Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've said it before: I would read the phone book if Julian Barnes wrote it.
The first two thirds of the book deal with history: balloon travel, arial photography and Sarah Bernhardt. And that's ok, sort of Flaubert's Parrot-esque. Barnes' interest is that you can take two things and mix them together - look what happens (or, to quote the start of each section, "You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed...").
It's the last third that is so powerful. Barnes explores his grief following the death of his wife, how that grief is ongoing and how inept others are when it comes to speaking with him (or those who have also had a death in the family). In many ways, this is a modern version of A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and just as much of a gift from the author to readers. I'm not suggesting there be a "here are books to get you through this" gift basket with both books in it, but, maybe there should be.