“Levels of Life” by Julian Barnes: a meditation on grief

This is a brilliant, stimulating blog for resolutely “literary” book people.

The Argumentative Old Git

In the 8th book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the gods Jupiter and Mercury, wandering the earth in disguise, find scant hospitality in the homes of the wealthy; however, they do find welcome from a poor and elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis. Once they reveal themselves as gods, they ask their hosts what they most desire. And their hosts reply that they would like to die at the same time. It isn’t death they seek to avoid, but the grief that accompanies loss. As reward, they pass from life simultaneously, metamorphosed into a pair of intertwining trees.

Grief is an emotion that we possibly still haven’t come to terms with, despite centuries of experience. We all know ‘tis common: all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity; and yet, grief sticks in our throat. We know neither how to react to the grief of others, nor how to…

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About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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