I really enjoyed The Sense of an Ending and stumbled upon this book in the library and thought it would be lovely to read Barnes' thoughts on death. Unfortunately, he really only has about 100 pages worth of thoughts on death, but felt the need to extend this book to a full 243 pages. There is so much repetition in this book; he re-quotes people several times, just a few of which are the examples of his parent's in their final moments; Dodie Smith; Stravinsky; Ravel; and Beyle/Stendhal. I think if he had better organized this book it would have been more pleasurable to read (albeit much shorter since he couldn't completely retell things several times). It reads like a rambling old man...maybe he is more like his mom post-stroke than he wants to believe.
Certainly the theme of false memory carries throughout (and reminded me of the Stone Diaries, which I just finished..actually Daisy's death reminded me of Julian's mother as well, but that's a entirely separate discussion); as does the different stages of death (immediate death, then death of all loved ones who once knew us, then death of us in memory, and eventually..for the author..death of the last reader of his work). I did like the idea that writers are more prone to fear death; in my personal experience I have noted that creative people tend to have (in part) their motivation to create from this desire to leave an impression which cultivates from a fear of death (see there, I just matched..including the parentheses..the rambling tone of the book).
Overall it was very francophile (certainly in part because his dad was a french teacher?), reminded me of the first chapter of Christopher Hutchen's book (he had the decency to leave the topic to a concise 30 pages) and I wondered if these were the same Friday lunches (British writers of similar ages, class, and temperment). I also thought that Alex Brilliant was probably the prototype for the brilliant suicide in Sense of an Ending, but of course that is one book he did not mention (despite mentioning his first novel about 10 times throughout).
Despite my complaints, there were a few (I only mention four here) quotes/thoughts that I really liked.
I have never come across (deficiency in my own education, no doubt) the Pascalian wager before, but agree with it whole-heartedly. As a child in a very religious household (now an agnostic, despite Dawkin's criticism that agnostics are worse than believers because they are wishy-washy), I often wondered what the harm was in believing just in case. Of course, the trouble is that if you are pretending to believe, just in case, then you aren't of course, actually believing.
"You may have your own personal idea of God, but does God have His own personal idea of you?" I love the criticism that people who determine what is "right for them" or "works" for them do not in fact have the power to determine what God is...certainly part of belief would include that you have no control over the determination of God's form/thoughts/abilities, etc.
I like his hierarchy of death/religious feeling (maybe simply because I fall into the first category), those who don't believe and yet still, don't fear death. I found this humorous and true (which of course, that is what makes anything humorous...the truth).
I have often pointed out that my lack of a fear of death is the same as my inability to care about the fact that I was not present during the middle ages. This also came up in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; and is something that I had always thought was a pretty solid logical argument. Barnes puts a nice turn on it though, but pointing out that the time leading up to my fabulous birth was exactly that...leading up to my birth. So far from not concerning me, it was leading to me. And so, I do have to care about everything that went before and certainly can't claim to not care about everything that comes after as a lovely mirror image.
So, it gets a three star...some of it was interesting, but a lot of it felt like unnecessary name dropping, repetition of details, and just rambling.