Since I’ll probably finish A People’s History of the United States before the end of January, I went ahead and went for the double challenge of reading Don Quixote at the same time. I started that one about a week ago, and I’m up to chapter 14 (of 128 chapters). This puts me in the clear until Monday.
And what I’ve read so far, I…man, I don’t even know.
First and foremost, the book seems to really emphasize its parodic nature. Apparently 16th Century romantic chivalric novels were the trash pulp of the time, and Cervantes does everything he can to remind the reader that Don Quixote’s madness is singularly inspired by these books.*
After that, I’m really left…unsettled. The Harold Bloom introduction went in heavy on the Hamlet/Don Quixote comparisons. Other quick things I’ve read about the book emphasize its comedy. And I see the comedy everywhere in the book,** but…but the book really drives the point home that this is an old man who’s definitely gone senile and is trying to have “adventures” but is only getting the piss kicked out of him everywhere he goes. There’s a real…Ricky Gervais-style comedy at work here.
That’s really the only way I know how to describe it right now: the main conceit of each chapter is that this guy, Don Quixote, goes and does something that would be painfully embarrassing for any normal sane person to do—that no normal sane person would do—and I cringe thinking about that, but at the same time, it’s wonderfully and comically described so that I can only laugh at what I’m reading. It’s just so…I don’t know, “unsettled” is the only way I can describe how it makes me feel.
Plot-wise, the book moves fast. Don Quixote has already sallied out and “freed” a servant boy who was being beaten by his master and then got his own ass kicked by a bunch of merchants on a dusty road. While he was recuperating at home, a local priest and barber go through his library and burn most of his books to help cure Don Quixote of his mad fantasies. When he’s recovered, he recruits a local farmer, Sancho Panza, to be his squire. Then they go and get Don Quixote’s ass kicked by a bunch of windmills. After that, the two of them mix it up with some friars on the road. But then some weird meta-narrative stuff happens where the narrator cuts the story off and then tells a story of him (the narrator) finding an arabic translation of Don Quixote (apparently the narrator is telling this story as though he’s getting it from other sources) in a market place. And just as abruptly, we’re back with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as they start hanging out with a bunch of goat herders on their way to a funeral.
I don’t know, man. This book is weird: funny and kind of painful to read at the same time.
* The book burning in chapter six is, whoa man, overwhelming in this way. And yet, hilarious at the same time.
** The prologue (by Cervantes) is outrageous. Please read it, even if you never plan to read the full book.