Is it a novel? Or is it a tapestry of 10 1/2 vignettes on the broad theme of discovery? Barnes himself has said that ‘A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters’ was conceived as the former but I would be more inclined to agree with the latter. The irony here is that the main themes of this book revolve around the idea of alternative perspectives … so perhaps we are both right.
Like Barnes’ other short stories (I reviewed his latest collection ‘Pulse’ last month), the ‘chapters’ are a mixed bunch and aside from repeated nautical metaphors, I’m not fully convinced that it hangs together all that well as a ‘novel’. However, the opening chapter set on Noah’s Ark is pure satirical brilliance, and the 1/2 chapter ‘Parenthesis’ is beautifully written and is definitely Barnes at his best. Perhaps I will only fully appreciate the book at a novel by re-reading it as a later date.
For an alternative view of history, look no further: “History isn’t what happened. History is just what historians tell us”, Barnes writes. Original and inspired, his characteristically subtle writing is at its quirky best so fans will not be disappointed.