Levels of Life by Julian Barnes

Gloucester Neurology Book Club convened over Zoom for its first meeting in the COVID-19 era to discuss Levels of Life,1 Barnes’ grief memoir. Despite some attendees bemoaning the need to pour their own drinks and failing to unmute microphones, the virtual format was a successful platform for open dialogue on an important and deeply personal topic.

In 2008, Barnes’s wife Pat Kavanagh was diagnosed with a brain tumour, dying just 37 days later. Five years on, Barnes published this short book, split into three sections or levels. All begin with the same concept, linking three seemingly unrelated stories: ‘You put together two things that have not been put together before’.

Barnes begins by constructing a long metaphor with balloon flight and photography representing freedom, heights and imprinting of memories. We learn about 19 century Anglo-French ballooning and the intersecting lives of three celebrated balloonists from the era: English officer, Colonel…

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