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Tristram Shandy provoked a literary sensation when it first appeared in a series of installments between 1759 and 1767. The ribald, high-spirited book prompted Diderot to hail Sterne as 'the English Rabelais.' An ingeniously structured novel (about writing a novel) that fascinates like a verbal game of chess, Tristram Shandy is both a joyful celebration of the infinite possibilities of the art of fiction and a wry demonstration of its limitations. Many view this picaresque masterpiece as the precursor of the modern novel.

A Sentimental Journey, which came out in 1768, begins as a travelogue. Yet it ends as a treasury of portraits, sketches, and philosophical musings, for as Virginia Woolf observed: 'A Sentimental Journey, for all its levity and wit, is based upon something fundamentally philosophic--the philosophy of pleasure.'
Published: Random House Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780679641964
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"Read, read, read, read, my unlearned reader! Read...for without much reading, by which, your reverence knows, I mean much knowledge, you will no more be able to penetrate the meaning of my next marbled page (motly emblem of my work!) than the world with all its sagacity has been able to unravel the many opinions, transactions and truths which still lie mystically hid under the dark veil of the black one." (III.35)

There's the most-quoted bit from Tristram Shandy, which is full of references to obscure works, works made up, works misquoted, and works wholly plagiarized.

Well, okay, Shandy is an experiment. Titularly the story of its narrator, it turns out to be something entirely different: a story about his uncle, his father, the passage of time, the difficulty of telling a story...noses...it's anything other than Tristram Shandy's story. It's been described as a perfect capture of the way the mind works: twisting back on itself, skipping, tangentializing. And yeah, that's how my mind works, too, and as far as that documentation goes, it's bravura. But isn't the point of writing a novel to concentrate your mind, to focus all those disparate thoughts into a coherent whole? If I wrote down my mind right now, I would tell you about this book, Eric B & Rakim on my CD player, my dog snoring, my wife asleep, my left calf aching slightly, the wine in my mouth, I suspect this review doesn't make much sense, and not in an awesome post-modern way, my fingers are a little cold, I'm still puzzling about a dream I had last night in which I told my wife that while she was gone on a business trip I'd shovel out the eight inches of sand I'd covered the floor of our library with, which she's been surprisingly obliging about but I was starting to get the impression that enough is enough...

That's not a very good narrative, and even the most forgiving of Tristram Shandy's critics have admitted that it's not a page-turner. The word is self-indulgent.

Shandy belongs to the Quixotic tradition - not as in the word, but as in the talking about the Cervantick [sic] influence - and I love that genre. It's writing about writing, and I was hoping to love this book, and I was excited about lots of parts of Shandy. For example: the page following the quote that opens this review is marbled; it was different, then, in every edition of this book as it was originally published. That's weird, and not lamely weird. There's also a part where Sterne threatens to describe the widow Wadman and then just leaves the next page blank, so you can draw her yourself, "as like your mistress as you like - as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you." (VI.38)

And he leaves IV.24 out because, he says, he realized after writing it that it was so good it would throw the balance of the rest of the book off; it would make everything else seem worse by comparison. Again, that's a funny joke. But I found myself a little disappointed by IV.25, because unlike 24, it existed. And when one finds oneself wishing that all of the chapters of a book had been excluded, one has to admit that one may not be enjoying reading it.

