Peter Childs
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A History of the World in 10½ Chapters
in Julian Barnes
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A History of the World in 101/2 Chapters (1989) aims to insinuate more of the ordinary and the exceptional into other people's orbit. From the opening story, told from the position of an animal stowaway, to the final summation of an average life, the book focuses on people whom history would seldom highlight but who illustrate its processes and vagaries: Lawrence Beesley, Miss Fergusson, and Kath Ferris. Barnes's fourth novel has love as its chief stowaway. Love, which intrudes into this book most conspicuously in its half-chapter, opposes history and orthodoxy because its story is individual and personal, though not necessarily happy. It purports to argue that truth lies in the need to believe in illusions such as free will, that survival resides in the need to love despite the failures of love, and that objective history rests on the need for collective silence over the certainty of fallacy.

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