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Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
  1. Hamish Duncan Morrison1,2,
  2. Roswell Martin1
  1. 1 Neurology, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Gloucester, UK
  2. 2 Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Hamish Duncan Morrison, Neurology, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Gloucester GL1 3NN, UK; hamish.morrison{at}

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Gloucester Neurology Book Club convened over Zoom for its first meeting in the COVID-19 era to discuss Levels of Life,1 Barnes’ grief memoir. Despite some attendees bemoaning the need to pour their own drinks and failing to unmute microphones, the virtual format was a successful platform for open dialogue on an important and deeply personal topic.

In 2008, Barnes’s wife Pat Kavanagh was diagnosed with a brain tumour, dying just 37 days later. Five years on, Barnes published this short book, split into three sections or levels. All begin with the same concept, linking three seemingly unrelated stories: ‘You put together two things that have not been put together before’.

Barnes begins by constructing a long metaphor with balloon flight and photography representing freedom, heights and imprinting of memories. We learn about 19 century Anglo-French ballooning and the intersecting lives of three celebrated balloonists from the era: English officer, Colonel Fred Burnaby; bohemian French actress, Sarah Bernhardt and French photographer, Nadar, …

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  • Contributors HDM and RM attended the Gloucester Neurology Book Club. HDM drafted the manuscript and prepared the final submission. RM revised the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned. Externally peer reviewed by Tom Hughes, Cardiff, UK.