Tristram Shandy is a clever book. It might even be a worthwhile book, if you're really interested in books. But it's a bitch to read.more
I've wrestled with what to write about Tristram Shandy since I finished it. It isn't a book you can sum up very well, and the most entertaining bits of it are best found on your own, I think.So I'll just say this: it's not as hard to read as you might think. The language takes some getting used to, and I read it at a pace of 20-30 pages a day. But you do acclimate to it and get into a rhythm. And yes, it's full of digressions and stories within stories and soliloquies about battles and fortifications, but it's also full of moments that make you go "wait, what did he just say?!" and make you re-evaluate what you thought you knew about propriety in the 18th century.Recommended for: anyone who's up for a bit of a challenge, people who are okay with the absurd.Quote: "But my father's mind took unfortunately a wrong turn in the investigation; running, like the hypercritic's, altogether upon the ringing of the bell and the rap upon the door, -- measuring their distance, and keeping his mind so intent upon the operation, as to have power to think of nothing else, -- commonplace infirmity of the greatest mathematicians! working with might and main at the demonstration and so wasting all their strength upon it, that they have none left in them to draw the corollary, to do good with."more
It took me almost a year longer than I originally planned, but I've finished The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne. I loved it. I've seldom had so much fun with classic literature. And I'm pleased to say that Mr. Sterne saved his best for last. The final two books, probably the most popular sections in the novel, concern Uncle Toby's romance with the Widow Wadman who lives as tenant-for-life nextdoor to the Shandy estate. Mrs. Wadman has spent the length of the novel watching the growth of Toby's large scale model of the Battle of Namur where he recieved his groin wound. Over time, she has become attracted to Toby, both the the man and to the estate he shares with his brother. Tristram, our narrator, speculates that she may still want children as she is still young; the reader soon understands that whether she wants children or not, she clearly wants both romance and sex.One day she overhears Toby and his man-servant Trim discussing which is more painful, a knee injury or a groin injury. Afterwards, she is understandly interested in the extent of Uncle Toby's wound. She meets with him in the scenes that follow and finds Tody is happy to discuss his wound and more than willing so show her exactly where he was wounded. He takes her to the large scale model of the Battle of Namur, breaks out his measuring equiptment and pinpoints the exact location where he was standing when the bullet struck his groin. Widow Wadman is understandably frustrated. The end of the novel threw me for something of a loop. Sir Tristram is exponding on a grand point of philosophy to his brother Toby, Yorick and Dr. Slop, as is his wont, when Obediah comes rushing in to complain about Sir Tristram's bull. Sir Tristram's old bull was supposed to sire a calf for Obediah's cow, but the time has come and the cow has not calved, so suspicion has fallen on the bull. It can't be the bull's fault, swears Sir Tristram, becuase he goes about his business with grave expression thereby proving his capability. It's must be the bull's fault, says Dr. Slop for the cow was hairy at the time and therefore in heat. What's this story all about, asks Mrs. Shandy. "A Cock and a Bull, said Yorick--And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard."I had to look it up. A cock and bull story is a wildly fanciful tale that strays from subject to subject. The phrase may have come from Stony Stratford, England where there used to be two rival inns, The Cock and The Bull. At each inn, people would gather and tell boastful tales that often made fun of those who frequented the rival inn. That in the novel's final line Mr. Sterne dismisses the entire preceeding 526 pages as so much nonsense seems fitting to me. That he does so in a way that references breeding, Toby's war wound, and all that stuff about the importance of big noses from earlier in the book is just a little bit brilliant. A book like Tristram Shandy can't really have a proper ending; it simply has to stop. As it is, it's a very good stop.more
Sorry, I could not finish this. I made it to about page 250. Which was better than anyone else in my book club. I felt better knowing no one else could finish it either.The same joke — 18th century English gentry’s formal speech is funny ha ha ha — for 600-800 pages depending on the edition you pick up is a bit much. Maybe there was something of a language gap? Yes, but everyone in my book club agreed that when we read Shakespeare we don’t have the same problem. When we read Grandpa Willie we read it and laugh and are amazed. Not so much with Sterne. I chuckled through first 30 pages and the rest was grind. It’s worth noting Shandy was originally published in installments so no one in the 18th century was hitting an 800 page monster.I admit there is probably a lot more going on thematically than I realize since I didn’t finish. Sometimes the aboutness of a work grows like a benign tumor (or maybe a malignant tumor in the case of a book like Infinite Jest). I reluctantly acknowledge my ignorance and bow out. I wouldn’t feel so bad about myself if the book I am reading in lieu of finishing Shandy wasn’t John Krakauer’s book about Pat Tillman. It feels low. Maybe that is not so bad. Maybe that is like choosing to watch Frontline over Masterpiece Theatre.more
