Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes proves he is a daring writer who is willing to take risks for the sake of art in his book, The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters

Julian Barnes proves he is a daring writer who is willing to take risks for the sake of art in his book, The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters. The book is neither a novel or short story, but a group of short stories that are dependent upon each other for full meaning. Like Susan Power's, The Grass Dancer, and Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and Tracks, Barnes creates a group of stories that are woven together to form a whole. Barnes work reads like a piece of non-fiction, but we know from the beginning it is fictionalized. The mixing of history""I was going to write historical fact, but who is to say what is fact, the wood worms or the humans""creates a unique work of fiction that is best described as post-modern new-journalism; the re-enactment of history from various points-of-view, while blending fact and fiction, and writing in a post-modern style.

Most of the critics agreed with my analysis of Barnes as a most modern new journalism. In the December 4, 1989 New Republic Richard Locke agrees with my theories about Barnes, but feels the book has failed.

Locke writes:

One certainly doesn't want a novel to dwindle into trendy jargon, but what we encounter here in lieu of novelistic exploration and analysis of the sort Calvino described - and Barnes himself so magisterially deployed in his two previous books""is perilously close to comforting intellectual cliché's. Such are the risks a writer runs when he attempts to reach fresh fields and pastures new. The essayistic variations can slip back into nostalgic fluences and the narrative becomes a historical side show with entertaining anecdotes and funny accents in the voice-over. ("Flood of Forms 43)

Anthony Quinn makes a stronger argument in New Statesman and Society. Quinn writes in his June 23, 1989 article "The Ship of State": History seems to repeat itself, but as these mini-allegories suggest, "History" is simply "a story to cover the facts we don't know or can't accept; we keep a few true facts and spin a new story round them". As we read deeper into the book, the stories begin to teem with murmuring allusions and pointed correspondence: everything becomes a distant echo of something else. Significant parallels ahoy!

It sounds like something New Journalist Tom Wolfe might say to a group of students at a lecture.

Joyce Carol Oates says in an article written October 1,1989 for the New York Times:

A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters' is most usefully described as a gathering of prose pieces, some fiction, other rather like essays ("But Noah Was Not a Nice Man" 12).

Michael Wood disagreed. In "In Search of Love and Judgement," an article in the June 30-July 6, 1989 Times Literary Supplement, Wood states:

Barnes is not an essayist who writes novels, but a novelist who uses his imagination as an instrument of thought(Wood 714)."

Several critics agreed with my idea that this is neither a novel or a book of short stories; but a book of interconnecting stories that can be read separately, but together form a greater work. Robert Adams supports both my arguments in his October 29, 1989, New York Review of Books, article "Balancing Act." Adams writes:

Several are connected with one another, thematically if not by narrative links; they create, if not a history, then a vision of the word. There's a fair bit of factual material woven into the prevailing fantasy. . .(Adams 7).

The critics offered mixed reactions to this work. Everyone liked the first chapter about Noah and the woodworm and the chapter about the painting of the ship wrecked men. Some critics found the book lacking compared to his other works, but an excellent attempt for the difficulty of the project. In a June 22, 1989 article "Stowaway Woodworms" for the London Review of Books, Frank Kermode writes: "To bring it off he had to settle for a risky method, and this time, though very honorably performed, the trick didn't quite work(20)."

Anthony Quinn, in The New Statesman and Society found this to be Barnes best book. Quinn writes "A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters shapes up not only as Barnes's funniest novel but also his most richly cargoed and imaginatively designed ("The Ship of state" 38)."

In general, the criticism was not favorable. Joyce Carol Oates and Anthony Quinn were the only reviewers who liked the book as a whole. Everyone liked Chapters one and four, but that's where the agreement ended. Barnes was applauded for his daring and risky attempt to write an inventive and unique novel, but the critics were quick to point out his lack of success. The book doesn't work. It is, however, a great and innovative piece of literature and may be used as a model for future novels. Barnes was working in virgin territory. He was exploring the art of the novel in a way never before explored and deserves credit for having the courage to pave the way for future projects.

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