The Pain and Irony of Death in Julian Barnes's Memoirs Nothing to Be Frightened Of and Levels of Life




Julian Barnes, death, memory, contemporary fiction


Julian Barnes is one of the best-known contemporary British authors, not only for his taste for formal experimentation well-documented in the novels and short stories he has published since the 1980s, but also for his obsession with death. Despite the fact that death – as a prime concern expressed through his characters’ discussions, particularly when they are in their old age – has been present in most of Barnes fictional works, the topic becomes centre-stage in the two memoirs that he has published, namely, Nothing to Be Frightened Of (2008) and Levels of Life (2013). In his memoirs, Barnes connects his personal experience with the works of philosophers and writers and with the experiences of those around him with the aim of trying to discern how he himself and, by extension, his own contemporaries and Western society have dealt with death. For Barnes, writing becomes a therapy to confront his own existential fears as well as traumatic experiences – such as the sudden death of his wife as described in Levels of Life – at the same time that he reflects on the place death occupies in contemporary times.

Author Biography

Maricel Oró-Piqueras, Universitat de Lleida

Maricel Oró-Piqueras is Associate Professor at the Department of English and Linguistics, Universitat de Lleida. She is also a member of research group Dedal-Lit since it started working on the representation of fictional images of ageing and old age in 2002. Her research interests include ageing and old age in contemporary British fiction as well as representations of gender and ageing in film and TV series. She has co-edited the volumes Serializing Age: Ageing and Old Age in TV Series (2016) and Re-Discovering Age(ing): Narratives of Mentorship (2019) and has published in journals such as The Gerontologist, Journal of Aging Studies and Critique: Journal in Contemporary Fiction.