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Publisher's Summary

”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 him as “an unparalleled magus of the heart”. This book confirms that opinion.

©2014 Audible, Inc. (P)2014 Audible, Inc.

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 09-27-16

Every love story is a potential grief story.

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.

13 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Stunning essay on grief

A beautifully written tribute to the grief Julian Barnes feels over the death of his wife. The thoughts he shares are keen. He is eloquent on the loss we fear most.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Not what I expected.

If you could sum up Levels of Life in three words, what would they be?

Too much ballooning!

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

The latter part of this book finally got to the part about love and loss and that was what I purchased it for. I could have done without ballooning and Sarah Bernhart, thank you.

Which character – as performed by Julian Barnes – was your favorite?

Julian himself and his exquisite narration.

Any additional comments?

Mr. Barnes is a brilliant writer and I have read three of his books and will continue to do so in the future. This book was a bit frustrating in the beginning because it just didn't get to the point until the latter half of the book.

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  • Susan
  • 12-05-13

Truthful and painful

What did you like most about Levels of Life?

The link between the ballooning and living after a death, and the very truthful and thoughtless things people say and do to a bereaved person. Sounds quite a confessional report from the author, and is sometimes painful to hear, but it is absolutely how it feels (bereavement, not ballooning). Made me think carefully about what I would say, and what I would feel most supported by in such circumstances.

What did you like best about this story?

This is not a story but a disguised autobiography.

Have you listened to any of Julian Barnes’s other performances? How does this one compare?

This is more thoughtful and considered, with a great depth of feeling.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The reading made me think very hard about the situation, and was sobered by his courage in reading his own experience.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul S. Turner
  • 07-20-14

The tropics of grief

Would you listen to Levels of Life again? Why?

Totally and utterly heartbreaking.His exploration of his own grief of losing his wife of 30 years is detailed and totally honest

What did you like best about this story?

his honesty and total love of his wife

Which scene did you most enjoy?

It hurts as much as it's worth,so in a way one relishes the pain. if it didn't matter,it wouldn't matter

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

i was in flood of tears

Any additional comments?

the most beautiful book i have read in years

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Leya
  • 10-19-13

The heights and depths- exquisite

So very, very well written! Well crafted in three parts. The first two parts are facinating. The third part is one of the most honest and powerful I have ever read.

A surprising and powerful novel, and I plan to read it again.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Duncan
  • 06-03-15

Beautifully done

A meditation on personal grief that is moving, witty and poignant. A wonderful writer sharing deeply.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lenka
  • 04-13-13

Levels of Life Julian Barnes

Currently listening to this book on a way to tube station in the morning and I could not ask for a better way to fill this time if I looked for it. The fact that the author covers the books makes it very special. Great plot, era and very technical knowledge. Highly recommend.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Alan Coady
  • 04-13-16

All levels including zero

What made the experience of listening to Levels of Life the most enjoyable?

The most enjoyable element was the resonant metaphors which repeatedly occur throughout the text, regardless of the seemingly disparate ingredients of ballooning, photography, love and grief.

What did you like best about this story?

Barnes's characteristically elegant prose. I've read/heard almost everything he's written but it struck me for the first time in this book that he manages to achieve a great paradox in his writing. Everything seems simultaneously familiar and surprising.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

I don't think 'enjoy' is the word but the passages on grief were very affecting - prompting a sense of painful anticipation.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

It didn't occur to me to listen all in one sitting but I might well do this when I revisit the book - which is a certainty.

Any additional comments?

This may be my favourite Barnes book - perhaps due to that authority which writer as narrator confers.

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  • Sennichi
  • 03-18-16

Absolutely wonderful and thought provoking

What did you like most about Levels of Life?

It really made me think Julian Barnes is also wonderfully articulate.

What did you like best about this story?

The honesty of Julian Barnes

Which scene did you most enjoy?

There wasn't any scenes as he is talking about the experience of dealing with bereavement

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes

Any additional comments?

Julian Barnes has a beautiful voice