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Nothing to Be Frightened Of Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 2, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this virtuosic memoir, Barnes (Arthur & George) makes little mention of his personal or professional life, allowing his audience very limited ingress into his philosophical musings on mortality. But like Alice tumbling through the rabbit hole, readers will find themselves granted access to an unexpectedly large world, populated with Barnes's daily companions and his chosen ancestors (most of them dead, and quite a few of them French, like Jules Renard, Flaubert, Zola). This is not 'my autobiography,' Barnes emphasizes in this hilariously unsentimental portrait of his family and childhood. Part of what I'm doing—which may seem unnecessary—is trying to work out how dead they are. And in this exploration of what remains, the author sifts through unreliable memory to summon up how his ancestors—real and assumed—contemplated death and grappled with the perils and pleasures of pit-gazing. If Barnes's self-professed amateur philosophical rambling feels occasionally self-indulgent, his vivid description delights. (Sept.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Most critics strongly recommended Julian Barnes's reflections on mortality. However, perhaps reluctant to embrace his disbelief, they seemed more impressed by his descriptive skill in depicting his family—in particular, his emotionally remote brother—even though a few critics cited the author himself as emotionally closed in his personal writing. Reviewers also praised the scope of Barnes's literary erudition more than any actual insight into the subject of death. A few reviewers felt that this dance around the subject makes Nothing to Be Frightened Of weaker than Barnes's other books. But most embraced the book's novelistic ambiguity, enjoying the story even if the author himself does not know how it will end.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307269639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269638
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Novelist Julian Barnes thinks a lot about death. And he doesn't like it; he describes himself as "one who wouldn't mind dying as long as I didn't end up dead afterwards." Naturally death has been part of some of his books, but in _Nothing to Be Frightened Of_ (Knopf), death takes center stage in what is a memoir and an essay on a popular subject. Everybody thinks about dying, but Barnes has used his thoughts to power a book that is funny (look at the two meanings in that title), sad, informative, and earnest. Barnes quotes many stars from history about the big subject, like Freud, who said that it was impossible for any of us to imagine our own deaths. Barnes strongly disagrees. He is 62, and does not give any intimation of ill-health, but since adolescence he has been thinking about his own death, and those of others. He isn't morbid. "I am certainly melancholic myself," he writes, "and sometimes find life an overrated way of passing the time; but have never wanted not to be myself anymore, never desired oblivion." The inevitable end is coming, however, so Barnes seems to be saying let's look at it seriously, and learn and laugh, and keep it in mind to season the days of our lives. Just remember, as he says, "that the death rate for the human race is not a jot lower than one hundred per cent."

Barnes's family had a family Bible, but it was someone else's family's, bought at auction, "... and was never opened except when Dad jovially consulted it for a crossword clue." His father was a "death-fearing agnostic", his mother a "fearless atheist", and much of his book has to do with how the two of them interacted, and then, well, died.
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Format: Hardcover
Julian Barnes has long been a novelist preoccupied with death. Every one of his previous books has, I think, contained at least one section featuring ruminations on the inevitable dénouement to life, but never before has he devoted a whole book to the subject.

Nothing to be Frightened of is a book that will appeal mainly to long term Barnes fans. It is a return to the smorgasbord style - part essay, part epistolary debate, part philosophical disquisition, part literary homage that hallmarked his great 1984 novel Flaubert's Parrot, and was reprised in his 1989 meditation on history, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters. This book is hard to summarize, but the blurb writer has an impressive stab in one sentence: `among many things, a family memoir, an exchange with his brother (a philosopher), a meditation on mortality and the fear of death, a celebration of art, an argument with and about God, and a homage to the French writer Jules Renard.' That just about does it. It is something of a departure from Barnes's previous novels and essays, a comedown from the lofty heights of intellectual detachment, as he gives the reader an insight into episodes from his own life, particularly his relations with his family, people he has written of very little in the past.

Not that we should read this as his autobiography mind. A scrupulous guarder of his privacy, Barnes is unlikely to rip the lid off and spill everything in a messy reveal all in one go. Rather, he reaches into the pot to reach out carefully chosen morsels, starting with an account of his maternal grandparents who were an arch conservative and communist respectively. He recalls how his grandfather used to let the young Julian and his brother watch while he wrang chicken's necks in the garage.
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If this book were written by someone other than Barnes, I'd have given it another star or two, perhaps. But I hold Barnes to a higher standard. (I'll never forget restudying Madame Bovary as a grad student, then reading Flaubert's Parrot and being blown away by it in every regard--exquisite literary criticism, intricately fascinating plot, overall brilliance.)

But reading Nothing to Be Frightened Of was akin to being stuck over too many cups of tea with a garrulous old fogey, more self satisfied with his clever reflections than he is interested in the purpose of them--in this case, the theme of his book.

For one thing, I found something extra-literarily embarrassing about the details of his father, his mother, and their deaths. As an author, Barnes abandons these intimacies to the page without taking on their one salient quality--their homely mundanity. (One exception: the leather pouffe brought home from India by his father and subsequently stuffed with the letters--shredded--of his parents' courtship. What a stunning exemplar of the cruel entropy of time--and how Barnesian! (Except, there it lies on page 33, kerplunk.))

To belabor the tea analogy: I have sat at my kitchen table over tea with any number of old fogey friends and listened to their musings on death, replete with their memories and literary correspondences, and have found them as interesting in vivo as Barnes might be, if also in vivo. But a book is not a chat between generous friends. I perked up on page 47 at the introduction of Jules Renard, he who uttered "I don't know if God exists, but it would be better for His reputation if He didn't." By page 52 I was wishing Barnes would dodder off already and leave his seat to Jules while I made a fresh pot.
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