I mainly read Don Quixote because it’s on my list, which is compiled from other lists.
One of the source lists (compiled by Norwegian book clubs) was compiled by polling 100 writers from 54 countries around the world. They declared Don Quixote the top book in history. So I was curious: would it live up to its billing?
It was written in the early 17th Century and describes the adventures of Don Quixote. Quixote is a hidalogo who has read too many books about the adventures of knights errant; he loses his mind, and decides to wander Spain as a knight errant. He takes along a peasant from his village, Sancho Panza, as his squire.
For the first 100 to 200 pages, I really enjoyed it, and read it at quite a pace. The book is episodic, and in the early episodes you’re getting to know the characters, the setting, and Cervantes’ writing (and the translator). The writing is intelligent and funny, though not laugh-out-loud.
It’s a satire, but I’ve never read any of the type of book that it satirises — knight errantry, or chivalric adventures and romances — but the satire isn’t very subtle, so I didn’t think I was missing much. It has prompted me to download Amadis of Gaul, one of the works mentioned a number of times, on my Kindle.
After a while though, the episodes started feeling very similar, with a lot of repeated themes and phrases. Maybe this is an intentional aspect of the satire, but 400 pages in it started feeling like a bit of a slog. If a modern author wrote this book, I suspect it would get some serious editing.
Don Quixote was published in two parts, with a 10-year gap between them, during which time the first part obviously became well-known. Interestingly, and amusingly, in the second part, the lead characters are aware that their adventures have been described in a book. This plays a major part in a number of episodes, as they meet people who have read the book, and decide to play tricks on Quixote and Panza.
Given it was written in the early 17th century, it’s a surprisingly modern novel, but I did find myself wondering how much of that is down to the translation? I can’t read the Spanish original to find out, but there were a couple of places where I thought that the translation had tried a bit too hard to be modern.
I’m glad I’ve read it, and it’s clearly a historically important novel,
but I would think carefully before recommending it to anyone.