Anthony Webster, a man in his sixties, recollects his old days. His school days. His two other friends Colin and Alex and how a third boy named Adrian made to the group. Together they went through their school life and parted with the promise that they will always remain friends. But life has different plans. In University, Anthony meets Veronica and they are in love with each other, but they broke up eventually and surprisingly enough they end up having sex after they have broken up. Later, Tony, through a letter from Adrian, gets to know that Adrian is going around with Veronica. A few months later Tony gets to know that Adrian has committed suicide. Till here we feel it is a mundane story of a sixty year old man's life who is easy going and has a "go with the flow" attitude.
But then you start the Part Two of the book where Tony gets a letter from a lawyer and things take a very different turn. As a part of a will by Veronica's mother, Tony is left Adrian's dairy and five hundred pounds. But Veronica refuses to part with the dairy. As we read through the book we get to know that Tony, in a moment of rage had written a letter to Adrian. A very cruel and disgusting letter which only a dumped lover can write and Tony had conveniently forgotten about the same. And thus unfolds the very unusual and thriller-like gripping plot of the story.
When you read through the second half of the book, you will find yourself wondering about Adrian's dairy. What is there in it? Will Tony even get it? The plot becomes more gripping whrn Veronica sends a photocopied part of the diary. But little do we know that the story is much more than that. It is this unconventional teasing of your thoughts which hooks you to the story. You keep reading with something in your mind but what unfolds is absolutely different and unfathomable. Tony's way of grappling through his emotions, his guilt when he confronts the letter he had written years ago in a state of rage. But as Veronica says "You will never get it. You never did", neither will us the readers get what the story is unfolding until the very last page of the book. And even at the end we are left wondering about the child, the mathematical equation which is there in the part of Adrian's dairy that Tony was handed over.
A brilliant piece of work, the story line, the way the story unfolds, the way it provokes you to predict something completely different and you keep thinking "ok, so what next" is what makes the book a worth reading. A must read according to me!
I was first introduced to Julian Barnes when I read "Sense of an Ending" and I absolutely loved the book. So, I had no doubt that Levels of Life will also be an amazing experience as well. This essay about photography, ballooning, love, life and loss in Barnes unique style, will hook you to it. The book is divided into three chapters and each one looks at a different level of life.
The first chapter :Sin of Heights" talks of three different people : An English Colonel Fred Burnaby, the bohemian French actress Sarah Bernhardt and the balloonist and photographer Nadar. All three of them have a common passion for ballooning. Here Barnes uses the metaphor of ballooning and photography to describe the thrill of flight, of conquering God's territory. As every love story is potentially a grief story, every balloon expedition can potentially be a disaster, but it also can lead to adventure and freedom. And if you can combine ballooning with photography - the world is changed.
“You put together two things that have not been put together before And the world is changed"
The second chapter "On the Level" is where we see Sarah and Fred together. They have a lot in common, their bohemian way of living and their passion for ballooning, but when Fred falls in love with Sarah and proposes to marry her, she refuses. Engrossed in her own life, Sarah chooses to float in the air like a balloon than come down on earth and have a settled life. This chapter is a midway between the highs of chapter one and lows of chapter three.
"Why do we constantly aspire to love? Because love is the meeting point of truth and magic. Truth as in photography, magic as in ballooning".
The last chapter, "Loss of Depth" is where we come face to face with the searingly painstaking memoir of Barnes. In this chapter he talks of the death of his wife Pat Kavanagh and the grief and mourning that follows. From being angry towards people who carefully avoids talking about her, and also towards people who talks about her, to contemplating suicide, Barnes takes us through his plethora of emotions and his constant attempt to cope with it. How he imagines her all the time and is in constant conversation with her, is something we can all relate to.
Even thought we have a huge range of literature talking of love and loss of love, we all find ourselves at loss of words while describing grief our struggles to deal with it. In this book, Barnes pens down these emotions with such simplicity and authenticity that you cannot help but find yourself soaking in this heartbreaking experience.
"It hurts exactly as much as it is worth, so in a way one relishes the pain, I think".
L'Histoire, ce ne sont pas les mensonges des vainqueurs, comme je l'ai trop facilement affirmé au vieux Joe Hunt autrefois ; je le sais maintenant. Ce sont plutôt les souvenirs des survivants, dont la plupart ne sont ni victorieux, ni vaincus.
Mais je dirais ça comme ça : elle ne voit que ce qui a changée, je ne vois que ce qui est resté pareil.
Deux autres choses qu'elle a dites au fil des années : qu'il y a des femmes qui ne sont pas mystérieuses du tout, mais seule l'inaptitude des hommes à les comprendre fait paraître telles.
Rappelez-vous les trois signes de la sagesse - ne rient voir de mal, ne rien entendre de mal, ne rien dire de mal.
Il me semble que cela peut être des différences entre la jeunesse et la vieillesse : quand on est jeune, on invente différents avenirs pour soi-même; quand on est vieux, on invente différents passé pour les autres.
Plus on apprend, moins on craint. "Apprend" non dans le sens scolaire du terme, mais dans le sens d'une compréhension pratique de l'existence.
J'ai parfois tenté d'imaginer le désespoir qui mène au suicide, cette nuit de l’âme dans laquelle seule la mort apparaît comme un point de lumière: autrement dit, le contraire de la condition normale de l'existence.
Et plus on avance en âge, plus rares sont ceux qui peuvent contester notre version, nous rappeler que cette vie n'est pas notre vie, mais seulement l'histoire que nous avons racontée au sujet de notre vie. Racontée aux autres, mais - surtout - à nous-même.