I don't have time to finish this right now, but I aim to return to it one day. It's definitely entertaining, but lacking in forward motion. Seems like it would be a fun book to dip into regularly, without worrying about finishing, but grad school does not allow me that kind of leisurely reading at the moment. I'm about a third of the way through.more
Is it not a shame to make two chapters of what passed in going down one pair of stairs? for we are got no further yet than to the first landing, and there are fifteen more steps down to the bottom; and for aught I know, as my father and my uncle Toby are in a talking humour there may be as many chapters as steps; - let that be as it will, Sir, I can no more help it than my destiny:Tristram Shandy is one of my father's favourite books and he passed this copy onto me about four years ago. Two days after I started it, I found out that a film (starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Gillian Anderson) has just been made of this notoriously unfilmable novel and has been getting rave reviews at film festivals. It's due out here in the New Year, so reading the book now was very good timing on my part.The shaggy dog story to end all shaggy dog stories. Supposedly the autobiography of Tristram Shandy, it is really a novel about how novel-writing and how a novel can't really hope to represent real life. Hardly a chapter goes by without yet another digression from the main story, as Tristram decides that we really need to know some other bit of background before he can continue with the action, and he only gets round to the author's preface towards the end of volume 3! It is a very funny book but quite heavy going, what with the 18th century language and the plethora of technical terms to do with siege-works causing continual flicking to the notes at the back of the book, so it has taken me getting on for four weeks to read.Favourite character: The wonderfully enthusiastic and sweet-natured Captain Shandy (Tristram's Uncle Toby).Most frustrating digression: Tristram's trip to France, which has nothing to do with the story and takes up the whole of Volume VII, just as he seems on the point of finally getting round to telling the story of Uncle Toby's relationship with widow Wadman. Best use of asterisks: The maid Susanna, who has forgotten to put a ******* *** under the five-year-old Tristram's bed, asking him to **** *** ** *** ******.more
This is an odd novel, with a substantial portion of the content being made up of eccentric digressions and anecdotes from the main characters. There are bits of a storyline, but they seem only secondary to the rest of the book. But, this does not make it a bad novel; it works as well as many novels which have a strong storyline, though this style might not agree with readers who require more momentum.The book is made distinctive by its unusual formatting tricks, which would seem modern in a contemporary book, and must have surprised the eighteenth century reader and contemporary of the author. Combined with the silly humour, this produces a type of entertainment which comes as much from wit as it does from momentary bafflement. Some parts of the book become serious, but these usually have the effect of building up towards some irreverent jest or situation.Sterne was also a scholar, as is apparent from the book, as well as an inventive author, and it seems unusual that he only wrote a small number of books.more
I really wanted to like it, because the persistent drollery kept seeming like it would develop into something really funny, and because the author seemed to be trying so hard, but this book really delivers little.more
One of my all-time favourite novels! You would not believe it was written in the 18th century for all the literary experiments it contains (black pages, crazy lines to illustrate the plot development...). Some readers may be frustrated with the rambling narrative, but if it suits your sense of humour like it does mine, you will love it. Really, it's just stark raving mad! Suck it, Martin Amis! This classic kicks some postmodern ass...more
I couldn't finish this book, although I tried my hardest. I read about 30%, but it's just so meandering and aimless. I know that people enjoy the rambling narrative and find Tristram a comical narrator, but I just found it annoying and self-satisfied. And if I have to read the words "my uncle Toby" one more time I'm going to scream.more
A brilliant book. Laurence Sterne has become my friend.more
First let me say that I very much enjoyed Christopher Ricks' introduction. I am usually only immensely angered by introductions—this one, however, was fascinating. Also, the notes are delightful, and quite lengthy, as the novel is encyclopedic in knowledge. Walter and Captain Toby Shandy have become quite dear to my heart. I am still in the dark as to Toby's groin injury. I wonder if Mrs. Wadman's curiosity was ever satiated? I fear they were married. This novel is such a work of genius that it would be ridiculous for me to attempt to review it in earnest. I feel a bit like Tristram did in that "I don't know where to begin".I will say that I had planned to paste a picture of Gillian Anderson onto the blank page in which the reader is to draw an idealized lady. The marbled pages were over my head. The novel is quite chaotic—wheels within wheels, digressions within digressions, time jumps, geographical jumps, et cetera. The thread which is consistent in its time scheme throughout the novel are the 2 wars against France.Of all of the novel's events, of all Tristram's own commentaries, I enjoy most the angry philosophical rants of Tristram's well-read father, Walter. Both Tristram and Laurence are very odd fellows, which is why we love them! I also love that Sterne and Tristram were quite fond of Don Quixote.more
