Friday, July 17, 2009

Nothing to be Frightened Of - Julian Barnes

Despite the creepy photograph of himself on this book, according to Julian Barnes, we have nothing to be frightened of. Whether this means we are free from fright, or whether this means we should actually be afraid of nothingness is a concept that Barnes explores thoroughly in his quest to understand his own and society's collective feelings about death. I tagged this book as a memoir even though Barnes claims it is not a memoir, but only because he does speak a great deal about his family and his life and how everything came to shape his thinking about death. Barnes, an athiest turned agnostic, ponders the existence of God and the impact of the concept of God on our thoughts and behavior. Barnes shares the beliefs of other authors, philosophers, composers and theologians in a way that does not seem to have much rhyme or reason. The book is not divided into chapters on different aspects of death, but rather just short sections each about a different event or thought, almost as if Barnes were keeping a diary on his thoughts of death and each section was a different entry. For this reason I found that as I went on if I came across a section about an aspect of death that I did not find particularly interesting, I could just skip it an move on to his next thought. Often when I read books like this (not necesarily about death, but just about anything), I wonder, "what makes this person think the public would care about their thoughts on this topic? Who is Julian Barnes to tell me anything about why and how we should think about this very personal topic?" But of course Barnes isn't telling anyone how to think about anything, he's just ruminating in the hopes of finding some solutions for himself. And obviously, I borrowed the book, so apparently he is someone whose thoughts I care to read. While the topic of death may seem depressing - or one would assume the point of the book would be to be uplifting about life - I didn't find this book to be either of those things. Just a frank, and sometimes humorous, comment on the human condition.

1 comment:

MalĂș Huacuja del Toro said...

Thank you for your clarifying review. I'm a longtime fan of this author, and an atheist, yet I couldn't make almost anything out of this book. You are so right about the picture: it portraits the mismatching contents of the whole unchaptered book. He might have been too distraught to talk about this particular subject. As for me, I deal with death every day (my loved one is sick, I'm sick too), so the last thing I want to read is someone being so confused about it. It's not about "confusion vs God", but about a well structured book. Sorry, idol. My loved ones might be dying, I might be dying too, but I still don't believe in God, and when it comes to absurdity of life, I stick with good old Camus with "The Myth of Sysiphus".