Saturday, April 11, 2009

Book Review : Nothing to be Afraid Of (Julian Barnes)


In this massive eructation of self-indulgent, rambling, repetitive prose, Julian Barnes contemplates his mortality. At considerable, punishing, length. Where does it get him? To paraphrase another writer: And the end of all his exploring is to arrive where he began. Despite the purgatorial length of this hideous hairball of a book, he never really arrives at any conclusion. The reader isn't even offered the courtesy of a chapter break. The book just meanders on with no evident direction until (mercifully) it finally just peters out.

"But surely", I hear you ask, "this is Julian Barnes, a man of such wit and erudition, he cannot fail to be delightful company along the way".

That’s what I thought, gentle reader, but I was mistaken. I believe the relevant phrase is epic fail. The biographical stuff is faintly interesting at best, and Barnes – obviously a very private man – is careful to avoid anything genuinely revealing about his personal life. Anecdotes about various friends and acquaintances, and their thoughts about death, are tediously pointless. They are rendered all the more irritating by Barnes’s referring to the people involved as ‘P’, ‘S’, ‘A’ etc., a device that should have been outlawed after the death of Kafka, and that lends the text all the crackling excitement of a proof from Euclid. Barnes's rehashing of what other writers have written about death is equally soporific.

This is a baffling and irritating book. There is no apparent reason for it to exist at all - if Mr Barnes has nothing to say to us, why not leave us in peace? Whatever made him feel impelled to torment us with these vacuous scribblings? Reading this book feels exactly like watching your favorite cat cough up a particularly dense, matted hairball. It takes forever, and you feel vicariously exhausted when it’s all over. I know that, in mediaeval times, magical healing properties were attributed to such animal hairballs, or bezoars. But the best that can be said for this one is that you won’t have to clean up the carpet afterwards.

Try Henry Alford’s infinitely more engaging “How to Live” instead.

*: One out of five possible stars.

1 comment:

The Bookish People of Libraria said...

Try Milan Kundera's 'Immortality'. Addresses the theme competently and there's plenty of life in the vehicle.