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The shaggy dog story may be a tale told aloud that never quite makes a point, or gets to a point. Like a verbal meme, you find yourself trying to re-tell the story, a bit like whistling a tune that lingers in your mind. If the story touches on married life and even approaches the bawdy, the prose and the humor are so innocent that even good-humored blue-noses have secretly enjoyed Sterne for literal centuries.
If you read the ink and paper version - even if you never quite finished - you may find Peter Parker's reading opens whole new vistas. Besides accents and cadences, this book cries out for a slower, no-slimming approach. A bit like rolling an elegant coffee over your palate. The Librivox version is a joy, but Parker is a quiet but unanswerable argument for the thoughtful, professional reader.
A gentle, laughing ramble through unlikely but kindly people, with philosophy as love of wit and wisdom and the ever-surprising.
In an oddly post-modern opening, the dedication to the English prime minister (Pitt the elder, French and Indian war leader in American terms) is followed by an offer to sell the dedication for the second and following printings. Not the passionate and personal rejection of noble patronage, but writing and reading for joy, laughter and elegant stories.
How about a chapter on "whiskers" as a word for "bawdy," or Uncle Toby whistling Liliabollero (there are recordings on the web, and whistling along is itself a hoot) discussed and characterized as formal rhetoric following Aristotle and Cicero?
Whether you enjoy or ignore the Military History channel, Uncle Toby's model of the fortification outside Nemours (where the original Dartagnon won fame) partly frames the intricate technical terms of fortification (a boulevard originally meant a street built where a large, low earth-core wall once stood; Toby watched them being built around most serious cities in West Europe).
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13 of 15 people found this review helpful
The title character of Laurence Sterne's unique classic The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67) was ill-conceived when his mother asked his father an ill-timed question (“Did you wind the clock?”), which led to Tristram's “Homunculus” fretting inside the womb without his full compliment of animal spirits for nine months, which led to his becoming the “perpetual sport of fortune,” a prey to "a thousand weaknesses both of body and mind, which no skill of the physician or the philosopher could ever afterwards have set thoroughly to rights." Best not to mention the accidents attendant on his delivery, christening, and circumcision! In nine books and umpteen chapters (some consisting of a single sentence), Tristram uses the story of his unfortunate begetting and birthing as an excuse to entertain us with spicy digressions, irreverent opinions, and rich character studies, which, told with a lively wit and a deep humanity, evoke eight parts mirth and two parts pathos so as to relieve us from the hard life we must live in "this scurvy and disastrous world of ours."
Tristram says that in writing he’ll not confine himself "to any man's rules that ever lived," because, after all, rules should follow a man and not vice versa. He writes a chapter on chapters, a digression on digressions, a preface on prefaces, a dedication on dedications, and, I suppose, a novel on novels. He "writes" blank spaces, black pages, marbled pages, blank chapters ("I look upon a chapter which has only nothing in it with respect"), and a torn out chapter. He archly conceals risque matters behind asterisks and dashes and draws a set of squiggly lines representing the "progressive digressive" plots of his books before drawing a perfectly straight one that he (falsely) promises will structure the next book as "the path-way for Christians to walk in!" He tells his reader, “Do anything, only keep your temper.” It's hard to lose it with Tristram, "child of misfortune," because he maintains a "just balance betwixt wisdom and folly" in writing his "Shandyian book," believing "That every time a man smiles--but much more so when he laughs--it adds something to this Fragment of Life."
Through the follies, wisdoms, and kindnesses of his father and uncle and their cronies, Tristram parodies and illuminates philosophy, psychology, politics, war, love, health, education, procreation, writing, story-telling, and so on. The characters are rounded and winning caricatures: Tristram's whimsical, unpredictable, philosophical, frustrated father; his benignant, humane, groin-wounded, Lillabullero-whistling, hobbyhorse-riding Uncle Toby; his long-suffering, normal mother (who escapes her husband's intellectual foibles by acquiescing to them); the loyal, commonsensical, advice-giving Corporal Trim; and the humane, waggish "enemy of the affectation of gravity" Parson Yorick (descended indeed from THAT Yorick). Even that "whoreson" of a gossiping and none-too-competent Doctor Slop and his nemesis the maid Susannah are fun to encounter. (In effect, all the characters ARE Tristram, who, as a character is absent from his own story.) The novel "ends" when Uncle Toby's climactic "amours" with the Widow Wadman are interrupted by a digression about Tristram's father's bull and a servant's cow.
