The Lemon Table by Julian Barnes Picador $124 Many of the characters in these short stories are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s. Most haven't aged gracefully. One has Alzheimer's, and several end up dead. It sounds depressing, and it is. Julian Barnes offers occasional flashes of wit, but it's never enough to lighten his grim subject matter. The first story, A Short History of Hairdressing, describes a man's life through three haircuts at different ages. The Things You Know is about two widows who appear to be friends but secretly criticise each other. The final story, The Silence, is told by a once-famous composer who explains the book's title. The lemon is a Chinese symbol of death, so the table at the cafe where he meets other old people to discuss mortality becomes the lemon table. As the composer confronts his imminent demise he says: 'So much work, talent and courage, and then everything is over.'