I didn’t like Levels of Life. At a suitable distance from grief the warped perspective of close up suffering should have been corrected. He did not do so and some friends will have been hurt by his insisting that they said the wrong thing if they chose to mention the death of his wife and if they would not join in his attempts to talk about her they shirked a sacred duty to her memory. From a man who has confessed his fear of death to be a constant presence (cf: nothing to be frightened of this reticence and general windiness in the face of it must have been clear.
The format of the book joining an essay on early balloonists to one on his bereavement seemed tendentious. Any writer can connect anything with anything. The death of a wife and the requirements of the book trade ought to repel each other. It’s well written of course, Barnes never does less.