Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne is an unconventional novel of the 18th century that is a masterpiece of wit and satire. The novel is a labyrinthine structure of digressions, non-linear plotlines, and metafictional elements that is a challenge to read, but is also an unforgettable reading experience.
The novel is narrated by the titular character, Tristram Shandy, who is a member of the Shandy family, known for their eccentricity and oddness. The novel is not structured chronologically, but rather jumps around in time, as Tristram tells the story of his life in a non-linear fashion. The novel is also filled with many digressions and tangents, as Tristram goes off on extended riffs on various topics, from the act of writing a book to the proper way to eat a boiled egg.
The novel is divided into nine books, each with its own focus and theme. Book One introduces us to the Shandy family and Tristram's birth, which is a major event in the novel. Tristram's birth is delayed by a series of comical mishaps, and when he is finally born, he is accidentally circumcised by a window sash. This event sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which is filled with absurdity and humor.
Book Two focuses on Tristram's childhood and his relationship with his family. We learn about his father, Walter Shandy, who is obsessed with the idea of "noseology," or the study of the shape of noses. Walter's obsession with noses, and his attempt to mold Tristram's nose into the perfect shape, is a running theme throughout the novel.
Book Three is a digression on the nature of time and the act of writing a book. Sterne uses this book to comment on the art of writing, and to discuss his own writing style.
Book Four returns to the story of Tristram's childhood, and his relationship with his Uncle Toby, who is a retired military man. Uncle Toby is obsessed with the art of fortification, and spends his days building models of fortresses. This book also introduces the character of Corporal Trim, who becomes a major character later in the novel.
Book Five is a digression on the topic of love and courtship, and is one of the most famous chapters in the novel. Sterne uses this book to satirize the conventions of courtship and love, and to mock the idea of romantic love.
Book Six returns to the story of Tristram's childhood, and his relationship with his family. We learn about his mother, who is a strong-willed and opinionated woman, and his brother Bobby, who dies at a young age.
Book Seven is a digression on the topic of philosophy, and is one of the most complex and difficult chapters in the novel. Sterne uses this book to explore the nature of the human mind, and to discuss the ideas of free will and determinism.
Book Eight returns to the story of Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim, and their attempts to build a model of a fortification. This book also introduces the character of Widow Wadman, who becomes a love interest for Uncle Toby.
Book Nine is the final book in the novel, and brings together all the various plotlines and characters in a satisfying conclusion. The book is a meditation on the nature of life and death, and is a fitting end to this complex and challenging novel.
In conclusion, Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne is a complex and challenging novel that defies easy categorization. The novel is a labyrinthine structure of digressions, non-linear plotlines, and metafictional elements that is a challenge to read, but is also an unforgettable reading experience. Sterne's use of satire, wit, and humor make this novel a true masterpiece of English literature that continues to be read and admired today.