“Life and Opinions”? More like “Opinions and Tangents”.
I predicted two months ago that Tristram Shandy would be the Paradise Lost of this semester’s reading list. And to be honest, Joseph Andrews was hard to get through too. 18th century formatting just sucks—large blocks of text, with capitalization of every noun, and no indenting for conversations. I believe there were four straight pages of dialogue with no indentation at all.
To be fair though, Tristram Shandy doesn’t actually subscribe to that kind of formatting, winning it big points in terms of readability.
Unfortunately, it loses HUGE points for it’s irritating style. Shandy, our narrator, cannot shut up.
Usually this is a great thing in a narrator, we learn everything we need to know about a situation in order to picture it in our minds. Shandy takes this to the next level by adding excessive details and tangents that have nothing to do with the story.
In fact, I would argue the seven chapters I’ve read are entirely unnecessary. Why? Because Shandy is outlining the story of his conception. Not birth, conception—from the conversation his parents had, to the career history of the midwife, to a criticism of male doctors, to the fact that his uncle always tells him this story.
About three chapters in I realized that I wasn’t going to learn anything relating to the overarcing plot until maybe 50 pages in. And even then, I’ll be surprised if there is a plot to overarc.
Shandy even has the audacity to beg his reader for patience for an entire chapter, instead of getting on with the story. Talk about wasted space.
And you know what the nuttiest thing is? For all my complaining, I’m actually enjoying it.
The constant change of topic keeps the pace quick and light, making the book a surprisingly easy read. Shandy’s pretentious attitude towards his readers that simply assumes I’ll stick around for the story is actually working. I don’t know how long it’s going to hold out, though.
Ever read a book that had a style that surprised you? Let me know in the comments!