As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story. But central to the novel is the theme of not explaining anything simply, thus there are explanatory diversions to add context and colour to his tale, to the extent that we do not even reach Tristram's own birth until Volume III. However, beginning the narrative before one has been born is not unique in literature, for example see the opening chapter of David Copperfield. Consequently, apart from Tristram as narrator, the most familiar and important characters in the book are his father Walter, his mother, his Uncle Toby, Toby's servant Trim, and a supporting cast of minor characters including Doctor Slop and the parson Yorick (no doubt inspired by Shakespeare).Most of the action is concerned with domestic upsets or misunderstandings, which find humour in the opposing temperaments of Walter—splenetic, rational and somewhat sarcastic—and Uncle Toby, who is gentle, uncomplicated and a lover of his fellow man. "The long-nosed Stranger of Strasburg": Book IV opens with a story from one of Walter's favourite books, a collection of stories in Latin about noses.In between such events, Tristram as narrator finds himself discoursing at length on sexual practices, insults, the influence of one's name, noses, as well as explorations of obstetrics, siege warfare and philosophy, as he struggles to marshal his material and finish the story of his life. What makes this novel remarkable is the seeming modernity of the technique and style. As with Rabelais, Sterne does not follow the "rules" for writing a novel, thus one encounters multiple allusions to other writers and their works and interjections of many kinds into the novel so that you begin to wonder what kind of book this is. Sterne was particularly influenced by Rabelais and his bawdy humor is no doubt due in part to that influence. This is not an easy read but one worth taking in small sections, a bit at a time. Having read Tristram Shandy you may be ready for twenty-first century post-modern literature or you may want to hang up the idea of literature altogether.more
Interesting and crazy to reflect that this book, more so than most English classics, has began to fall out of print. For any reader able to navigate a language that's not one hundred percent contemporary and a culture that's not identical to our own, Tristram Shandy has got to be the funniest classic English novel.more
Brilliantly fun! The post modern book before there was post modernism. Quite a lot of fun, but I do highly recommend reading this with a group as the humor is one that is fun to share and laugh out loud with, but also helps clarify points.more
First published in nine parts during the 1760's this very remarkable novel by the English writer Laurence Sterne starts with the birth of one Tristram Shandy--following him through his young manhood. As a writer Sterne was quite the innovator--telling his Tristram stories through the multiple viewpoints of Tristram's father Walter, or his Uncle Toby and his valet Trim or through Tristram himself. Eccentric and unique in style-- we see stories begun and never finished--interrupted by one character or another--often taking them off on unforseen tangents--what makes all this seeming chaos work is the wit, style and verve of the writer and the exuberantly expansive nature of his characters--always curious to look under every rock and to ferret out even the smallest detail of whatever story they're hearing. There is no end to their intellectual curiosity and Sterne's prose moves effortlessly forward crossing over genre's with remarkable ease. For instance all of a sudden we are reading a travel novel (Volume 7) and in the final (Volume 9) book a romantic comedy--and it all fits seamlessly together. Anyway there are a lot of curiosities in this novel--and in some respects the work it reminds me of the most is Joyce's Ulysses--at least in some of its sections. Maybe not the easiest reading at times but for that matter neither is Ulysses or Don Quixote. FWIW a watershed moment in the development of the novel.more
This is a very fanciful, whimsical book, and--stylistically--well ahead of its time. However, the subject matter is quite archaic. I made it about 300 pages in before I had gotten tired of all the digressions, and stopped reading it. It's a funny book and fairly entertaining--worth looking at, but after a while it grows tiresome.more
"Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; - 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." Laurence SterneIndisputably the most fun one can have alone with a book. An absolute favorite.more
I'm not certain what it is about Irish writers and their wonderfully eccentirc sense of humour and their ability to turn conventional writing inside out and produce something rich and strange. Swift, Joyce, O'Brien, Beckett and Laurence Sterne are all in a lineage.The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a classic comic novel, written as an autobiography of Tristram Shandy, it is really about his uncle Toby and from the beginning, the novel takes wild digressions which, by the time you finish the novel, lead you right back to where you started.more
My oldest brother Cris turned me on to this book when I was too young to really understand how subversive it was (in literary terms) -- and when I encountered it again in college in the middle of an English degree, it was a welcome old friend.more
Digressive, dear sir? Yes! Bizarre, madam? -- Why, yes.... Bawdy? Well - Just read this passage quickly, madam, once through, without thinking --- and...Is it: Better in the first half? Sure. Sentimental? Certainly.A witty, whimsical, comic gem? - Absolutely!!!more
Read all 25 reviews

