What’s ballooning got to do with life?
I picked up a very slim volume, Levels of Life by Julian Barnes, at the library recently. So slim that I read it that afternoon in a couple of hours. I was attracted to it by its authors name – Julian Barnes. I know Mr Barnes to be an excellent writer, one of whose books is an all-time favourite of mine called Arthur and George, and is like the one I am reviewing now, fact not fiction.
“Levels of life” is one of those books that defy categorising. If I said it was a short- not a lot more than 100 pages- memoir describing his grief at the loss of his much loved wife, linked in a peculiar way to hot air ballooning by such ballooniators, as they are called, as Sarah Bernhardt, the great and scandalous actress and a certain Captain Fred Barnaby, who yearned to be her lover but did not succeed – that brief description would not begin to explain what is compelling about this little book. It will, of course, speak particularly to people like me, a widower twice over and to all who have lost a loved one and felt the loneliness and emptiness that that death has left in its wake.
But this is not a man wallowing in self-pity, nor is he able to find any religious or spiritual solace. He realises that the only way to deal with his grief is to keep the memory of Pat, his wife of 29 years, alive in his own constant remembrances of her.
This is a little book but it deals with a big theme, how to handle heavy grief. His way may not be yours or mine but his sincerity in this at-times moving account, cannot be denied. How he connects the real life people involved in the early days of ballooning with his own peculiar story and feelings, I leave you to find out. It might be a very worthwhile couple of hours if you choose, like me, to give Julian Barnes your time.