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Nothing to Be Frightened Of, By Julian Barnes

Reviewed,Brandon Robshaw
Sunday 15 March 2009 01:00 GMT

This is a thoughtful and elegantly written memoir, as one would expect from Julian Barnes: an account primarily of his lifelong fear of death, but also of his relationship with his parents, his philosopher brother (the word "rivalry" is never mentioned, but one can feel it) and with several dead writers, most notably Jules Renard of Poil de Carotte fame.

Barnes finds no consolation in religion: "I don't believe in God, but I miss him," he says, a sentiment which his brother dismisses as "soppy". (I have to say I agree.) Barnes actually say anything new about death but he is excellent on his specialist subject of literature, and also on family dynamics: the relationship between his parents is brilliantly done, his mother coming across as possibly more disagreeable than he intended. (Then again, maybe not). The insistent reference to the fact that Barnes himself is a writer is overdone, though. He mentions that he's a novelist on just about every other page; but then, perhaps leaving books behind feels like a little retaliatory knock at death.

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