Reviews

"Read, read, read, read, my unlearned reader! Read...for without much reading, by which, your reverence knows, I mean much knowledge, you will no more be able to penetrate the meaning of my next marbled page (motly emblem of my work!) than the world with all its sagacity has been able to unravel the many opinions, transactions and truths which still lie mystically hid under the dark veil of the black one." (III.35)

There's the most-quoted bit from Tristram Shandy, which is full of references to obscure works, works made up, works misquoted, and works wholly plagiarized.

Well, okay, Shandy is an experiment. Titularly the story of its narrator, it turns out to be something entirely different: a story about his uncle, his father, the passage of time, the difficulty of telling a story...noses...it's anything other than Tristram Shandy's story. It's been described as a perfect capture of the way the mind works: twisting back on itself, skipping, tangentializing. And yeah, that's how my mind works, too, and as far as that documentation goes, it's bravura. But isn't the point of writing a novel to concentrate your mind, to focus all those disparate thoughts into a coherent whole? If I wrote down my mind right now, I would tell you about this book, Eric B & Rakim on my CD player, my dog snoring, my wife asleep, my left calf aching slightly, the wine in my mouth, I suspect this review doesn't make much sense, and not in an awesome post-modern way, my fingers are a little cold, I'm still puzzling about a dream I had last night in which I told my wife that while she was gone on a business trip I'd shovel out the eight inches of sand I'd covered the floor of our library with, which she's been surprisingly obliging about but I was starting to get the impression that enough is enough...

That's not a very good narrative, and even the most forgiving of Tristram Shandy's critics have admitted that it's not a page-turner. The word is self-indulgent.

Shandy belongs to the Quixotic tradition - not as in the word, but as in the talking about the Cervantick [sic] influence - and I love that genre. It's writing about writing, and I was hoping to love this book, and I was excited about lots of parts of Shandy. For example: the page following the quote that opens this review is marbled; it was different, then, in every edition of this book as it was originally published. That's weird, and not lamely weird. There's also a part where Sterne threatens to describe the widow Wadman and then just leaves the next page blank, so you can draw her yourself, "as like your mistress as you like - as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you." (VI.38)

And he leaves IV.24 out because, he says, he realized after writing it that it was so good it would throw the balance of the rest of the book off; it would make everything else seem worse by comparison. Again, that's a funny joke. But I found myself a little disappointed by IV.25, because unlike 24, it existed. And when one finds oneself wishing that all of the chapters of a book had been excluded, one has to admit that one may not be enjoying reading it.

