'Tom Jones' is one of those lucky few- a book whose length is comparable in extent to its reader's enjoyment. 'Tom Jones' is a wonderfully dark, elaborately comic and utterly compelling account of the experiences of a young man as he pursues love, honour and fortune across 18th-Century England. Unlike many other novels and plays regarded as 'comic classics', Tom Jones is also genuinely funny. Seriously.
'Tom Jones' is enjoyable in and of itself- the characters and adventures are accessible, entertaining and varied. Despite this, one of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the introductory chapters to the novel's 18 'books'- short, usually amusing essays concerning theoretical aspects involved in the book. If you're pushed for time, you can skip them- but, much like the comic acts in certain Shakespeare plays, some of the best moments in the novel are contained in what can appear unneccessary literary 'padding'.
So don't be put off by its length, its age, its love for diversions and its complicated web of human relationships; Tom Jones is simply a fantastic read. Particularly for anyone acquainted with the historical environment the novel was written in, Tom Jones can be read as a satire on the hypocrisy of notions of honour; the scathing attack on those who marry for fortune rather than love has a peculiarly appealing modern resonance.
In the end, what's most revealing about Tom Jones is not how far the novel as a form has developed, but how little societal trends change over time. Fielding's world is one in which treachery and deceit are frequently the motives for acts of apparent benevolence, a world as hilarious as it is dangerous. If you've got a couple of weeks to spare, and a patient disposition, you could do a lot worse than to give 'Tom Jones' a try- for this price, you'd have to have a pretty good excuse not to!