوار، فضای خونه، سکوتِ محسوسی که حاکمه.... همه چیش😍

کتاب شامل 3 فصله که تقریبا بهم نامربوطن. اسمِ اصلیِ کتاب "سطوح زندگی" ئه که به تشخیص مترجم تغییر یافته و حقیقتا که اسمِ تغییر یافته شو خیلی بیشتر دوست دارم و بیشتر به تمِ کتاب میاد💙
راستش دو فصلِ اول رو اونقدر که باید دوست نداشتم، اما شاهکارِ اصلی فصل 3 ئه که معرکه بود؛ معععععرکه!
فصل اول تقریبا تاریخچه ی ساخت بالون و بالون سواری بود، فصل دوم به نقلِ ماجرای سارا برنارد و فرد برنابی پرداخته و فصل 3 روایتی از عشق و اندوهه. مواجهه نویسنده با مرگِ همسرش...
اندوه و فقدانِ مرگ پَت برای جولین کالین اونقدر عظیم بود که به فکر خودکشی افتاد. اما تنها یک چیز باعث شد از خودکشی منصرف بشه:
متوجه شدم او تا جایی زنده می ماند که در حافظه ی من زنده مانده. البته که در ذهن باقیِ آدم ها هم به قوت همچنان باقی است، اما من یگانه یادآورش بودم. اگر همه جا حاضر بود به این خاطر بود که در درون من بود، درون شده ی من. معلوم بود. و به همان اندازه هم طبیعی و انکار ناپذیر بود که نمی توانستم خودم را بکشم، چون در این صورت او را هم می کشتم. برای بار دوم می مُرد...

فصل3 اونقدر برام لذت بخش بود که کمبودای فصل 1 و 2 به چشمم نمیاد. شاید عجیب باشه، ولی عمیقا با نویسنده همزاد پنداری میکنم و تک تک واژه هاشو درک میکنم. دلم میخواد هر چند وقت یه بار برگردم و فصل3 رو بخونم و ببوسم :)

به من اطمینان دوباره داد که آدم از اندوه جان سالم به در می برد؛ تازه فردِ "قوی تر" و یک جورهایی "بهتر"ی هم می شود. حرفش به نظرم شنیع و خودپرستانه آمد (والبته خیلی هم زود قضاوت کرده بودم) چطور ممکن بود بتوانم بدون او، نسبت به وقتی که بود، آدم بهتری باشم؟ بعدش فکر کردم: اما خب فقط دارد جمله ی نیچه را بازگو می کند که هرچه ما را نمی کُشد، قوی ترمان می کند. بعد از این اتفاق، حالا مدت هاست که به نظرم این جمله ی نغز کمی غلط انداز است. خیلی چیزها هست که مارا نمی کُشد، اما تا ابد ضعیف مان می کند
Profile Image for nmshafie.
183 reviews31 followers
March 31, 2023
تموم شد و باید بگم که فوق العاده بود. واقعیت اینه که من تموم کتابهای نشر گمان رو که میشد روی طاقچه خرید رو خریدم. این کتابو شروع کردم چون مدتها بود از نشر گمان کتابی نخونده بودم. تا اواسط کتاب ترجمه بی نهایت بد بود. بطوری که به خودت میگی این به چه زبونی داره صحبت میکنه. اگه فارسیه پس چرا من هیچی نمیفهمم. واسه همین فهم جمله ها و کلمه ها سخته. ولی وقتی بخش عکاسی و بالن سواری تموم میشه و میرسیم به بخش عشق و اندوه، انگار کلا یه کتاب جدید رو دست گرفتی. همه جملات شاهکارانه بیان میشه و هرجمله مو برتنت سیخ میکنه و نمیتونی کتابو زمین بذاری. من نصف کتاب رو فکر کنم یه هفته طول دادم و نصف دیگه شو توی یه شب برفی که الان باشه خوندم. این شهری که من زندگی میکنم الان نزدیک ده سانت برف اومده و قراره تا فردا همین موقع با همین سرعت برف بیاد واسه همین هیچی بیشتر از خوندن زیر پتو یا کنار بخاری نمیچسبه. در انتها بگم همونطور که کتاب هم میگه شاید بشه گفت آدمها به دو دسته تقسیم میشن آدمهایی که اندوه رو تجربه کردن و کسایی که قراره در آینده تجربه کنن. و اگه جز دسته اولید کتاب رو با همه وجود درک میکنید. مخصوصا اگر دوره سوگواری گذرونده باشید. و از غم سنگینی عبور کرده باشید. اما اگه جز دسته دومید پیشنهاد میکنم این کتاب رو برای روزهای سخت نگه دارید که بسیار بدرد بخور خواهد بود. در آخر امیدوارم نشر گمان کتاب اول این مجموعه یعنی خاطرات یک مترجم از آقای احمد اخوت رو هم بذاره روی طاقچه که ما غربت نشینها اینجا از بی دسترسی ای نمیریم.

