Sunday, February 7, 2010

This Book Is Awesome, See Also: Out Of Its Mind


Let's talk about one of my favorite novels for a second.

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman doesn't really make any sort of sense to anybody. One supposes it reads as if Monty Python had had a hand in writing David Copperfield, or what might have happened if A) Grant Morrison had been born in the 1700s and B) If continental Europe had access to peyote by that time.

It's an odd nut to crack, even by the standards of comic novels of the time. It's a fictional autobiography in the vein of Copperfield in which the author only ever gets around to his birth. Shortly thereafter, Shandy gets a little sidetracked. It's a tangle of allusion to the literary greats of Sterne's day, but in the most roundabout and obscure of ways; there is satire, but is left Swiftian than a satire of Swift, and -- well, one can imagine how baffling satire of satire might become.

On account of its sheer weirdness, the novel doesn't get taught that often; it's a darling of scholars, but it's not an easy thing to foist upon a college class who might have their hands full with dauntingly dense novels that, you know. Adhere to basic conventions of narrative. Still, every now and then we here and Kit Marlowe spot Shandy on an enterprising class list; but I think it serves best as non-required reading. This right here is the precursor to Burroughs and Palahniuk (well, maybe not the latter, Palahniuk sucks; there, I said it), and it's just the sort of inexplicable experience that you might not want to be led through, unless you're lead through it by somebody awesome. Speaking of which, there's still time to late-add Prof. Carey Harrison's class on the thing, if there's still room. There's probably not, but good luck to you.

1 comment:

David said...

That's always been one of my favorites as well. I wrote an entire paper once about the page-long scene in which Phutatorius gets a hot chestnut down the pants. Hee-larious.