Tristram Shandy is a clever book. It might even be a worthwhile book, if you're really interested in books. But it's a bitch to read.more
I've wrestled with what to write about Tristram Shandy since I finished it. It isn't a book you can sum up very well, and the most entertaining bits of it are best found on your own, I think.So I'll just say this: it's not as hard to read as you might think. The language takes some getting used to, and I read it at a pace of 20-30 pages a day. But you do acclimate to it and get into a rhythm. And yes, it's full of digressions and stories within stories and soliloquies about battles and fortifications, but it's also full of moments that make you go "wait, what did he just say?!" and make you re-evaluate what you thought you knew about propriety in the 18th century.Recommended for: anyone who's up for a bit of a challenge, people who are okay with the absurd.Quote: "But my father's mind took unfortunately a wrong turn in the investigation; running, like the hypercritic's, altogether upon the ringing of the bell and the rap upon the door, -- measuring their distance, and keeping his mind so intent upon the operation, as to have power to think of nothing else, -- commonplace infirmity of the greatest mathematicians! working with might and main at the demonstration and so wasting all their strength upon it, that they have none left in them to draw the corollary, to do good with."more
It took me almost a year longer than I originally planned, but I've finished The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne. I loved it. I've seldom had so much fun with classic literature. And I'm pleased to say that Mr. Sterne saved his best for last. The final two books, probably the most popular sections in the novel, concern Uncle Toby's romance with the Widow Wadman who lives as tenant-for-life nextdoor to the Shandy estate. Mrs. Wadman has spent the length of the novel watching the growth of Toby's large scale model of the Battle of Namur where he recieved his groin wound. Over time, she has become attracted to Toby, both the the man and to the estate he shares with his brother. Tristram, our narrator, speculates that she may still want children as she is still young; the reader soon understands that whether she wants children or not, she clearly wants both romance and sex.One day she overhears Toby and his man-servant Trim discussing which is more painful, a knee injury or a groin injury. Afterwards, she is understandly interested in the extent of Uncle Toby's wound. She meets with him in the scenes that follow and finds Tody is happy to discuss his wound and more than willing so show her exactly where he was wounded. He takes her to the large scale model of the Battle of Namur, breaks out his measuring equiptment and pinpoints the exact location where he was standing when the bullet struck his groin. Widow Wadman is understandably frustrated. The end of the novel threw me for something of a loop. Sir Tristram is exponding on a grand point of philosophy to his brother Toby, Yorick and Dr. Slop, as is his wont, when Obediah comes rushing in to complain about Sir Tristram's bull. Sir Tristram's old bull was supposed to sire a calf for Obediah's cow, but the time has come and the cow has not calved, so suspicion has fallen on the bull. It can't be the bull's fault, swears Sir Tristram, becuase he goes about his business with grave expression thereby proving his capability. It's must be the bull's fault, says Dr. Slop for the cow was hairy at the time and therefore in heat. What's this story all about, asks Mrs. Shandy. "A Cock and a Bull, said Yorick--And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard."I had to look it up. A cock and bull story is a wildly fanciful tale that strays from subject to subject. The phrase may have come from Stony Stratford, England where there used to be two rival inns, The Cock and The Bull. At each inn, people would gather and tell boastful tales that often made fun of those who frequented the rival inn. That in the novel's final line Mr. Sterne dismisses the entire preceeding 526 pages as so much nonsense seems fitting to me. That he does so in a way that references breeding, Toby's war wound, and all that stuff about the importance of big noses from earlier in the book is just a little bit brilliant. A book like Tristram Shandy can't really have a proper ending; it simply has to stop. As it is, it's a very good stop.more
Sorry, I could not finish this. I made it to about page 250. Which was better than anyone else in my book club. I felt better knowing no one else could finish it either.The same joke — 18th century English gentry’s formal speech is funny ha ha ha — for 600-800 pages depending on the edition you pick up is a bit much. Maybe there was something of a language gap? Yes, but everyone in my book club agreed that when we read Shakespeare we don’t have the same problem. When we read Grandpa Willie we read it and laugh and are amazed. Not so much with Sterne. I chuckled through first 30 pages and the rest was grind. It’s worth noting Shandy was originally published in installments so no one in the 18th century was hitting an 800 page monster.I admit there is probably a lot more going on thematically than I realize since I didn’t finish. Sometimes the aboutness of a work grows like a benign tumor (or maybe a malignant tumor in the case of a book like Infinite Jest). I reluctantly acknowledge my ignorance and bow out. I wouldn’t feel so bad about myself if the book I am reading in lieu of finishing Shandy wasn’t John Krakauer’s book about Pat Tillman. It feels low. Maybe that is not so bad. Maybe that is like choosing to watch Frontline over Masterpiece Theatre.more