لینک طاقچه: https://taaghche.com/book/81609/%D8%B...
Profile Image for Helga.
886 reviews124 followers
February 3, 2023

There are two essential kinds of loneliness: that of not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love.

Written as a series of essays, Levels of Life is oddly enough partly about ballooning and photography in the 19-th century, partly a fictionalized love affair between the adventurous Colonel Burnaby and the French actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Every love story is a potential grief story. If not at first, then later. If not for one, then for the other. Sometimes for both.

And partly a memoir of love, loss and grief.

You put together two people who have not been put together before; and sometimes the world is changed, sometimes not. They may crash and burn, or burn and crash. But sometimes, something new is made, and then the world is changed. Together, in that first exaltation, that first roaring sense of uplift, they are greater than their two separate selves. Together, they see further, and they see more clearly.
Profile Image for Sara Khosravi.
57 reviews14 followers
February 24, 2021
حدود يك ماه پيش،وقتي كه فكر ميكردم وقت "درك كردن" و "پذيرفتن" اندوهي هست كه دو شب قبلش از ناكجا آوار شده بود رو زندگيم، يك صبح سرد دوست نداشتني رفتم و اين كتاب رو خريدم...شروع كردم به خوندن

صفحه ي ١٧:
"دو چيز را كه تا حالا كنار هم قرار نگرفته اند كنار هم مي گذاريد.و جهان تغيير ميكند.احتمالاً كسي آن لحظه توجهي نميكند،اما مهم نيست.به هرحال جهان عوض شده ديگر."

با خودم فكر كردم كه چه عالي،چقدر قراره اين كتاب "كمكم كنه" كه بپذيرم تمام جزئيات،خاطرات و حتي عادت هاي ١٢٠٠ روز گذشته ي زندگيم تموم شده !

حالا كه يك ماه گذشته و برعكس پذيرفتن،فقط "فرار" كردم و "جنگيدم" كه "خوب باشم و خوب بشم" ،با حالي شايد بدتر از زمان شروع كتاب، تصميم گرفتم تمومش كنم .

"عكاسي،بالون سواري،عشق و اندوه" دستاوردي براي من نداشت، به پذيرفتن اندوهم كمكي نكرد ،به بهتر شدن حالم هم همينطور.

حقيقت اينه هر اندوهي شخصيت خودشو داره، اندوه جولين بارنز نتيجه ي مرگ همسري هست كه ٣٠ سال عاشقانه در كنارش زندگي كرده و متفاوته با اندوهي كه توأم با خشم و دلخوري هست و مرگ عامل فقدان نيست!

همينطور جنس اندوه ِ ٦٢ سالگي متفاوته با اندوهِ ٢٣ سالگي !

بالطبع يك نسخه ي يكسان براي "پذيرش" و تصميم گيري چطوري "دست و پنجه نرم كردن" با اين اندوه ها نميتونه وجود داشته باشه حتي اگه هردو زاييده ي عشق و فقدان محبوب باشه.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,761 followers
November 26, 2013
The Loss of Depth, Julian Barnes's meditative essay on grief, rocked me to my core. It is the final of three "levels of life" he explores in this slim book and is, by itself, the reason for reading this book. In contrast, I felt very detached from the first two essays, which were interesting but rather chilly expositions on ballooning, obsession and Sarah Bernhardt.

