A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

by Julian Barnes
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 244

A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapter is a novel by Julian Barnes. It’s postmodern in the sense that it doesn’t just focus on one perspective. This “history” begins with Noah’s ark from the perspective of woodworms that weren’t supposed to be there in the beginning. Then, it jumps around in time and perspective dramatically.

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In other words, the connection between the eleven or so parts of the book is definitely not apparent at first. Starting with a passenger on Noah’s ark and visiting narrators such as an astronaut from the U.S., a part aboard the Titanic, and even a part that goes through the Amazon River, the relationship between parts is certainly not merely chronological.

For example, the third chapter has a story called “The Wars of Religion” which is also about woodworms, specifically a trial against them for making the building unstable. But again, they don’t appear in every chapter either.

Many of the stories echo the Bible in some way, with a reference to Jonah and the Whale in Chapter 7, the frequent references to Noah and the Ark, and many stories that have to do with disaster and religious themes. The last chapter, for example, references heaven.

It’s actually to the degree that you can argue it’s not quite a novel since there’s no coherent plot or consistent characters. The work reads more like a postmodern history book with fictional elements.

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