I don't have time to finish this right now, but I aim to return to it one day. It's definitely entertaining, but lacking in forward motion. Seems like it would be a fun book to dip into regularly, without worrying about finishing, but grad school does not allow me that kind of leisurely reading at the moment. I'm about a third of the way through.more
Is it not a shame to make two chapters of what passed in going down one pair of stairs? for we are got no further yet than to the first landing, and there are fifteen more steps down to the bottom; and for aught I know, as my father and my uncle Toby are in a talking humour there may be as many chapters as steps; - let that be as it will, Sir, I can no more help it than my destiny:Tristram Shandy is one of my father's favourite books and he passed this copy onto me about four years ago. Two days after I started it, I found out that a film (starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Gillian Anderson) has just been made of this notoriously unfilmable novel and has been getting rave reviews at film festivals. It's due out here in the New Year, so reading the book now was very good timing on my part.The shaggy dog story to end all shaggy dog stories. Supposedly the autobiography of Tristram Shandy, it is really a novel about how novel-writing and how a novel can't really hope to represent real life. Hardly a chapter goes by without yet another digression from the main story, as Tristram decides that we really need to know some other bit of background before he can continue with the action, and he only gets round to the author's preface towards the end of volume 3! It is a very funny book but quite heavy going, what with the 18th century language and the plethora of technical terms to do with siege-works causing continual flicking to the notes at the back of the book, so it has taken me getting on for four weeks to read.Favourite character: The wonderfully enthusiastic and sweet-natured Captain Shandy (Tristram's Uncle Toby).Most frustrating digression: Tristram's trip to France, which has nothing to do with the story and takes up the whole of Volume VII, just as he seems on the point of finally getting round to telling the story of Uncle Toby's relationship with widow Wadman. Best use of asterisks: The maid Susanna, who has forgotten to put a ******* *** under the five-year-old Tristram's bed, asking him to **** *** ** *** ******.more
This is an odd novel, with a substantial portion of the content being made up of eccentric digressions and anecdotes from the main characters. There are bits of a storyline, but they seem only secondary to the rest of the book. But, this does not make it a bad novel; it works as well as many novels which have a strong storyline, though this style might not agree with readers who require more momentum.The book is made distinctive by its unusual formatting tricks, which would seem modern in a contemporary book, and must have surprised the eighteenth century reader and contemporary of the author. Combined with the silly humour, this produces a type of entertainment which comes as much from wit as it does from momentary bafflement. Some parts of the book become serious, but these usually have the effect of building up towards some irreverent jest or situation.Sterne was also a scholar, as is apparent from the book, as well as an inventive author, and it seems unusual that he only wrote a small number of books.more
I really wanted to like it, because the persistent drollery kept seeming like it would develop into something really funny, and because the author seemed to be trying so hard, but this book really delivers little.more
One of my all-time favourite novels! You would not believe it was written in the 18th century for all the literary experiments it contains (black pages, crazy lines to illustrate the plot development...). Some readers may be frustrated with the rambling narrative, but if it suits your sense of humour like it does mine, you will love it. Really, it's just stark raving mad! Suck it, Martin Amis! This classic kicks some postmodern ass...more
I couldn't finish this book, although I tried my hardest. I read about 30%, but it's just so meandering and aimless. I know that people enjoy the rambling narrative and find Tristram a comical narrator, but I just found it annoying and self-satisfied. And if I have to read the words "my uncle Toby" one more time I'm going to scream.more
A brilliant book. Laurence Sterne has become my friend.more
First let me say that I very much enjoyed Christopher Ricks' introduction. I am usually only immensely angered by introductions—this one, however, was fascinating. Also, the notes are delightful, and quite lengthy, as the novel is encyclopedic in knowledge. Walter and Captain Toby Shandy have become quite dear to my heart. I am still in the dark as to Toby's groin injury. I wonder if Mrs. Wadman's curiosity was ever satiated? I fear they were married. This novel is such a work of genius that it would be ridiculous for me to attempt to review it in earnest. I feel a bit like Tristram did in that "I don't know where to begin".I will say that I had planned to paste a picture of Gillian Anderson onto the blank page in which the reader is to draw an idealized lady. The marbled pages were over my head. The novel is quite chaotic—wheels within wheels, digressions within digressions, time jumps, geographical jumps, et cetera. The thread which is consistent in its time scheme throughout the novel are the 2 wars against France.Of all of the novel's events, of all Tristram's own commentaries, I enjoy most the angry philosophical rants of Tristram's well-read father, Walter. Both Tristram and Laurence are very odd fellows, which is why we love them! I also love that Sterne and Tristram were quite fond of Don Quixote.more