But the exploration of grief. Jesus. It hurt. It's as raw and brutal as any personal essay I have read. It chills me to think there may come a time when I will need to reread it, for direction, solace and understanding, but I will tuck this book onto my shelf and try to forget it's there. And know I never will.

Profile Image for Neha Lathr.
54 reviews30 followers
March 6, 2023
“The heart of my life; the life of my heart.”

The love, the grief, and the process of moving on or being unable to move on make this memoir different from the rest. Life and its meaning, before and after the loss of your better half, have been described so profoundly that the word grief seems very small in front of the loss.

“Because love is the meeting point of truth and magic. Truth, as in photography; magic, as in ballooning.”

The initial part of the book was where the author was trying to create a metaphor regarding the process of ballooning that seemed dull and stretched. But if you want to know or read about the depth of losing someone, then the ending part of the book is the treasure that you shouldn’t and mustn’t miss just because its first part seems a little boring.

As I mentioned above, the book’s ending is exceptional and deserves both five stars and my heart. But the ballooning part was so dull that I had to give this book three stars.

Still, for the ending, both five stars and my heart.
Profile Image for Théo d'Or .
323 reviews169 followers
September 16, 2020
"Levels of life " - seems to start slowly, and involves some difficulty, if you're not a loyal reader of Barnes.
The last 46 pages are her emotional center, if you will read only these, you would be fully satisfied by the reading you have chosen.

The story has a structure divided into a three parts. The three major "chapters" are linked by an idea who is repeated as a leitmotif, throughout the volume :

" You put together two things that have never been joined, and the world is changing ".

As I said, the author is discovered in all its splendor, in the last part of the volume. If I were to say in three words what it's here, I would reply without hesitation : love and pain.
And then, I would add that it is one of the most wonderful speeches about love and suffering. At one point, it doesn't even matter that it's Barnes' life partner, but the author is trying to find a purpose in life, after losing a loved person.
Besides, he doesn't even call his wife once in the book, only at the beginning there is the simple dedication " To Pat "...
After all, if you haven't lost anyone dear until now, in addition to being lucky, you will imagine what it will be like .
And if you've been through that, Barnes will catch up all your sensitive cords.
Anyway, I assure that it is not a book you will forget too easily.
Profile Image for Asad Asgari.
118 reviews16 followers
April 23, 2022

کتابی که دوست نداشتم، تمام شود.

پیش از این کتاب هرموقع می‌خواستم در خصوص غم و اندوه کتابی رو به کسی توصیه کنم و یا در لحظاتی که اندوه بر سرم آوار و مستولی میشد سراغ کتابی برم، می‌رفتم سراغ سوگ مادر شاهرخ مسکوب و خودم را به قلم مسکوب می‌سپردم و احساساتی رو که از بیانش در آن شرایط عاجز بودم رو در میان سطرهای سوگ مادر میجستم ... حالا بدون تردید می‌تونم بگم این کتاب جولین بارنز هم میتونه به خوبی ایفاگر نقشی باشه که از سوگ مادر مسکوب پیشتر انتظار داشتم. یکی ویژگی مهم کتاب برای من این بود که لحن صادقانه‌ای داره، درسته که بارنز معتقد بوده که یک اندوه هیچ کمکی به درک سایر اندوه ها نمی‌کنه اما به گمانم یک اندوه یا فقدان از ویژگی‌هایی برخورداره که میتونه در اندوه دیگران هم نمود داشته باشه و نحوه و رویکرد مواجه شدن ما با اون موقعیت و همذات پنداری ما از اینکه دیگران نیز چنین موقعیتی را از سر گذارنده‌اند و به عبارت دیگه در این تجربه ما تنها نبوده، نیستیم و در آینده نیز نخواهیم بود، شاید آستانه تحمل ما رو تاحدی بالاتر ببره، تجربه‌ اندوهی که قدمتش به قدمت عمر آدمیه و مختص فرد و زمان خاصی نبوده و نیست و لیکن برای هر فرد این تجربه یکتا و منحصر به فرده. کتاب مملو عبارت‌هایی دوست داشتنی و تامل برانگیزه. کتابیه که دوست دارم باز هم بخوانمش و هر ازگاهی در میان واژگان و صفحاتش گم بشم.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
October 18, 2013
Barnes is a Master of Metaphor. Every single element he introduces in the first section is used, nothing is wasted. I'm left marveling at the connections his mind makes. Even the story he weaves of the nonfictional Burnaby being confused by metaphor becomes a metaphor. And what else is metaphor but the connection of two things with no previous connection, a theme Barnes uses to start off each of the three sections. And how else can emotions be described, except by the use of metaphors.

