The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Penguin Classics)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman - Joan New, Melvyn New, Laurence Sterne There’s nothing quite like this in all the books I’ve read. Although in its erudition and exuberance and experimentation and bawdiness and its massive digressions it reminds me in some ways of Melville’s Moby Dick, in other ways of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, and in other ways of Joyce’s Ulysses. I can think of friends I bet would just love this book. The ones who loved James Joyce’s Ulysses? I bet you would find this a hit. This reads more like modern extreme whackadoodle than traditional novel. Well, it was written from 1759 to 1767 in nine installments back when the novel could hardly be called a tradition. There’s just all kinds of weirdness. The title character isn’t even born until the third volume of nine. (He keeps telling us he’ll tell us about it, then keeps meandering and rambling on different subjects.) There are lots of allusions to Hamlet, Don Quixote, and even Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Early on in the first volume, after a character dies, the next two pages are black as if in mourning. Later, the narrator talks about penetrating the meaning of the “next marbled page (motly emblem of my work!)”--and the facing page is--marbled. Two chapters consist of blank pages, other chapters appear out of sequence. In one chapter there are “squiggly graphs” and in another a “twirling line” as the Introduction puts it. There are mad uses of asterisks. And digressions are very much part of the design--Sterne revels in them: Digressions, incontestably, are the sun-shine;--they are the life, the soul of reading. --take them out of this book for instance,--you might as well take the book along with them;--one cold eternal winter would reign in every page of it; restore them to the writer;--he steps forth like a bridegroom,--bids All-hail; brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail. The point seems to be pointlessness. And you know, in the end you really don’t hear much about Tristam Shandy’s life--even if you do hear much of his opinions. Ugh. This is just too rambling and chaotic for me. You know, I read that Sterne’s favorite author is Rabelais--and I detested his Gargantua and Pantagruel, especially because it was filled with bathroom humor. I couldn’t make myself finish Swift’s “Tale of a Tub” either, and as the Introduction to this edition notes, Sterne was indebted to both. If that’s more your style of humor you may revel in this. I liked this a bit more at least than either of its models, though not enough to feel this was worth enduring to the end. Parts I did find funny, and it’s often clever, but at 578 pages the extended joke of narrative interruptus wore out its welcome long before we ever got to Tristram’s birth.