As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story. But central to the novel is the theme of not explaining anything simply, thus there are explanatory diversions to add context and colour to his tale, to the extent that we do not even reach Tristram's own birth until Volume III. However, beginning the narrative before one has been born is not unique in literature, for example see the opening chapter of David Copperfield. Consequently, apart from Tristram as narrator, the most familiar and important characters in the book are his father Walter, his mother, his Uncle Toby, Toby's servant Trim, and a supporting cast of minor characters including Doctor Slop and the parson Yorick (no doubt inspired by Shakespeare).Most of the action is concerned with domestic upsets or misunderstandings, which find humour in the opposing temperaments of Walter—splenetic, rational and somewhat sarcastic—and Uncle Toby, who is gentle, uncomplicated and a lover of his fellow man. "The long-nosed Stranger of Strasburg": Book IV opens with a story from one of Walter's favourite books, a collection of stories in Latin about noses.In between such events, Tristram as narrator finds himself discoursing at length on sexual practices, insults, the influence of one's name, noses, as well as explorations of obstetrics, siege warfare and philosophy, as he struggles to marshal his material and finish the story of his life. What makes this novel remarkable is the seeming modernity of the technique and style. As with Rabelais, Sterne does not follow the "rules" for writing a novel, thus one encounters multiple allusions to other writers and their works and interjections of many kinds into the novel so that you begin to wonder what kind of book this is. Sterne was particularly influenced by Rabelais and his bawdy humor is no doubt due in part to that influence. This is not an easy read but one worth taking in small sections, a bit at a time. Having read Tristram Shandy you may be ready for twenty-first century post-modern literature or you may want to hang up the idea of literature altogether.more
Interesting and crazy to reflect that this book, more so than most English classics, has began to fall out of print. For any reader able to navigate a language that's not one hundred percent contemporary and a culture that's not identical to our own, Tristram Shandy has got to be the funniest classic English novel.more
Brilliantly fun! The post modern book before there was post modernism. Quite a lot of fun, but I do highly recommend reading this with a group as the humor is one that is fun to share and laugh out loud with, but also helps clarify points.more
First published in nine parts during the 1760's this very remarkable novel by the English writer Laurence Sterne starts with the birth of one Tristram Shandy--following him through his young manhood. As a writer Sterne was quite the innovator--telling his Tristram stories through the multiple viewpoints of Tristram's father Walter, or his Uncle Toby and his valet Trim or through Tristram himself. Eccentric and unique in style-- we see stories begun and never finished--interrupted by one character or another--often taking them off on unforseen tangents--what makes all this seeming chaos work is the wit, style and verve of the writer and the exuberantly expansive nature of his characters--always curious to look under every rock and to ferret out even the smallest detail of whatever story they're hearing. There is no end to their intellectual curiosity and Sterne's prose moves effortlessly forward crossing over genre's with remarkable ease. For instance all of a sudden we are reading a travel novel (Volume 7) and in the final (Volume 9) book a romantic comedy--and it all fits seamlessly together. Anyway there are a lot of curiosities in this novel--and in some respects the work it reminds me of the most is Joyce's Ulysses--at least in some of its sections. Maybe not the easiest reading at times but for that matter neither is Ulysses or Don Quixote. FWIW a watershed moment in the development of the novel.more
This is a very fanciful, whimsical book, and--stylistically--well ahead of its time. However, the subject matter is quite archaic. I made it about 300 pages in before I had gotten tired of all the digressions, and stopped reading it. It's a funny book and fairly entertaining--worth looking at, but after a while it grows tiresome.more
"Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; - 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." Laurence SterneIndisputably the most fun one can have alone with a book. An absolute favorite.more
I'm not certain what it is about Irish writers and their wonderfully eccentirc sense of humour and their ability to turn conventional writing inside out and produce something rich and strange. Swift, Joyce, O'Brien, Beckett and Laurence Sterne are all in a lineage.The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a classic comic novel, written as an autobiography of Tristram Shandy, it is really about his uncle Toby and from the beginning, the novel takes wild digressions which, by the time you finish the novel, lead you right back to where you started.more
My oldest brother Cris turned me on to this book when I was too young to really understand how subversive it was (in literary terms) -- and when I encountered it again in college in the middle of an English degree, it was a welcome old friend.more
Digressive, dear sir? Yes! Bizarre, madam? -- Why, yes.... Bawdy? Well - Just read this passage quickly, madam, once through, without thinking --- and...Is it: Better in the first half? Sure. Sentimental? Certainly.A witty, whimsical, comic gem? - Absolutely!!!more
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