An essay on grief…
In this short book, Barnes gives an intimate picture of his on-going grief over the death of his wife in 2008. It is not easy reading as it touches on aspects of grief that most of us will have faced at some time and will either still be going through or will with luck have moved on from. He starts with a contemplation of ballooning as a metaphor for love raising us to a higher level, but the bulk of the book is about how he has lived with his grief, including his musings on whether he would or will commit suicide.
I have chosen not to give this a ‘star-rating’ as it surely cannot be defined as ‘I love it’, ‘It’s OK’ etc. It is undoubtedly skilfully written and moving in parts. It is, and I’m sorry to say it, also self-indulgent – while accepting that other people have undoubtedly undergone grief, Barnes writes as if he is the first to truly experience and understand it. It also seemed strange that this man in his sixties writes as if he is encountering grief for the first time in his life. I suspect he is subtly making a case for the grief of an uxorious husband (he uses the word uxorious himself, several times) being greater than other griefs.
I would, I suspect, have found this deeply moving had it been a letter from a close friend, but its intimacy is too intense – it left me with an uncomfortable sense of voyeurism. He criticises, in ways that I’m sure would enable them to recognise themselves, his friends’ attempts to console him with clichéd expressions of condolence and encouragement. Have we not all felt that? But have we not all understood the genuine warmth behind these clichés and forgiven the clumsiness? Indeed, have we not all been as clumsy when the situation was reversed? But I think it is his musing on the possibility of his own suicide, a future he does not wholly rule out, that left me feeling I had read a private letter addressed to someone else.
We will all react differently to this book and for some it may provide comfort to know that the feelings we feel are not unique to us. I wish I could have written an uncritical review of this – I considered not posting a review at all, but it seems to me that some people will be misled by the publisher’s blurb, as I was, and find themselves reading, not a novel about ‘ballooning, photography, love and grief’, but an essay on Barnes’ personal road through his own grief – a road it seems he is still travelling.