Beginning with an unlikely stowaway's account of life on board Noah's Ark, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters presents a surprising, subversive, fictional history of earth told from several kaleidoscopic perspectives. Noah disembarks from his ark but he and his Voyage are not forgotten: they are revisited in on other centuries and other climes - by a Victorian spinster mourning her father, by an American astronaut on an obsessive personal mission. We journey to the Titanic, to the Amazon, to the raft of the Medusa, and to an ecclesiastical court in medieval France where a bizarre case is about to begin...
This is no ordinary history, but something stranger, a challenge and a delight for the reader's imagination. Ambitious yet accessible, witty and playfully serious, this is the work of a brilliant novelist.
Admirers of Julian Barnes ( Flaubert's Parrot ; Staring at the Sun ) are accustomed to thoroughly unorthodox approaches to the novel, and his latest, while brilliantly entertaining, certainly strains the limits of the genre. There are many leitmotifs that link the extraordinary episodes: a fascination with Noah's Ark and Mount Ararat, with the perils of the sea, with woodworm and with the nature of love. Add a dash of art history, a good bit of philosophy, an offbeat vision of the Hereafter, plus Barnes's blend of storytelling skills and high intelligence, and the combination must be the thinking person's novel of the season. Whether he is offering a decidedly cynical view of the Ark, imitating 15th-century French religious and legal rhetoric or playing with a goofy U.S. astronaut or a spoiled British movie actor on location in darkest Venezuela, he seems to have perfect pitch. As for the art history, it is a masterly piece of exposition based on Gericault's famous painting The Raft of the Medusa --which the reader gets as a full-color insert. The so-called half chapter is a rueful dissertation on the fragilities of human love. A History may be ultimately undefinable, but it is thoughtful, often funny and never less than fascinating.