Although we do not learn much about matters like Tristram's life after infancy, the fate of his elder brother Bobby, or the identity of his "Dear, Dear Jenny," we do learn amusingly much about knots, noses, eyes, whiskers, britches, chestnuts, conscience, in utero baptism, love, learning, and the like. There are comic erotic moments to enjoy, like a Christian knee rub and a sausage-making marriage proposal. Even when catching himself babbling, Tristram entertains: "But this is neither here nor there--why do I mention it?--Ask my pen,--it governs me,--I govern not it." And of course he writes many witty lines about life:
--An eye is for all the world exactly like a cannon, in this respect; That it is not so much the eye or the cannon, in themselves, as it is the carriage of the eye--and the carriage of the cannon, by which both the one and the other are enabled to do so much execution.
--'It is with Love as with Cuckoldom'--the suffering party is at least the third, but generally the last in the house who knows any thing about the matter.
--What a jovial and a merry world would this be, may it please your worships, but for that inextricable labyrinth of debts, cares, woes, want, grief, discontent, melancholy, large jointures, impositions, and lies!
Tristram Shandy is an encyclopedic novel, as is evidenced by its incorporation of many branches of knowledge and its many lists of everything from Roman footwear, scholarly child prodigies, excommunicating curses, and auxiliary verb conjugations to apothecary treatments for illnesses, elements of fortifications, attributes of love, and traits of tutors. Such pleasurable lists, along with the rich style, the bracing irreverence, the fertile imagination, the comedy and tragedy of life, and the sheer pleasure of the writing so evident in the reading, all prefigure works like Moby-Dick and Ulysses.
With his appealing voice and manner, Peter Barker gives a fantastic reading of the novel, deftly handling pauses and emphases, moments of incomprehensible whispering when Sterne hides juicy bits with asterisks, French and Latin, and even things like this: "Ptr...r...r...ing--twing--twang--prut--trut--'tis a cursed bad fiddle." Barker audibly breathes and turns pages, but such sounds only enhance the conversational book, as if we were listening to a witty, creative, and live man progressively digress.
Because much of the pleasure of Tristram Shandy derives from Sterne's typographical play and 18th-century punctuation, while listening to the audiobook it might help to have the actual book handy.
People interested in comic digressive epics or unique classics should read Tristram Shandy; my only regret is that I waited to do so until after my father, who loved Sterne's novel, died.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
For years I've known Tristram Shandy by reputation but never got on with it. I've listened to it complete now and I am getting to love it. For a book that makes such a point of being a printed thing (blank pages, chapters in the wrong order, wiggles on the page and so on) it is not the most obvious choice for a talking book, but this way I could let the (probably deliberate) longeurs (the sermon Trim reads and so forth) wash over me, and appreciate the wacky world Sterne creates. Whenever I've driven past Namur in Belgium, I've always murmured "my uncle Toby's wound in the groin". It is all the more vivid now, and I'll never know what the Widow Wadman found out whether Toby could still get it up after the wound.
The smuttiest book ever written by an Anglican vicar.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Where does Tristram Shandy rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Well, the headline pretty answers that one. I had no previous conceptions or expectations (so why buy it I hear you ask) about Tristram Shandy. I gave it a go and boy (or girl) I'm sooo glad I did. The title kind of gives the impression that it will be a serious, drawn out, Victorian "classic" trudge. I couldn't have been more wrong.
What did you like best about this story?
The story, as such, is described as the life and opinions of, the a fore mentioned, Tristram Shandy. The biographical elements provide opportunity to humorously explore various opinions however the subjects explored and how they're explored elevate the book to another level. One topic explored that springs to mind is the numerous advantages and values of a lengthy nose in many practical and social situations. The discussion drills down into the impact a midwife and/or wet nurse and the physical qualities of the bosom and associated breast feeding can have on the development of the nose and subsequently the life and times of it's wearer. This is explored over various chapters and is one of the many off the wall topics encountered in the work. Obviously the author benefited from an extensive and classical education and the references to history, philosophy, theology, mythology, military history etc are peppered throughout the book and enrich it even further. I've been searching for a book just like this since finishing Don Quixote, which is of a similar style, though different topic obviously.
What about Peter Barker’s performance did you like?
Briefly wooden performance on outset though as the book progresses you can feel Peter's confidence and familiarity with the content and style grow. It's a good, natural flow rate with neutral accent, no strange mispronunciations, which happens at times in other audio books, other than a few Americanisations or should I say Americanizations. Nothing to distract from the book, performance or story.
Any additional comments?
In a nutshell it's intellectual and funny. Almost a precursor to the off beat Monty Python type alternative humour. I can't begin to imagine how it must have been received back in the 1700's. An absolute classic of English literature and one I wish I'd discovered decades ago.
There is a note (on the audible website) stating "This is a vintage recording" and at times that's evident. There's some paper rustling, background crackle/static, odd clicks, throat clearing etc. but honestly it's minor stuff and in no way interferes with or detracts from the experience.
Fantastic piece of literature which I desperately hope I'll be able to find something of similar style and quality. I was sad when Don Quixote finished and struggled to find anything to match it. This came very, very close. The search is now back on...
1 of 1 people found this review helpful