Archive for the ‘Julian Barnes’ Tag

Another View of World History   Leave a comment

Review: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters – Meghan's ...

You‘d be forgiven for thinking A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters is massive with each section retelling what’s already been shared in the Bible, scientific journals and cultural studies. Instead, Julian Barnes evokes humor and pathos as he draws from those chronicles while creating a narrative about survival.

The half chapter, between 9 and 10, entitled “Parenthesis” is about love.

An unlikely narrator in the first chapter shares its experience as a stowaway aboard Noah’s ark. In a vastly differing account from what’s taught in Sunday schools, Noah is portrayed as unintelligent and a drunk. Although references to the stowaway occur in a few subsequent chapters, its role as narrator ends once the ark reaches shore much, much longer than the 40 days told in popular versions.

Ships, passengers and violent seas – well, in some cases, just violence at sea – set the scene throughout the narrative, as does a trial, space travel and contemporary searches for the ark. Each section (chapter) can stand alone, but it’s important to remember the book’s theme, which is what the title implies.

Just as some history books often get bogged down in too much detail, Barnes falls in line with the genre. For example, the chapter appropriately entitled “The Wars on Religion,” about the trial of woodworm accused of blasphemy, while initially amusing, gets old fast.

Even the final chapter, “The Dream,” which provides an idea of heaven is too long, especially since even the narrator grows tired of it.

A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters
Three-and-a-half bookmarks
Vintage International, 1989
307 pages

The Vagaries of Memory   2 comments

Julian Barnes’s The Sense of An Ending succintly examines the lackluster
life of Tony Webster, an uninspiring British gentleman deficient in confidence
and family background. Tony narrates the story of his very ordinary life from his
school days to his retirement; but don’t worry, it’s not as tedious as it sounds.
Whole elements, from marriage to parenting to divorce, are simply allotted a
passing mention. Although, intrigue is found, as contradictory as this may seem,
in the mundane when Tony’s conventional past rear-ends his present day exist-
ence forcing him to scrutinize incidents more closely.

Tony’s story relies on his memory, which is like everyone’s: a bit faulty. The
novel’s retrospective focus is on Veronica, Tony’s first real girlfriend, and Adrian,
his school chum. Both play a large part in Tony’s younger life, although Barnes’s
tone is particularly casual toward them. It’s as if these relationships are no more
significant than passersby on the street. Herein is one of Tony’s major flaws, as
identified by Veronica: nothing excites him. This inability to be moved, or even
demonstrate it, is part of Veronica’s palpable frustration with him. Not that she
is free from fault either. He admits he sees only the obvious, which is interesting
given that he is oblivious to so much. Nonetheless, a mystery ensues with Tony
trying to finally understand the connection with Veronica, her family, and Adrian
to vague recollections of long-past incidents and snippets of conversations.

This terse novel suggests a lot about how and what we choose to remember.

“The Sense of An Ending”
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
163 pages