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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review in which therealus writes a title which is way too long for the space provided by Amazon and other events of only minor, 6 Sept. 2010
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This review is from: Don Quixote (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)

Yes, it's a nice story. Yes, we see over the course of a thousand pages the blossoming of one of history's classic comic partnerships. Yes, the chapters are nice and short so if you want to this makes a convenient adult bedtime story. But the whole point of this book is about all and none of those things. In Don Quixote we can see a vast store of literary tools and techniques, extant to this day, which bring the story alive and imbue it with its timelessness.

There's the literary syllogism, the story within the story, and any number of plot delivery devices for us to savour, enjoy, and steal shamelessly. There are whole tranches of the novel which do not feature the hidalgo or his trusty squire Sancho Panza at all, relating tales of military derring-do, the trials of unrequited love, and escapes from hostile places. It reflects the class-ridden environment of 17th Century Spain, the omnipresence of the Catholic church and its enforcers, and the myriad legacies of Moorish dominance, the Reconquista, and the bigger picture of Spain's multicultural composition. It deals with international trade, law and order, and the opening up of the New World by Iberian or Iberian-sponsored adventurers. It may be the first example of the Media Effects theory, with Quixote's locura widely attributed not to creeping dementia but to his corruption by tales of chivalric deeds. And of course there is the admonition at the beginning for authors, if they are to impress, to have lots of stuff in a foreign language, interject with copious poetic bits, and to drop names (including a myriad of classical and Spanish national lore allusions) like they're too hot to hold, all items you'll find in use today, as for example in Umberto Eco's hilarious satire Foucault's Pendulum (well, I think it's a satire).

It also has a delightful self-awareness, which adds immensely to the humour, as in its constant reference to the "real" author, Cervantes being merely a vessel for delivery of this mysterious scribe's telling of a remarkable "true" story, the speculation in one of the more bizarre episodes that the story may need to be discounted as being apocryphal, and at the beginning of Part II the Don and Sancho are amazed by the revelation that their story has found itself into print and that the author has been able to relate even the parts to which only the two of them were witness, an apparent "anomaly" in any number of works of fiction.

The beginning of Part II sees the slapstick change somewhat in nature, so whereas in Part I the hapless hidalgo is the Knight of the Sorry Face and constantly, along with his suffering squire, on the receiving end of thorough duffings, in Part II he is the Knight of the Lions and more often than not comes out best, whilst Sancho finds more opportunities to stuff his face. They also sally out in Part II slightly better provided for financially, so rather than imposing on their hosts they tend more often to be paying their own way. One of the effects of this on the reader is to alter expectations, so that outcomes remain unpredictable throughout, as when the lion that gives Don Quixote his new nom de guerre, rather than give him a mauling, stands up, stretches, and then goes back to sleep. (A later feline encounter goes less well, however.)

The two main characters are a mass of contradiction, one minute deluded, deranged, gullibility personified, totally estranged from reality, the next the very image of perspicacity, perceptiveness and cunning. Sancho's deception regarding Quixote's beloved Dulcinea del Toboso is genius itself (you have to read it to find out more, sorry), and only mildly upstaged in the comedy stakes by the incident shortly afterwards in which the student Sansón Carasco deceives himself into a good hammering at the hands of the Don. The squire is constantly pilloried by his master for his overuse of proverbial expressions, generally with the overuse of proverbial expressions. And many onlookers are scandalised by Sancho's frequent open criticism of Quixote, in open flouting of the norms of propriety, but they are as often followed by tearful repentance.

Through modern eyes some of the humour can be interpreted as cruel, and some of the narrative as elitist. Don Quixote is one very long example of mocking the afflicted, mostly the two principal characters, and the discourse is highly biased towards wealth, Christianity and the nobility. In Part II much of this comes together in the extended joke played upon Quixote and Sancho by a Duke and Duchess who employ a sizeable army of characters and splurge the equivalent of the national product of a small nation on the enterprise, along the way allowing Sancho to fulfil his dream of becoming the governor of an "island". Then there's the thing with blondes. Most of the women of any value are not only beautiful but also possess flowing golden tresses. Nevertheless, whilst there is a clear cultural bias towards "European" values, Don Quixote is not rabidly anti-Arab or Islam: the "real" author is, in "fact", a Moor, and a Moorish woman who appears in Part I is unanimously judged to be the equal of any of the blondes in the room whose physical attractiveness has already been noted. As with Shakespeare, you accept that this is a work of another time with different sensibilities, and also note the absence of Shylocks.

It would, of course, have been preferable to have read the whole thing in its original language, but my Spanish is far too restricted to be able to tackle the equivalent of a madrileño reading the works of Shakespeare. The translation we have here is very readable, for sure, and in his introduction the translator lays out his rationale for rendering the whole thing in modern language rather than attempting to create a faux 17th century English version. Inevitably, therefore, some of the devices have to be of the translator's doing. Sancho's malapropisms, I suspect, probably only work in English, as when he confuses palfrey for poultry, and similarly with the plays on words, as with the squire talking about a "sin tax" when what is being criticised is his "syntax". Doubtless there are those who would prefer a different approach, but hopefully John Rutherford has captured the essence of the humour even if not the precise wording.

So for sure read it for the story's sake, but even better read it and marvel at the craftsmanship that has made "Don Quixote" and "quixotic" shorthand for a complex myriad of personality flaws, literary creativity and outlandish adventures. It isn't until you actually read the work that the depth, range and subtlety of meaning of those two concepts become truly clear.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Feb 2012 07:39:10 GMT
This review is far too long and far too pretentious. I believe there is a strong likelihood that the creator of it has long since disappeared up his own backside.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Feb 2012 12:35:43 GMT
therealus says:
Last of the Jagaroth? Natural selection is clearly working, and has only one very small task to perform to complete its mission.
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