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Nothing to Be Frightened of

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  3,617 ratings  ·  525 reviews
Two years after the best-selling Arthur & George, Julian Barnes gives us a memoir on mortality that touches on faith and science and family as well as a rich array of exemplary figures who over the centuries have confronted the same questions he now poses about the most basic fact of life: its inevitable extinction.

If the fear of death is “the most rational thing in
Hardcover, 243 pages
Published September 10th 2008 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published 2008)
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Le Réveil Mortel: Sensing the End

I have always found the leap from metaphysical mystery to Christian religious belief by apologists like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton to be a rhetorical sleight of hand. It is illogical and vaguely insulting. The recognition that human language, perception, and thought don’t quite get to reality is as old as philosophy. But the idea that this inadequacy or defect or disability offers a rationale for the truth, or even the relevance, of Christian doctrine appears

Julian Barnes is nothing if not ironic for while he boldly states, or calmly reassures us that there is nothing to be frightened of, there's a lot that he fears for himself ...

As one who wouldn’t mind dying as long as I didn’t end up dead afterwards, I can certainly make a start on elaborating what my fears about dying might be. I fear being my father as he sat in a chair by his hospital bed and with quite uncharacteristic irateness rebuked me – ‘You said you were coming yesterday’ – before
Sep 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
i almost like your book. almost. it's a fun synthesis of a bunch of death related topics, there're some great historical and personal anecdotes, tons of interesting hypothetical situations and philosophical either/ors... but i object to your britishness, y'know? that whole mannered and clever and cautious thing...? this is death, man! the end! finito! skull and crossbones! grim reaper! "nothing more terrible, nothing more true!"

sure, there are gems throughout, but ultimately your book about
Jan 21, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2009

In this massive eructation of self-indulgent, rambling, repetitive prose, Julian Barnes contemplates his mortality. At considerable, punishing, length. Where does it get him? To paraphrase another writer: And the end of all his exploring is to arrive where he began. Despite the purgatorial length of this hideous hairball of a book, he never really arrives at any conclusion. The reader isn't even offered the courtesy of a chapter break. The book just meanders on with no
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
“I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” – Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened of

My first thought when I read this articulate and searching meditation on death was the incredible courage and determination of Julian Barnes in confronting his fear of mortality. It took him two years from 2005 to 2007 to consolidate his thoughts and pen his own tortuous wrangling with being an agnostic and dealing with a daily preoccupation with his fear of death. It is a tough subject matter to dwell upon but
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
I generally don’t read other people’s reviews of books before I write my own – I worry that I will end up so affected by their review that I will never know if what I have to say after reading them will really be my reaction to the book or to their review – worse, of course, is to then go on to write a review that says much the same as they have said while thinking of them as my own thoughts. But for some reason I read what one of the best reviewers on this site had to say about the book: ...more
Oct 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Does arriving at “a certain age” predispose one to thoughts of dying? Is it because I have retired that I think about death every day? I doubt it, since I have thought about it every day for as long as I can remember, for decades. Does having been a physician keep the idea of death in my mind, even after I am no longer in practice? I don’t know whether it is true of other physicians or not, nor do I know whether non-physicians have the same experience – I suspect the phenomenon is vocation ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
In one of our bathrooms we keep a drum of water which is usually half-filled and always uncovered. Occasionally, for reasons I do not know, a rat would fall into it. There'd be no way for it to climb back out. And as no one in our household is plucky enough to handle a live rat, we'll just let it stay there until it tires and finally drowns. The big black ones succumb faster than the smaller ones. The record holder of sorts was a really tough, brown, less-than-medium-sized rat athlete who kept ...more
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Only last week I was walking through Highgate Cemetery in North London, seeking out the grave of George Eliot (and taking in Marx’s now that I was there, and a few others) when I happened to walk by the grave of Julian Barnes’s wife, who I didn’t know was buried there. By coincidence, I had been listening to Barnes reading aloud this volume, which was published just six months before his wife died. How apt that he should have delved into death just months before, how ironic and how sad.

Oct 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
4 .5

I was drawn to this book because of Barnes' writing and because of the topic. If it sounds odd to say one enjoyed a book about the fear of death/complete-annihilation, so be it. Barnes is entertaining; erudite; and even chuckle-out-loud funny in this book. He writes of his childhood memories, how they differ from those of his brother; how narrative/story both shapes and changes what we remember or what we think we remember; and contemplates the idea of memory = identity.
Nov 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, witty, and absorbing. This provocative memoir, ostensibly about Julian Barnes' fear of death and dying, and the nonexistence he thinks he faces afterwards, has lots of interesting things to say about belief and disbelief in God, about family, memory, and being a writer.

