Monday, July 08, 2013

Tristram Shandy

Right, if anyone else out there is reading this daft and ingenious book, do get in touch. There are so many incredible things about it, including this black page to denote grief. Laurence Sterne broke all the rules of the novel long before James Joyce did and yet people went on writing in the conventional standard mode as if he and his marvel of a book never existed. Of course he was born in Ireland, of Anglo-Irish stock, but the English have claimed him, the way Americans are always claiming notable Canadians. (Harrumph.) It takes ages to read. Over a month later, I'm not even a third in. There was an entire legal section in Latin to wade through, not to mention the hundreds of minute digressions he takes as he tells his story. He is supposedly telling the tale of his life but a good chunk of the way in I am still at his conception. (Every time I am about to give up on the book he says something outrageous or hilarious. No prudery of the Victorians here!)I have dipped in and out as well, so came across more astonishing breaks with form, e.g. he writes about Mrs Wadham and decides his readers can fill in her characteristics themselves. So there are several blank pages with chapter numbers on top. Oh and very early in the book he says something in a huff and tells you to leave if you don't like it and then does something like this ________________ shut the door _______________ to put you out, ha ha. The book was published in 1759 and was all the rage by 1760, so his society did appreciate it. He was quite famous, after being a poor parson. But it seems the following generations haven't recognised or valued his ground-breaking originality, which is strange given the cult of James Joyce's Ulysses. I only know two people who have read Tristram Shandy and they are both librarians.

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