Thursday 5 December 2013

Sterne, Laurence "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman"

Sterne, Laurence "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" - 1759-67

Why I kept on reading this book until the end I will never know. I love classics. I do. They are my favourites. Just not this one.

Laurence Sterne tries to put the whole world into this novel, wanting to explain it by the example of one gentleman called "Tristram Shandy". He wants the story to be both philosophical as well as entertaining. It is neither. Most of the characters are so flat, they are all hopelessly useless and there isn't really any plot, the story hops from one end to the other without making sense. He starts hundreds of short stories without getting anywhere, without either ending them nor picking up the pieces at a later time. I kept asking myself whether I would find the meaning of this all. I didn't. The author doesn't convince me.

If someone wants to add philosophical thoughts to a story, he should at least tell the story. Or just leave the whole story out altogether. Which would have been better in this case.

The novel is supposed to be humorous, I couldn't find the humour in this, I didn't laugh even once. And I love British humour. This was NOT British humour. The only funny part are the names, like Hafen Slawkenbergius. Those I did enjoy.

From the back cover: "Laurence Sterne's great masterpiece of bawdy humour and rich satire defies any attempt to categorize it. Part novel, part digression, its gloriously disordered narrative interweaves the birth and life of the unfortunate "hero" Tristram Shandy, the eccentric philosophy of his father Walter, the amours and military obsessions of Uncle Toby, and a host of other characters, including Dr. Slop, Corporal Trim and the parson Yorick. A joyful celebration of the endless possibilities of the art of fiction, Tristram Shandy is also a wry demonstration of its limitations."

I think the last sentence in the synopsis says it all.


  1. Hmm, looks like I may be in for a major disappointment, we'll see. I am planning to start 2023 with it

    1. You never know, Emma, it might turn out to be one of your favourite classics. And if they draw your number, you might even read it next month. ;) In any case, I'm looking forward to your view.