A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10 1/2 CHAPTERS by Julian Barnes

A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10 1/2 CHAPTERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Mel Brooks-y title isn't a good augury here: it alerts you to just how shtick-like what's to come will be. Barnes (Flaubert's Parrot, Staring at the Sun) works doggedly--often with admirable technical aplomb--to link together a clutch of short stories/essays and make it into a crystal of oblique angles all reflecting the theme of survivorship, of the central debate between Darwinian and religious explanations for salvation. The great delight of the book, in fact, is wondering how he'll manage to jump topics and keep his central concern intact. Barnes writes of Noah; of the genesis of Gericault's Raft of the Medusa; of an actor in a jungle film discovering the primal hatred of civilization; of the genesis and physics of love; of an ex-astronaut's project to recover the Ark from Mt. Ararat. The slant on everything is cynical/demythologizing/jokey, best when Barnes is fictionalizing (as in the ex-astronaut story), worse when he's simply iconoclastic ("Let's start at the beginning. Love makes you happy? No. Love makes the person you love happy? No. Love makes everything all right? Indeed no"). You feel the grip of a clever idea on Barnes like that of a too-tight hat he can't wrench off, and though the pressure sometimes squeezes out brilliance--in the Gericault essay, especially--mostly you're aware of effort and strain: a need to make more out of these semilight-journalism pieces than they can provide. Deft and light-footed, but Barnes' increasing tendency to be a lo-cal Calvino seems a waste of his gilts.
Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1989
ISBN: 0679731377
Page count: 309pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1989




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