Nothing to be Frightened of
by Julian Barnes
"I may be dead by the time you are reading this sentence."
Julian Barnes gets all his thoughts on death down on paper before his doctor gets to him in the future to deliver the, Mr Barnes - I'm afraid it's not good news.
So the book is like a will drawn up in preparation for his inevitable death, by whatever form it takes. Although by all accounts Barnes is in good health and has many more years before him, he's written this book now as insurance against a rushed job as his draws his final breath.
So instead of a thinned narrative of a dying man, we get the literary genius of Barnes saying in full health ...
"Let's get this death thing straight."
And for us this is good news.
The book is thought provoking and demonstrates the ability of Barnes to intelligently consider a taboo subject. And far from being macabre, you feel like you are being invited to chat with Julian over an after dinner cigar. It's all very english:
"My fear of death is low-level, reasonable, practical."
Some would run around screaming, "We are all going to die!" in the face of death. Julian in effect says, calm down stop running around like a headless chicken, or worse still sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich and let's talk about it calmly over port and cheese.
He brings death out into the light, where it is less frightening.
Leaving it in the dark, is never a good idea - it's far scary. Julian flicks the light on for us and attempts to dispel the lurking beast from under the bed.
Julian also brings a good dose of humour in to wash down the bitter pill.
"Sometimes (I) find life an overrated way of passing the time."
Into the mix then are thrown God, Barnes' brother, French writer Jules Renard and some Barnes family memoir ( although he says "this is not my autobiography." )
So, for example, we get Barnes giving account as to how he let go of a possibility of religion as an adolescent,
"hunched over some book or magazine in the family bathroom, I used to tell myself that God couldn't possibly exist because the notion that He might be watching me while I masturbated was absurd."
"I don't believe in God, but I miss him."
Hmm - so God was there in the bathroom, until Julian couldn't bear the thought and banished him?!
Barnes' stance now? An agnostic -
"How can we be sure that we know enough to know?"
One of Barnes' recent books was called The lemon Table - a collection of short stories - The lemon being the Chinese symbol for death.
What Barnes does in Nothing to be Frightened of, is invite us in around his own lemon table and opens the discussion.
It feels like he really hopes he won't have the last word.
Later today: Part 2 of my interview with Julian.
For the Julian Barnes website click here.