The tone throughout is personal, and somehow both serious and lighthearted, at times comical. (Aside to those who've read the opening pages -- I'll never be able to tell friends again with a straight face about how I
Looking out for death?
How entertaining and lightly can one write about death? Fatalistic, subdued and saddened, yes, that we can imagine. Or maybe rebellious and desperate? Or just the other way around: with religious confidence or even fanatical arrogance, that too. And finally, maybe even with indifference, cynicism and sarcasm. In this book Julian Barnes reviews all these emotions and attitudes towards mortality. Not as a systematic essay on how others think about death, on what religions or
You know, when you have that friend - the one you met years ago, when they were quite a bit older than you, and now you know them better you can understand properly how much more of the world they've seen than you have. And every so often, you'll find yourself in the same city as them, and you'll take them out for dinner or a coffee, and you'll ask them a question, something innocuous like "So what have you been up to, then?" and they'll talk. And then, the conversation moves further away from ...more
Will Ansbacher
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: aging
Clever – does it mean, disarmingly, “[THERE’S] Nothing ...”, or does it mean the existential dread of “[THE] Nothing ...”? Barnes looks at death both ways, revealing that what he thinks he is supposed to feel isn’t at all what he really feels.

Although this is essentially a meditation on death and religion, Barnes also spends a whack of it reminiscing about his family – brother, father, mother and grandparents. (He says this isn’t a memoir but it certainly reads like one.) Barnes uses his
Apr 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
"I don't believe in God, but I miss Him."

If you're a Julian Barnes fan, an opening line like that is one of the reasons you read him. This book is funny, challenging, enlightening, frustrating and (despite its title) frightening. But tackling a subject as death needs doses of all those things, and Barnes pulls it off.

For those friends that have never read Barnes, I don't recommend this as your first read. If you come to this book by way of any of his other non-fiction, or his tremendous
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I like the way Julian Barnes writes, and I want to read more of his fiction. Instead, this is the book that was next for me. Not only did I easily find a place for it in this season's challenge, but I have reached a point in life where it is worthwhile reading a book about death and dying. No, I haven't been diagnosed with any long term illness - not even any short term ones. Though I'm past 70, I expect to enjoy some family history of longevity. Still, it's high time I should have some thoughts ...more
Books Ring Mah Bell
On and on he goes! Where he stops, no one knows!

With a great title like that and a cover showing me a grave, I expected sooooo much more. What a bummer.

What I got were the rambling thoughts of the author on his eventual demise, the demise of his parents, what (drop in big name -preferably French- philosopher/artist here) thought, and what his friends C., G., H. and T. think about death. (I hate that initial shit. Make up a name if they want to be anonymous.)

None of this seemed to flow or come
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
A meditation on death by an author who has lost parents, siblings, friends and a spouse while still in his active literary years. Death is analysed from every angle and in excruciating detail. We learn about the deaths of famous writers as well: Stendhal, Maugham, Flaubert—with the caveat that we never know when death will occur and what state of readiness we will be in when it comes. Atheists seem to have a greater fear of death, and a greater pre-occupation with it, for there is nothing else ...more
Oct 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I haven't read any of Mr. Barnes's fiction, but this work of prose (an "elegant memoir") has been a joy to read. Barnes muses on death by integrating ideas of mortality, memory, family history, questions about religion and the after-life, literature and philosophy (mostly French philosophers). "Nothing to be Frightened of" is not nearly as earthy as Thomas Lynch's "The Undertaking." Lynch is fully aware that mortality rate of humans is always 100% and he seems unfrightened to confront that final ...more
Feb 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got ‘Nothing to be Frightened of’ by Julian Barnes a few years back. I haven’t read a Julian Barnes book before – I had read bits and pieces of ‘A History of the World in 10 chapters’ and liked it, but I hadn’t finished it. The first page of ‘Nothing to be Frightened of’ started with this sentence – “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him. That’s what I say when the question is put.” It grabbed me and so I wanted to read the book as soon as I went home. I read a few pages and they were as ...more
This is NOT going to be a review of the book, because ... I don't even know why I can't review this book. I can just talk about my own experience of it. Just this time, I promise.

