Hit the road, Jacques,
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This review is from: Jacques the Fatalist (Kindle Edition)
Jacques the Fatalist, by Denis Diderot, is a gentle, easy to read book full of humour. Essentially the story is broken into many small yarns told by Jaques, a valet, to his master in order to make a journey more enjoyable.
The overarching story is that of Jacques loves, which he begins to recount only to be interrupted by his master, the author - in asides to you, the reader - and anybody and everybody else they happen to meet on the way. At first this has a slightly disorientating effect, which ebbs away once the reader becomes used to the technique. And, rather pleasingly, the seemingly loose ends begin to tie up as the story, and Jacques' journey progress.
Jacques and his master are an excellent pairing. At various times they are the best of friends, then sworn enemies in the manner of a couple of sulking toddlers. Their relationship is similar to that of Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, Jacques having a similar taste for wine. However, Jacques is much more of an equal partner in the double act, both men being bright, full of experience but slightly curmudgeonly.
The relationship between Jacques and his master is referred to specifically at various times in the book. The fact that his master allows Jacques an equal footing rather than a master-servant relationship makes both characters more rounded - as opposed to, say, the more conventional hierarchical relationship of Blackadder and Baldrick - because it allows both characters to drive the narrative, depending on whose turn it is to tell the story. These stories are less predictable because of the characters' parity. The reader knows, for instance, that Jacques' story need not end in farce every time.
The technique of story within story is very effective, especially when the author interjects to address the frustration the reader may feel when Jacques' main story, the story of his loves, is interrupted for the umpteenth time. These interjections are far from annoying, they are engaging. The reader is given the sense that the author is addressing them directly, at times belligerent reminding them that he gets to decide what happens next; if you don't like it you can go and write your own book.
The technique of author asides is borrowed from Tristram Shandy, which is credited in the book. Readers fond of Mr Shandy will certainly enjoy the company of Jacques, which is warm, funny, stubborn, principled and sometimes inebriated. In short, a great companion for a journey, as his master knows.
Fans of books such as Don Quixote or even Canterbury Tales should enjoy the personal, lighthearted and sometimes bawdy tone of this book. It might not be a life-changing experience that alters your perspective on the world, but it will have you chuckling out loud.