From Academic Kids

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters is a semi-fictional literary work by Julian Barnes. The book is sometimes categorised as a novel, a collection of short stories or even a set of essays — the ambiguity arising from the unique renditioning styles employed by Barnes at various places in the work.

The work deals primarily with Christian history and legends, but is neither ecclesiastical nor heretical. Nonetheless, it does attempt to deglaze and satirise popular myths and legends in many places. Every chapter is devoted to an individual or an entity, who is said to have witnessed or experienced a key event in the history of the world. The reader often gets an alternate version of these events from this player — and the tone of this rendition is seldom as exalted as popular mythology. The work also at various points suggests a greater reality to the universe than normally perceived. It sketches the obsession of our thoughts and activities with legendary symbols. One recurrent motif in the book is the portrayal of ships, shipwrecks and frigates. This is an allusion to Noah's Ark — the subject of the first chapter — which plays a dominant role in the mythology of Abrahamic religions, and similar myths make an appearance in many others (e.g Hinduism) as a symbol of God's judgement of good and evil. The woodworm who speaks to the reader in the Chapter questions the wisdom of appointing Noah as God's representative. The woodworm is left out of the ark, just like the other "impure" or "insignificant" species; but a colony of woodworm manages to enter the ark as stowaways and thus to survive the Great Deluge.

The reader also comes across fictional explanations to modern mysteries - like that of the unicorn, which the woodworm alleges was killed by humans on the ark for its meat, and was forever lost to modern man. The woodworm puts in appearances throughout the book — either as a key player or as a casual reference. In the chapter where an inquisition is held against the woodworm, (a satirical reference to the Spanish inquisition) the woodworm is accused of precipitating the fall of a bishop from a chair whose wood was rendered weak by the woodworm's presence. The woodworm seems to represent nature or the lack of sophistication, towards which humans have displayed a conceited arrogance, often in the name of religion or culture.

The chapter Shipwreck is devoted to the analysis of Gericault's painting of the incident of The Raft of the Medusa. The first half narrates the incidents leading to the shipwreck and the survival of the crew members. The second half of the chapter renders a dark platonic and satirical analysis of the painting itself, and Gericault's "softening" the impact of crude reality in order to preserve the aestheticism of the work.

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