I have been eagerly awaiting the novelist’s new book, Levels of Life, which will be on the bookshelves on Saturday.

Last night, on BBC 4’s Front Row programme, Barnes was interviewed by Mark Lawson (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rlnht). I was struck by how open and candid the author was, particularly as he has always been intensely private about his personal life.

During the interview, Barnes spoke of the “private devastation” he experienced following the death of his wife Pat Kavanagh in 2008. Resistant as always to publicly exposing himself, Levels of Life appears to be part biography and autobiography, and part fiction. The grief Barnes has experienced since the death of Kavanagh, who was “the heart of my life; the life of my heart” (http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21575738-writer-reflects-love-loss-and-ballooning-sense-no-ending) appears to resonate strongly throughout the entire book, irrespective of the different genres involved. Barnes himself refuses to categorise the book, or to attach any definitive label to it.

In the interview, Barnes refers to the power of grief to reconfigure time and space, creating a new geography of sorts.

Each individual’s experience of grief is unique, and as Barnes discovered, there is no way of predicting how one will deal with it until it happens. Some things surprised him following his wife’s death, such as his new found love of opera. Sport also unexpectedly served a purpose, providing an ‘ocularly involving’, but an emotionally detached, distraction.

Barnes also spoke of the suicidal moments within his grieving process. For him, the ultimate antidote to suicide lay with his role as the principal rememberer of Kavanagh, a moral responsibility of sorts to continue on as a repository of his wife’s life and memories.

The author challenges Nietzsche’s maxim (as did Christopher Hitchens), “that which does not kill us makes us stronger”. For Barnes, grief weakened him, and in no way gave him strength. Time has helped, and he has to some extent experienced a physical and mental recovery. When he questions himself about how he should now live, he allows himself to be guided by his wife, leading his life as she would want him to.

Barnes challenges the notion that time diminishes grief. It is clear that his love for his wife did not diminish during their time together, on the contrary, and he therefore questions why his grief should fade with time.

I look forward to reading Levels of Life

CQ

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