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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tristram Shandy (My Goodreads review)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, GentlemanThe Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Two stars is unfair of me. I should give it at least three just for all the new vocabulary I learned whilst reading it, quoth I.)

Really, I just wanted to watch the movie based on the book. I thought I should read it first, and I set myself the task.

In a way, I'm glad for it. I read it, first to last. From a musty, 80-year-old book (which I proudly place on my shelves with other books of the sort). I win. But why, Mr. Sterne? What in the world?

I thought the book would be difficult--odd--maybe a bit disappointing. Really, though, it was just page after page of "hmmm." Every time I understood what the narrator was saying, he changed topics. Every time I wanted to know the end of an anecdote, he lost the thread.

I understand that the digressions, and the mock seriousness of the foolish topics, and the belaboring of the inconsequential, make up the central conceit of the work. Just... did it have to be so dense? And so opaque? And so protracted? 180,000 words, and so few of them to the point. (You may as well count them as read them.)

So why did I? (Read them, I mean.) Sterne has anticipated me, and provided a reason. "Curiosity governs the first moment; and the second moment is all oeconomy to justify the expence of the first—and for the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth moments, and so on to the day of judgment—'tis a point of Honour." Just so. I was curious, which carried me well into the novel; after I read so much with so little return, I thought maybe I should go on, hoping there would be more later, rather than admitting to myself that I wasted all that time for nothing; and when I saw there would be very little compensation for all my effort, I kept on with grim determination because I would not be defeated!

Oh, I laughed a time or two. The much-interrupted and never-concluded story of the King of Bohemia reads rather like a dry bit of Monty Python. Sterne even returns to it in a way he does not with most of the stories within:

"Your honour was very well the day before yesterday, when I was telling your honour of the story of the King of Bohemia—

Bohemia! said my uncle Toby...musing a long time...What became of that story, Trim?

—We lost it, an' please your honour, somehow betwixt us..."


And I laughed at the end when the widow enquired where Uncle Toby, when he was a soldier, had been injured--in the groin is the answer, and how seriously was what she was getting at--and he happily sent for the map of the battle to show her WHERE he was injured....

Well, I laugh most at myself. Nobody made me do anything. But I bloody well earned my place in front of that movie. Better be funny...

View all my reviews