Levels of Life – Julian Barnes

I took a look at extracts (pp. 3–5, 36–40, 67–71) from the three parts of Julian Barnes, Levels of Life  (2014) where the author describes … stuff. Actually, if you read what I’ve written below, you’ll get the gist.

  • What different kinds of writing can you identify?
    The first part consists of reportage: some repeating of historical facts in a matter-of-fact manner. The second part has approximately the same detached tone, but includes a measure of emotion, some little interior-dialogue and a whole heap of (fictional) conversation between two of the people mentioned it the first part. The last part is a monologue on life, love, death and grief. It is personal, heartfelt and affecting on more than one level.
  • Do these extracts seem to belong to the same genre?
    The extracts are in the same voice, with the same tone and a similar style but belong to different genres in that the first is journalism, the second is historical drama and the third is … I want to say confessional, but nothing is really confessed so I’ll say that it’s memoir in a literary and fictionalised style.
  • Can you spot any continuities or discontinuities, whether stylistic (e.g. similar or dissimilar forms of writing, types of voice and tone, or kinds of sentences) or thematic?
    There is a thread; a theme that runs through the pieces: that of meetings and … whatever the opposite of that is. Leavings? There are also other, more minor motifs as mentioned above.
    The pieces are on a gradient, moving from detachment to connection to separation. The emotion contained in these pieces also follows this curve (from less to more).
    The tone seem to remain fairly constant throughout all pieces; there is a kind of authorial detachment even when emotion reaches its peak.
    There’s an interesting continuity of voice in that the first piece describes being above (in balloons), the second starts with an overview (from above) and rather detached (using the pronoun ‘we’) point-of-view. This progresses to a more personal feel (pronouns: ‘he’ and ‘she’) as the characters come closer to each other. The last part continues this closeness in that it describes an intimate relationship and this leads to a sundering of the two, which leads to a different kind of emotional closeness that arises from the distance that death creates.
    There are stylistic discontinuities, as noted above, but they are mere devices. They enhance rather than disturb the deeper continuities in this work.

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