“The heart of my life, the life of my heart…”
It is almost five years since Pat Kavanagh, the literary agent, died of a brain tumour. In that time, Julian Barnes, her husband of 30 years, has published three books: a collection of short stories, a collection of essays on the influence of other writers and a novel, The Sense of an Ending, which won the Booker Prize in 2011.
His new book, Levels of Life, is another hybrid; part essay, part short story and part memoir, the latter of which will generate by far the most interest, as memoirs of the well known in turmoil will do. But it is a mistake to see the book as anything other than whole: an effort by Barnes, using everything he has, to look down on the landscape of loss.
Barnes is at his home in north London. “Grief,” he says, “seems at first to destroy not just all patterns, but also to destroy a belief that a pattern exists.” This changes with the altitude of years. So now here is the pattern and it is extraordinary.