One of the reasons I love readalongs is how they help me to get through a challenging book. They keep me focused and give my reading a purpose. The support of my fellow readalongers is an integral part of the process. But sadly, none of this is helping me get through Don Quixote.
It reminds me of my attempts to read Catch-22. The humour is amusing and clever to start with, but by the the half way mark (if not before), it just becomes tedious in it’s repetitiveness. So many of my good friends LOVE Catch-22 and so many of my blogger friends LOVE Don Quixote along with a large number of authors that I respect and admire. What have I missed with both of these books?
I like to think that I’m an intelligent person, who is reasonably well-read and not afraid to tackle some of the heftier books when the mood strikes. So I saw the satire and the cleverness in both books, I appreciated the intentions of the authors, I enjoyed some of the set pieces and the themes but, ultimately, they didn’t move me, engage me or entertain me. They left me scratching my head in bemusement.
With Don Quixote, I kept waiting for something different to happen, for some growth or insight. It never happened – well it certainly didn’t happen in Part One.
I had heard that Part Two was a better read, with all sorts of exciting ‘pre-post-modern metafiction’, so imagine my disappointment when I quickly discovered that it was more of the same, but with parody…and more even poems!
The whole time I was reading DQ, I kept seeing and hearing The Cisco Kid and Pancho – the characters from a 1950’s TV show that I watched in reruns during my 70’s childhood. Every time Quixote said Sancho’s name I heard Cisco’s famous “ohhhh Paaaaaancho” in my head instead!
Just like the TV western, Don Quixote is episodic and full of copious amounts of frame stories…not my favourite form of literature. Perhaps I should have read one chapter a week, spinning each episode out with an anticipatory break in between?
I enjoyed the brief glimpses into life in rural Spain and watching the very first odd-couple literary pairing in action. But I failed to find much humour – there was ridiculousness and absurdity and some slap-stick, but nothing to laugh out loud about. Don Quixote was sad and mad, and Sancho ignorant and trusting, not figures I could poke fun at, or find it amusing to see others do so.
So reluctantly, and with some regret, I abandon the readalong and leave Don Quixote and Sancho to continue riding around the Spanish countryside in search of adventures and injustices to right. According to Goodreads, I made it to the 52% mark, which I think is giving it a fair go, in anyone’s books!
Over the years, a number of authors have adapted elements of Don Quixote into their own work. These include Madame Bovary, The Idiot, The New York Trilogy and The Moor’s Last Sigh. I attempted but did not like or finish Madame Bovary but I was sucked into Auster’s mad, sad world in The New York Trilogy. I even read somewhere that Che Guevera modelled himself on the bumbling, grandiose idealistic knight as well!
Rushdie obviously loves it so much, he’s having a second go at a Quixotic story. His new novel, due to published in September, is an even more obvious nod to his favourite novel, than the previous.
The Jonathan Cape blurb says:
Quichotte, an ageing travelling salesman obsessed with TV, is on a quest for love. Unfortunately, his daily diet of reality TV, sitcoms, films, soaps, comedies and dramas has distorted his ability to separate fantasy from reality. He wishes an imaginary son into existence, while obsessively writing love letters to a celebrity he knows only through his screen. Quuihotte’s story is narrated by Brother, a mediocre spy novelist in the midst of a mid-life crisis, triggered in part by a fall-out with his Sister. As the stories of Brother and Quichotte ingeniously intertwine, Salmon Rushdie takes us ona wild, picaresque journey through a world on the edge of moral and spiritual collapse.
While The Bookseller, 8th March 2019, reveals that,
Quichotte tells the story of an ageing travelling salesman who falls in love with a TV star and sets off to drive across America on a quest to prove himself worthy of her hand. “Quichotte’stragicomic tale is one of a deranged time, and deals, along the way, with father–son relationships, sibling quarrels, racism, the opioid crisis, cyber-spies, and the end of the world.”
Rushdie has previously spoken of his enthusiasm for Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which was published in two parts in 1605 and 1615.
In January 2018 he told the Guardian of his re-reading of the text: “On the one hand, the characters of Quixote and Sancho Panza are as beautifully realised as I remember them, and the idea of a man determinedly seeing the world according to his own vision, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, feels strikingly contemporary.
“On the other hand, how many more times are the Knight of the Dolorous Countenance and Sancho going to get beaten up and left in pain in various roadside ditches? The ‘greatest novel ever written’ – I voted for it myself once – turns out to be just a little bit repetitive. To make the reading easier, I’m breaking it up and reading other books by other authors after every couple of hundred pages of Cervantes.”
I was rather thrilled to read, that even though Rushdie voted this the best book of all time, he still considers it repetitive and difficult to read. Sadly, even though I unknowingly used Rushdie’s approach of reading Quixote by reading other books in between, it only served to make me feel more and more reluctant to pick it up this monotonous tome each time.
It’s not to late for you though.
If my miserable failure should inspire you or goad you into trying for yourself, please visit Nick’s blog for details around the chapter-a-day readalong or Silvia’s blog to enjoy the company of someone who could read Don Quixote every year and never get tired of it.
I’ll leave Don Quixote and Cervantes now, with little regret. My curiosity to experience the first modern novel remains unmet, or at least, unsatisfied.
Catching clouds would have been more amusing.