No one description will fit this strange, eccentric, endlessly complex masterpiece. It is a fiction about fiction-writing in which the invented world is as much infused with wit and genius as the theme of inventing it. It is a joyful celebration of the infinite possibilities of the art of fiction, and a wry demonstration of its limitations. This Penguin Classic contains Christopher Ricks's introductory essay, itself a classic of English literary criticism, together with a new introduction on the recent critical history and influence of Tristram Shandy by Melvyn New. The text and notes are based on the acclaimed Florida Edition, making the scholarship of the Florida editors readily available for the first time.
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Naxos audiobooks has just released an unabridged version, read by Anton Lesser with humour and brio. Lesser's light tenor is perfectly suited to the many roles (Parson Yorick, Doctor Slop, et al) who crowd Sterne's narrative. This translates into 15 CDs and about 19 hours of listening. Perfect for a wet summer. --Robert McCrum, The Observer
This extraordinary novel - precursor of post-modernism by 250 years - would be an unwieldy beast in unabridged form: its 19 hours of whim and wit would be indigestible, if swallowed whole. But at a gentle pace it makes a lovely listen, as Anton Lesser brings characters and situations to life in infectiously unbuttoned style. Massive books like Sterne's don't fit modern lifestyles, but this massive audio-book may well fit in very well. --Betty Tadman, The Scotsman
As a general rule I go along with the advice that if a book doesn't grab you by the end of chapter 4, don't waste your time, there are plenty more. Yes, but not like Tristram Shandy. Nothing I've ever come across is like Sterne's extraordinary comic tour de force published 250 years ago which, I freely admit, I found pretty hard going a long way past chapter 4. And then, suddenly, I got it. Or at least I realised I was coming at it from the wrong direction. It isn't a novel. It has no plot. Chapters break off in mid-sentence because, advises the narrator, 'I would not give a groat for that man's knowledge in pen-craft who does not understand this: That the best plain narrative in the world, tacked very close to the last spirited apostrophe to my Uncle Toby, would have felt both cold and vapid upon the reader's palate; therefore I forthwith put an end to the chapter, though I was in the middle of my story.' And which story might that have been? The one about Uncle Toby's dalliance with the widow Wadman? Or his manservant Corporal Trim's tireless reconstructions of Flanders campaigns, complete with battering rams and catapults on the bowling green behind the vegetable garden? Or of Dr Slop, summoned to assist at the narrator's birth, being thrown from his horse and ... Enough. If you've ever sat spellbound listening to a witty, satirical, outrageous, digressive raconteur regaling you with endless stories about preposterous characters that lead nowhere but keep you hanging on every word, trust me they learned their craft from Sterne. So did postmodernists such as James Joyce and Flann O'Brien. It is tailor-made for audio, as is Anton Lesser's reading intelligent, humorous, charming. Dr Johnson admired the book enormously, but opined that 'nothing odd will do long'. For once he was wrong. Tristram Shandy is decidedly odd and extremely long, but it has stayed the course. --Sue Arnold, The Guardian
When I'm in London during the summer, I don't have the car. This is liberating to an extent, but does mean that I can't listen to Tristram Shandy. I bought the unabridged 15-CD set at the best possible place Shandy Hall, Laurence Sterne's home at Coxwold, in Yorkshire. On visiting, I became uncomfortably aware that I'd never managed to get through any Sterne. Anton Lesser reads Tristram to perfection. By the time I'd driven back to Ramsgate the next day, I had heard 10 CDs, but what about the remainder? My ears are the wrong shape for an iPod; the little earphones fall out. I can't expect the family to share Sterne in the car. Besides, is he suitable for children? Eventually, they may take to him more quickly than me always going off at a tangent, with no obvious beginning, middle and end, Tristram should appeal to the internet generation. Clive Aslet, Town Mouse Country Life /// I never got very far with reading that most confusing, weird novel Tristram Shandy, so I'm listening to it. It was after all published between 1759 and 1767, a time when novels were often read aloud to an audience eager for any kind of entertainment while they tatted lace or fiddled with fishing flies. Apparently they didn't mind the fact that, thanks to the discursive style, Tristram isn't born until the third volume. By then the bemused, possibly snoring, listener has met Uncle Toby and Parson Yorick, and been led up innumerable garden paths and gathered many more or less bawdy red herrings. Anton Lesser is magnificent; his sparky, slightly manic narration is ideally suited to Laurence Sterne s exclamations and digressions. A little goes a long way, though. It is some comfort to learn that Sterne published it in parts over eight years. I've decided to look on it as a radio soap and take it in daily doses. Will it work? Time will tell. --The Times, Jan'17
"Tristram Shandy is one of the funniest novels in the English language. It's also one of the first great experimental literary works" (Independent)
"A mad, recursive, literary joke" (Daily Telegraph)
"An extraordinary comic tour de force" (Guardian)
"The ultimate novel about writing a novel" (Sunday Telegraph)
"An amazing book, seeming like a modern experimental novel but written in the 18th century by an Anglican clergyman. You can dip in and out of it with constant pleasure." (Bamber Gasgoigne Daily Express)
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