How to approach the novel voted as the most influential in the world by a comprehensive survey of international authors? With extreme caution, was my first thought. And my second. My third was, `life is too short'. And my fourth? `Life is too short. So read it!' It's only taken me (insert appropriate numbers of years without revealing age) to follow my own advice.
One can't avoid charges of elitism, literary snobbism, and a certain aestheticism when hefting such a freighted tome from office to subway to bedroom, and back again. People cast a wary eye your way. And who can blame them? My CEO was particularly disgruntled to find it nestling in my bag when a hiccup occurred on a recent P&L re-forecast. And to be honest, there's a small part of you that deliberately courts these charges. I'm reminded of the story of a friend who was reading an Ian McEwan novel and who happened to mention the fact to his grandfather, an esteemed Don of Literature at a suitably esteemed University. The Don snorted derisively and said, `Why are you wasting your time with that trash? The reason classics of literature are called `classic' my boy, is because they are genuinely better in every way than that ... that over-hyped tripe'. This possibly almost defines elitism, no doubt. But I have some sympathy with the crusty Don's view. We avoid classics of literature, to our own cost and impoverishment.
My fear in approaching DQ had to do with the idea that it was, in essence, a very long book with a limited theme (hopeless idealism banging its head repeatedly against reality), spun out ad infinitum. And in truth, it is that. But it's also so much more. What I wasn't prepared for was the shading and sophistication of characterisation embodied by the incomparable Sancho Panza. It is also very, very funny, ribald, humane, witty, daring and kind. I particularly enjoyed the `jousts' that Cervantes engages in with other literary forms, together with his portrait of Seventeenth Century Spain. Edith Grossman's wonderful translation brings this world to life with no seeming condescension to the reader or the author.
In truth, having finished the novel some weeks ago, I'm still digesting it and thinking it through. I can't tell you what it's `about'. It's `about' `everything'. Heh.
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