Finished: Don Quixote

Reading a novel the size of Don Quixote (944 pages) is quite an achievement, certainly in the time you need to throw at it.

This was a re-reading: I first read it in the autumn of 2002 and loved every page. Keen to revisit, this time I started around the end of May and got to the Hidalgo’s deathbed last night. So six months to do it again (I laboured most of a year each over Vanity Fair and Middlemarch).

The first time, I found the first part, which is more knock-around (the scenarios where Don Quixote’s madness prompt him to interject invariably end in tears, cuts and bruises) and literary (both the interpolated stories and the criticism provided by both Don Quixote and the priest), to be less satisfying than the 2nd part: I found myself mesmerised (“mindfucked”) by the passages where Don Quixote attacks the puppet show and also his journey to disenchant the bearded Duenna’s.

This second time, the shocks of the 2nd part didn’t strike me as vividly as before; more the characterisations of Quixote and Sancho as the 2nd part progresses: in contrast to the first part with all its collisions with reality, in the second, our two protagonists become known and respected, in the course of their adventures: Quixote, in practicing his knight-errantry and Sancho in gaining his island.

From his high point in the encounter with the lions, Quixote’s pitch becomes less, mutating into reflection and his ongoing embodiment of goodness as he gradually encounters his increasing impotence. Sancho however gains in power, his increasing articulacy facilitating his adopting by the Duke and Duchess (the narrative is shared between the two characters at this point).

So the re-reading, instead of blowing my mind again with his philosophical tricks, produced an appreciation of Cervantes’ handling of the characterisations. The book is staggeringly rich and yeah, if you like, is the classic western comic and philosophical novel.


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