When I began the Classics Club challenge, to read fifty classics in five years, my biggest dread was to find myself struggling through huge tomes and hating every minute. While most classics have justly earned their place in literary history, it is inevitable that not every person will enjoy every book and not all classics are equally enthralling. Up until Don Quixote I have encountered the odd challenge but nothing I couldn’t overcome. However, as you may notice from the title of my review I have finally been defeated!
I decided for my own sanity to compromise with this particular title, and have only read part 1 of 2 (but when I say only, I have spent months battling through the hundreds and hundreds of pages which make up part 1). I didn’t really know what to expect from this book before I began it, apart from being vaguely aware of the two main characters – Don Quixote and Sancho Panza – and made it through the first hundred or so pages with relative ease. Don Quixote lives in the village of La Mancha, Spain but decides one day to become a knight errant and sets off without any worldly possessions save his horse Rocinante to promote chivalry through his courageous actions and win the heart of Lady Dulcinea del Toboso – a peasant woman from a neighbouring village upon whom Don Quixote bestows a grand name and his lovestruck affections unbeknown to her:
“it is impossible that there could be a knight-errant without a lady, because to such it is as natural and proper to be in love as to the heavens to have stars.”
In the interests of becoming a real knight errant, Quixote also recruits a squire – Sancho Panza – who blindly follows him through all his (mis)adventures on the promise of a kingdom of his own following the conquest of far off lands and giants.
Mostly ridiculous, Don Quixote’s quests see him battling real and (usually) imaginary foes in the interests of restoring chivalry and achieving glory in his lady’s name. He also meets many characters along the way who have their own story to tell and who are sometimes kind, sometimes cruel to our hero. And sadly, this is where I lost interest. I found the plot to meander so slowly that I groaned at every new, imaginary quest, and found myself skimming to get to the end of every story begun by a new character. There were redeeming features – plenty of humour (much of it toilet related that wouldn’t look out of place in a modern comedy), a parody of fantastical knights errant who gave no heed to how they would pay their way,the ridiculousness of the imaginary foes they battled, and a look at how chivalry is a dying value in today’s world (or indeed in the 1600s when this was published). All in all, it was just too long and too repetitive for me to enjoy it and so I will leave my review there.
I would love to hear anybody else’s feelings about this particular book – have you read it? Have I done this classic a huge disservice in dismissing it? Or is it just one of those books that could have done with being a lot shorter? Please let me know what you think.