Nothing to be Frightened of

Thomas Jones writes:

‘My professional days,’ Barnes writes in Nothing to Be Frightened Of, his last book before Pulse, part memoir, part meditation on death and his overwhelming fear of it, ‘are spent considering what is narrative and what isn’t.’ This isn’t quite the same thing as distinguishing – or refusing to distinguish – between fiction and non-fiction. One of the arguments of Nothing to Be Frightened Of is that there’s no such thing as a true story: So if, as we approach death and look back on our lives, we ‘understand our narrative’ and stamp a final meaning upon it, I suspect we are doing little more than confabulating: processing strange, incomprehensible, contradictory input into some kind, any kind, of believable story – but believable mainly to ourselves. I do not object to this atavistic need for narrative – not least since it is how I make my living – but I am suspicious of it. ‘Considering what is narrative and what isn’t’ isn’t something Barnes does before sitting down to write, sorting things out into two piles, narrative on this side, non-narrative on that, and chucking the non-narrative in the compost bin before committing the narrative to paper; ‘considering what is narrative and what isn’t’ is one definition, or at least a description, of what someone does when they write stories.

(LRB 17 February 2011)

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