How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: Don Quixote

Before my review, I'd like to mention Rebekah Jones's giveaway of her mystery novel Grandmother's Letters. If you want to enter, visit her blog here. It lasts until August 20th. I read the first chapter on Amazon and I'm already hooked to know what happens next!

I gave a pretty thorough review of this great primordial novel in my guest post on Whisperings of the Pen, but here are more of my thoughts!

I gave Don Quixote three stars on Goodreads because I had good and bad impressions. Oil and water don’t mix, but overall the good impressions, like oil, floated to the top. I’m so glad I read it, and the feeling of accomplishment outweighs any frustration I felt while swimming the river. (Did I overdo it on the simile and metaphor? So sorry!)

Miguel de Cervantes was 57 when The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha was published. He lived a very full life -- he explored the artistic riches of Italy; became a soldier and, for five years, a captive slave in Algiers; married; traveled Spain as part of his government profession; was imprisoned a couple of times for money issues; and, finally, pursued a literary career. He never earned much from writing, even with Don Quixote, but we can see now what his toil was worth. What would the fictional world have done without Don Quixote?

The book reflects Cervantes’s rich and varied personal experiences as well as his wide reading. He was able to bring that together with his inventive mind and strike out in a new direction all his own to make his talents really shine. His poetry wasn’t that good, his dramas were indifferent, his pastorals and novellas not extraordinary … but he struck gold with Don Quixote. The public loved his portrayal of ordinary characters, his realism, his irony and humor.

The novel borrowed from many literary traditions but was something new all the same. Don Quixote himself was fascinating -- he had a character arc, unlike most other literary characters up to that point. Sometimes I thought him annoying, but ultimately I liked him -- his endearing madness, the way his imagination overrode all sense of reality. He was noble, for the most part, and always meant well. Sancho Panza was my favorite, though. His contrast with Don Quixote was so striking -- if you think about it, many of the most enjoyable stories feature two opposite primary characters, and Cervantes nailed that theme. That was the best part of the novel for me -- Don Quixote and Sancho’s friendship. It has never been eclipsed. They are perfect foils for one another, complete opposites with somewhat different goals but who ultimately come to a perfect understanding. Sancho was an innovative character, because before this common people were hardly ever portrayed admirably, and certainly not possessed of any kind of wisdom. Yet Sancho has folk wisdom and commonsense (admittedly, he is still quite obtuse at times). I loved his proverbs!

I liked the interpolated tales, for the most part, except when they stretched on and on. And while most of Don Quixote’s episodes were funny, some reflected a crude, distasteful humor. The other characters, though interesting and distinct, seemed flat, and I have a hard time remembering any of their names. Cervantes’s female characters were especially intriguing -- there was hardly a wilting flower in the bunch! Don Quixote’s niece and housekeeper, the innkeeper’s wife, daughter, and maidservant, and all the lovely women at the center of the love stories told throughout the book were active and strong-minded.

To be honest, it took me until the beginning of Part II, what was published in 1615, to enter into full enjoyment of what I was reading. I began to see its true genius then -- the way Cervantes wrote Part II as a sort of meta-fiction (fiction about fiction) by making it out that Part I had been published in Don Quixote’s world and had been widely read. Don Quixote, therefore, had an image to live up to. Many people that he now met in his travels had heard of him and, consequently, had quite a bit of fun with him and Sancho by playing along with their delusion.

Another funny, major plot feature was Don Quixote’s friends’ quests to cure him of his madness. There was a priest/curate (depending on your translation) and a barber, old friends from his home village, who were particularly concerned. In Part I they followed him and got involved in some of his adventures. They had a less active role in Part II, but enlisted another friend in trying to get him home.

Wow … there still seems much to be said! But this is probably enough. My final verdict: If you are a literary nut, you may find it worthwhile to read and persevere through this book. I certainly did. If you’re not excited about it at all, then a good abridged version would be just fine. I really recommend that all novel-readers learn what they can of the first modern novel -- I knew next to nothing before, but I feel so enriched now that I know what made it great.

Well … do any of you have any final thoughts on Don Quixote?

No comments:

Post a Comment