A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 10 ½ CHAPTERS By Julian Banes is a series of short stories with some similar themes and motifs linking them. These are the ocean and travel by water, Noah’s Ark (the direct subject of the first story and the object of interest in a couple of the other stories), woodworm, fate vs. the belief in a supreme being.
The best story is the first one about travelling in Noah’s Ark as told by one of the animals whose identity at the end is a nice twist. Noah and his family’s pettiness and huge appetite explain why some creatures such as the Unicorn did not survive the journey.
Faith is a key part of the journey undertaken here whether it is the actor on location in the Amazon writing back to a girlfriend who he is revealed to have issues with or the wealthy woman and her assistant/companion who travel to Turkey seeking Noah’s Ark or the astronaut who hears God talking to him.
Famous historical events such as the sinking of the Titanic, Jonah swallowed by the whale, and refugees from the Holocaust on board an ocean liner turned away from many nations also are stories or part of stories as is a fictionalized hijacking crafted after the Achille Lauro hijacking.
Barnes has a tremendous wit and is one of those writers who exude effortlessness. In this complex book nothing ever seems complex and that is due to the chatty flow of Barnes’ prose. Even when the story he is telling is not so interesting the writing style keeps it going.