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Julian Barnes: A History of the World in 10½ Chapters

A cutesy title (the half refers to a parenthesis between chapters 8 and 9), it is, indeed, a, not the history of the world, starting with a stowaway on Noah’s Ark and ending with the author’s dream, whose main feature, apart from sex, is Leicester City‘s winning the F.A. Cup (something they have never managed in real life.) (Note that Barnes is from Leicester.) One of the many things the Brits do so much better than the Americans is irony. For many Americans, irony is synonymous with sarcasm or even just a funny joke while for others, such as Alanis Morrissette (yes, I know that she’s Canadian but Canada is in America) in her song Isn’t It Ironic?, it’s simply bad luck or even just something unexpected. Barnes, like many other English writers, is a master of irony and what he does is mix irony with satire to make for a wonderful commentary on historical trends, from the inherent contradictions of Christianity (and other religions), the history as myth problem, the fact that we humans are not quite as wonderful as we often like to think we are, history repeating itself and all the usual themes such as art versus life, men versus women, etc. Oh dear, it’s not a novel, is it?

Publishing history

First published 1989 by Jonathan Cape