For something noone knows anything about – death – the British
writer Julian Barnes has managed 250 pages of fascinating copy.
He looks at faith in God and meditates on mortality and our fear of
death. But he also looks at the great paintings of Giotto, and wonders
if faith makes a difference in our ability to enjoy them. The same
thing applies to the great requiems in music.
He examines the philosophies of a number of writers, including
Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway and particularly the French
writer Jules Renard. At Oxford, Barnes studied Montaigne who, he
claims, is where our modern thinking about death begins. To be a
philosopher, said Montaigne, is to learn how to die.
Barnes spends much of the book looking at his parents, how they
died. He does this with humour and affection, as with his brother,
who teaches philosophy. He tells us this is not an autobiography,
but it does in fact tell us a lot about Barnes the man and the novelist.
He has a light touch, in spite of his subject, and the book is
frank, wise, and funny. Barnes has written ten novels, as well as
two collections of short stories. He lives in London, England.
Book Review by Anne McDougall