I am so afraid of death that it cripples me.

That sounds so pompuos, but it's true.

I am afraid of death, because it never just comes and goes. If it would be like that, none of us would ever suffer. We are human. We need time to addapt, to understand, we need to be conscious of what's happening to us or to the ones
May 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I sense a strange incongruency. My date for reading this book on Goodreads is May 2010 yet I distinctly recall reading this at Halloween the first year we lived in our house. I also recall reading one of the anecdotes to two friends, one of whom died shortly thereafter from cancer. I still think of Barnes chiding his final reader and smile. I am struggling today, keeping matters in a certain order when my impulse is to flee. We are on holiday next week and I am working quite a bit before then ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it
"What's all this about death, by the way?" she continued. I explained that I didn't like the idea of it"

I had put off this book simply because I feared it despite the authors helpful title. Books about death can have that effect on people. And yet, the book is more a medley of deaths, memory of deaths, process of dying, philosophy and faith. What makes it readable is Julian Barnes narrative.

"A novelist is someone who remembers nothing yet records and manipulates different versions of what he
Aug 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Another gem from Julian Barnes, perhaps best characterized as a memoir in essay form.

By which I mean, it doesn't have a narrative arc or set out to take us through Barnes' life or any particular chronological section of it. In fact, it leaves lots out--his marriage and his professional life are noticeably absent.

Instead, it begins the way a magazine essay on mortality might, with some musings about how we cope with death in a post-religious society (keep in mind, this is England, not
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
For years I avoided Barnes: I blame Martin Amis and Ian McEwan for reaching a point in their career where they were just marking time, and my stupidity for lumping Barnes in with them. Plus, the subject matter: it's fair to assume that maybe this is a gap-filler, a publisher suggestion for an idea-impoverished author etc.

Happily, this is Barnes' best book, of those things of his I finally got round to. He is the best of that generation of English writers, I think. Stylistically he is peerless.
Dec 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
It takes 185 pages (in my edition) but Julian Barnes finally manages to define what “life” means to him: “a span of consciousness during which certain things happen, some predictable, others not; where certain patterns repeat themselves, where the operations of chance and what we may as well call for the moment free will interact; where children on the whole grow up to bury their parents, and become parents in their turn; where, if we are lucky, we find someone to love, and with them a way to ...more
Nathan Hobby
I couldn’t put this memoir down. I didn’t mean to read it all but I couldn’t help it. I could discern no structure at all, but just followed Barnes for two hundred pages of reflections on death and God through the lens of his family. The whole memoir has the sort of wistfulness of the opening line quoted in the title of this post: ‘I don’t believe in God but I miss him.’

Despite the constant humour, it is a frightening book to read. I have never thought through so fully the consequences of not
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: death, british
Yet. Still. And finally, yet still? In this slim volume, Barnes has amassed musings on death from a quarry of the world’s greatest thinkers and added his own. Despite the brainpower, energy and spin expended all that’s known is it defies preparation and is inescapable. The 'yet still' being death’s rhetorical rattle.

Acerbic in tone with a smattering of poignant anecdotes, one gets the impression that this is a personal dialog and accounting; he, too, comes haltingly to the conclusion that
John Alt
Mar 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In reading this book I was reminded of William Hazlitt's essay, "On the Fear of Death." Hazlitt observes that we have no fear of the time before we were born, so why should we be afraid of a time after death? For Julian Barnes it is not that simple. Against Hazlitt's quite rational argument there is that old animal at the bottom of the brain that does not know reason. Emotion comes first; reason second. We feel and only after that might we be able to summon the will to over-ride the feeling.

Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-biography
Most readers I see below were disappointed by this book, though I'm not sure why; its tone, style, erudition, and recursive consideration of ideas seems pretty much in keeping with his body of work. It's a Julian Barnes book, first and foremost, and it feels like his work in just about every particular. I don't share his fear of death (at least, not yet), so those musings resonate much less with me than do his portraits of living with those around him who are dying, and about the perfidy of ...more
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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
“When we fall in love, we hope - both egotistically and altruistically - that we shall be finally, truly seen: judged and approved. Of course, love does not always bring approval: being seen may just as well lead to a thumbs-down and a season in hell.” 115 likes
“Memory is identity....You are what you have done; what you have done is in your memory; what you remember defines who you are; when you forget your life you cease to be, even before your death.” 54 likes
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