The interesting but poorly paced life and times of Tristram Shandy
For just over halfway through ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy’ and he is less than one day old. ANd it’s not a small volume. Someone really, seriously should have had a word with Laurence Sterne about pacing. He is then suddenly five years old, and circumcised due to the model battles his uncle likes to recreate on the lawn, as the weights were removed from the sash windows to make little wheels. When no chamber pot was to be found and he was encouraged by his nurse to pee out the window, it fell, and chop! This of course, is highly unbelievably, falling house fixtures rarely perform neat surgery, but we don’t argue with Tristram, his voice is so authoritative, that we just go with it. That, and his nose being broken during his birth, are the most interesting things that have happened. Although his brother has died, which barely seems to have merited a page and made the point that he now had to be a very good son to his father as all expectations fell on him, but very few tears for poor Bobby. .
The vast majority of the book so far has been the conversations held on the day of his birth by between his father, uncle, Corporal Trim and Dr Sop. We have been promised a chapters on buttonholes, whiskers, and which end of a woman is the right end, but when it came to the chapter on whiskers, Tristram tells us that’s a ridiculous notion and of course there won’t be one. The fact that he speaks to the reader a lot (my lady, your honour, etc) definitely adds some interest, (a literary technique also used by David Lee Roth in his autobiography ‘Crazy From The Heat’ where the reader is often asked if we ‘can dig it?’) but in general, it’s a book I’m finding it harder to be bothered to read.
But, as I have to read it, as it’s part of the 100 Greatest Novels challenge, I have bought the audiobook, and now Anton Lesser (depicted below as Thomas Moore in ‘Wolf Hall’) is doing wonderful impressions of the maids and stuffy old men in my ears as I walk along. I don’t care if it’s cheating.
I can see why it’s an important book, we learn a lot from an age of people by their humour and culture as opposed to just reading historical texts, and so rather like with Samuel Pepys’ diary (something I get a daily dose of, since I follow Sammy on Twitter, @samuelpepys) these are words from someone who was there, and is a necessary element of fully studying a different time. However, this book is too long, and between that and bloody ‘Clarissa‘, I need it to be over. And alas, no one has ever done an unabridged audiobook of that, just a dramatised Radio 4 serial with all the boring bits left out.
There has also been a film adaptation of Tristram Shandy, called ‘A Cock and Bull Story’ with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, which I watched the first few moments of on Youtube and will buy, as Tristram (Coogan) states at the beginning that he will be playing his own father due to the likeness, and so seems different, but in the same mad-cap, anarchic spirit as the book.