Though this can be read in one sitting (it's basically an extended essay), it's powerful. Despite Barnes' atheism, in the later sections I was reminded of C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed. Perhaps that's a facile comparison, but it seems a true one to me, especially in the unflinching honesty of both.
Profile Image for Maryam.
44 reviews5 followers
April 18, 2022
شاید صفحات اولیه‌ اون چیزی نباشه که انتظار دارین، اما به خودتون و کتاب زمان بدین و ادامه بدین، چون اندوه -مفهومی که درموردش صحبت شده- چیزی نیست که نتونیم درک کنیم، زندگی پر از موقعیت‌هایی بوده، هست و خواهد بود که مستعدِ وجودِ غم و اندوهه، درک و نگاه هرکس از غم متفاوته ولی مهم اینکه همه‌ی ما با یک موضوع مواجه‌ایم.

از تاثیر اندو�� در روابط گفته میشه:
"به زودی فهمیدم که اندوه چطور اطرافیان اندوه‌زدگان را غربال می‌کند و از نو فراهم می‌آورد، چطور دوستان محک می‌خورند، چطور بعضی‌ها قبول می‌شوند و بعضی رد. دوستی‌های قدیمی ممکن است با غصه‌های مشترک قوام یابد."
و من چقدر جمله‌ی آخر رو دوست داشتم:)
واقعا یه‌سری از رفاقت‌ها به‌دلیل‌ اینکه غصه‌های یکسانی دارین و بیشتر می‌تونین همدیگه رو درک کنین ادامه پیدا میکنن و یا حتی از ابتدا شکل میگیرن.

در یک پاراگراف دیگه:
"تلاش برای حفظ زندگی، وقتی علی‌السویه و بی‌تفاوت هستی، باطل و بیهوده است"
این دقیقاً مخالف مفاهیم روانشناسی زردی هست که خیلی وقتها باهاش مواجه‌ایم، اینکه در زمان اندوه و ناراحتی باز هم به زندگی مثبت نگاه کنیم، فقط خوبی‌ها رو ببینیم و … که غلطه.
بهمون میگه که تلاش برای شادی زیاد، مثلا‌ رفتن به جشن و سرور به اجبار و یا حتی از سمتِ دیگه، اینکه با یادآوری‌ رنج و اندوه‌هایِ بزرگتر از اندوه خودمون، تلاش در تسکین خودمون داشته باشیم، اشتباهه.
اینکه اندوه‌مون رو بپذیریم و حتی در پذیرش اون به خودمون زمان بدیم، روند بهتر و سالم‌تری رو در پیش گرفتیم.

در نهایت هم مخالفت بارنز با سخن معروف نیچه موضوع ارزشمندیه:
"هرچه ما را نمی‌کشد قوی‌ترمان می‌کند.
اما حالا مدت‌هاست که بنظرم این جمله‌ی نغز، کمی غلط‌انداز است.خیلی چیز‌ها هست که مارا نمی‌کشد اما برای ابد ضعیف‌مان می‌کند."

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382 reviews250 followers
February 14, 2017
At first I caught myself wondering "why the hell am I reading about 19th century people flying balloons?" The answer was given to me in the last of the three parts where Barnes masterfully connects the first two with a memoir of his grief following the death of his wife. It's not a book of advice on how to manage the loss of a beloved person. Instead, Barnes shares his experience and his thoughts during that time. Thoughts which can lead to other thoughts, which can lead to even more thoughts and so on. I don't think it's a book you can "enjoy" per se, but it's certainly a book you can love, feel close to and be touched and warmed by.
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