A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, Julian Barnes’s fifth novel (chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the Best Books of 1989 and shortlisted for Great Britain’s Booker Prize), is a work much easier to describe than to summarize, which is to say that it resists being reduced to less than what it is: a deeply—and by turns also playfully—meditative text. It is multitoned, multistyled, multivoiced, and indeed, multigenred. Neither conventional novel (it is too diverse) nor unified novellike story collection on the order of James Joyce’s Dubliners (1914) or William Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses (1942), it exemplifies what Gary Saul Morson has termed “threshold literature”—work intended by its author to exist on the boundary between genres, sending its reader ambiguous, even conflicting, signals as to how it is to be read and by what generic rules it is to be classified. Like Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), Barnes’s highly acclaimed third novel, this work transgresses boundaries frequently and variously, calling attention to its own radical heterogeneity and its author’s ruminative genius. In subverting genres, Barnes’s novel necessarily subverts the reader’s expectations and, consequently, his or her efforts to know the text, to classify it in order to control it. The defeat of the reader is very much to the point in so far as the novel may be said to be about defeats, failures, and...
(The entire section is 2227 words.)
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