The History of the World in 10½ Chapters, Bouvard et Pécuchet, Un Coeur Simple
a novel by Julian Barnes, published in 1984. With its eclectic mixture of first-person narrative and scholarly digression (also used to effect in Barnes's later The History of the World in 10½ Chapters), the work displays the author's playfully post-modern approach to his subject, which in this instance is the life of Gustave Flaubert. Narrated by a retired doctor, Geoffrey Braithwaite, who is on holiday in France, the novel often reads like an eccentric lexicon of received ideas about Flaubert (an allusion, of course, to the absurd dictionary compiled by the eponymous characters in Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet). Its chapters, which have titles such as ‘The Train-Spotter's Guide to Flaubert’ and ‘The Flaubert Apocrypha’, mingle extracts from Flaubert's journals and letters with speculation about the exact colour of Madame Bovary's eyes, the nature of Flaubert's relationship with his mistress Louise Colet, and the identity of the parrot in his short story Un Coeur Simple. Underlying this entertaining mixture of fact and fiction is a more sombre story: Braithwaite's wife, it transpires, has committed suicide, and one of the reasons for his pilgrimage to France is in order to unravel—and perhaps come to terms with—the reasons for this apparently irrational act.