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Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Don Quixote has a lot of books on knight errantry. He has read them all and in the process gone quite mad, bonkers, round the bound, off the rails, etc, etc. He is crazy.
He is convinced that he is a Knight, that one of his tenants, Sancho Panza is his squire and that the love of his love is Dulcinea Toboso, a village woman who he has never seen, only heard her name. Quixote thus accoutres himself in knightly style and sets out on adventures.
He has many adventures, misadventures, friends and family try to bring him to his senses and in the end he gives up his knightly ways, admits he was crazy and dies in bed.
For more a more indepth look at what actually happens, ie Chapter by Chapter, please check out my various Don Quixote Update Posts.
There is so much I want to say about this book. So please forgive any erratic jumping around as I potentially go from random thought to random thought.
I can see why this is a Classic. Cervantes writes amusingly, wittily and tells some good stories. The interactions between Quixote and Sancho ring so true as do their interactions with the various people they meet. And therein lies my first, and biggest issue.
The side stories. This book is divided into Part I and Part II. Part I is chock full of characters that Quixote meets telling their own, long, convoluted and pointless stories. In one or two cases, those side stories end up splitting off into yet a third story. A story within a story within a story. It became frustrating to read. Someone who I can’t remember, told me that those side stories represented various forms of writing back in the 1600’s and that Cervantes included them to show that indeed, he was a master writer. It makes sense. However, as much sense as it may make, it does not make for an enjoyable read. When I am reading a book entitled Don Quixote I expect to read about the titular character. Thankfully, in Part II there are very few sidestories and the adventures of Quixote and Sancho proceed apace.
My other main issue was the continued madness and stupidity of both Quixote and Sancho. In part it is amusing, funny and chuckle worthy. But when it crashes over me the reader chapter after chapter after chapter, it becomes tragic, not comedic.
In short, while I am not a fan of abridged classics, I WOULD recommend that Don Quixote first be read that way to get the meat of the story. Then the reader can read an unabridged version to wallow in all the unnecessaryness of it all.
I was reading the Oxford World Classics edition that used the Jarvis translation and was edited and annotated by a E.C. Riley. Riley’s notes were absolutely useless to me as a casual reader. There were many instances where I would have appreciated some context about the culture that would have explained something but nope, nothing. Then there will be Greek Name Alpha and Riley will spend 3 paragraphs going off about the history of said Greek and how Cervantes saw it ONCE in Village X and that is why Greek Name Alpha was included in the story. It felt like the focus of the notes were supposed to be scholarly but came across as pretentious and pointless. It was a frustrating experience and by Part II I just ignored the annotations.
The thing is, this WAS funny. How can you not laugh when Sancho puts some curds into Quixote’s helmet [which is actually a barber’s basin] and Quixote claps the helmet on his head and thinks his brains are leaking out because of the curds? Most of the humor is of that sly kind, poking fun at Quixote, at Sancho, at the people they meet.
I would recommend this book just to see how people thought and acted 400 years ago. But get a different edition than this one, one that will explain some of the cultural things that mean nothing to us now.
I started this book in November 2016 and finished it in July 2017. That is 8 months. I could have read it a lot faster but my note taking necessitated taking it slow. I don’t in any way feel that my time was wasted or that my updates were negated. It was nice to just slowly punt down the river of this book and enjoy the scenery. Of course by page 700 I was over the scenery and ready to exit the boat.
To wrap up. I enjoyed this even while being frustrated at parts but I don’t know that I’ll ever read it again. 2000 and now 2017 just about seems enough.