An acute morbid streak and lifelong painful awareness of mortality means that every summers day has a secret cloud on the horizon. Every feast has its ghost and each howl of mirth, a dissonant scream of inward fear.
So it’s of some comfort to know that others are the same – especially when as articulate as Julian Barnes. His A History Of The World In 10½ Chapters got me through a mid-life crisis (such is the power of literature), and now Nothing to be Frightened of is having a similarly beneficial effect.
That others too wake up in the night in despair at their allotted time and together we form a silent chorus of outrage and futility. And it’s not just me and Julian; a long list of artist of artistic types, from Larkin to Stendhal all lost sleep over the matter (and yes, this is the only time I can count myself in such distinguished company).
The most quotable of his examples thus far is Jules Renard on belief in heaven:
“I’m happy to believe anything you suggest, but the justice of this world doesn’t exactly reassure me about the justice of the next. I fear that God will just carry on blundering: He’ll welcome the wicked into heaven and boot the good down into hell.”
Once you are reconciled to the idea that you may not be missing all that much in a possible afterlife, things do sit easier in the mind.