On returning home I did as I promised and bought a copy of Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’. I found it on Amazon for the bargain price of £1.99, I ordered it together with a book on the history of Spain and it arrived three days later.
Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it a bit heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we walked along I resolved to give it another go upon returning home.
I opened the package and then I remembered why I didn’t finish it at the last attempt. The book has nearly eight hundred pages and I estimate about four hundred and forty thousand words long and it has that tiny squashed up typeface that makes a book sometimes difficult to read.
It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants. As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published. In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”.
So, just in case I start it and abandon it again I have decided to carry out some research and do some preparation to try and understand exactly why this is such a good book and why I should enjoy reading it.
According to one reviewer Don Quixote is “so conspicuous and void of difficulty that children may handle him, youths may read him, men may understand him and old men may celebrate him”. I hope that I am at that “men may understand him” part of life whereas previously I was only at the “youths may read him” stage and that this might make a difference. I think it will also help that I have now visited La Mancha and have some small understanding of the place and the people and this will explain the book when I begin to read it.
The novel begins with :
”Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing…
…His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer.”
I have read that first page a couple of times but have not yet felt completely ready to carry on so perhaps I will keep it for a holiday read? I am determined to do it soon and I will let you know how I get on but for now I have got to finish my Bill Bryson book, which isn’t quite such an important work in the history of World literature but has the advantage of being very easy to read.