Review: A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes

A History of the World in 10½  Chapters
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve been intending to read this book ever since my English Literature tutor raved about it back in my college years. So, put that weight of expectation behind it for starters. Add to this the considerable lure that both it and the writer receive in the press, and I think I was expecting something a little different. What we actually have here is ten – well, eleven let’s be honest – short stories of varying quality. While they provide interesting viewpoints, in some cases, they either seem to end too soon, just as they get remotely interesting, or they go on, and on, and on. I see, in retrospect, that these were essentially essays on the human condition.

Like many things marked as ‘must-read literature’ each story fails to provide a punchline worth remembering. There’s an overall theme of flood, destruction and human weakness repeating throughout history which the stories illustrate sufficiently, but without real feeling. This is all fair enough and perhaps, if I had read this several years ago, I would have been more open to its efforts. I just felt less about this book than it seems to expect. It didn’t draw me in and seemed glad to be rid of me. that’s the impression left by this book. I will be trying other books by Julian Barnes, but on this example I don’t feel much awe and I hope that his other work will appeal to me more deeply.

I would have liked to enjoy this, but as a ‘loo book’ it worked and, while not a difficult read, it seems to stop the action or narrative just as something is about to happen. This bugs the hell out of me. Hence, two stars this time. Sorry, Julian Barnes.

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