Levels of Life

Levels of LifeBooker-winner Julian Barnes writes with incredible economy and marvelous craftsmanship.  Each book is different; all are worth the time.  Although Barnes’s latest book, Levels of Life, is being classified as a memoir, it is actually three long essays, only one of which is a memoir.

“You put together two things that have not been put together before.  And the world is changed.”  Thus begins the first essay, “The Sin of Height,” which catalogs some late-19th century European “balloonatics”—builders, pilots, and passengers of the era’s lighter-than-air flying machines. Barnes describes how this windblown travel was soon paired with the developing technology of photography, to produce some of the first aerial photographs.

The second essay, “On the Level,” is also about an unexpected coupling, in this case the pairing of balloonist Fred Burnaby with actress (and frequent flyer) Sarah Bernhardt. Theirs was an unlikely romance, happy though brief.

And finally, in “The Loss of Depth” Barnes lays bare his grief over the death of his wife, Pat.  The only way I could do justice here to this wise, astonishing, heartbreaking essay would be to simply quote it at length.  Better you should read Levels of Life yourself.



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