The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
By Laurence Sterne
Review by Dr Stephen Bernard (English Language and Literature)
It makes me extraordinarily pleased to say that one of my favourite books and one of the best books in English has finally been published in an edition which makes it an extraordinarily pleasing read, or rather even more extraordinarily pleasing than usual. The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman (1759) is, without doubt, a classic of comic invention, which was matched in its first publication with visual as well as verbal wit, jokes, parodies – in short, fun.
Now a relatively small publishing house – Visual Editions – has brought out its first book (VE1) and it is an astonishing version of Shandy. First of all, it is bright: luminescent orange and green, in fact. However, it is also for bright people. The original comedy is still there, but it is complemented by a huge variety of new comic effects, which draw one to the conclusion that surely this is the definitive edition of the work. That is, if a work can exist in any form outside of the mind of the reader.
This edition doesn’t cost much and was nominated for the Design of the Year Award by the Design Museum, so, in owning it you will own a little bit of contemporary art. The introduction is by Will Self, but you can skip that and just get on with the book itself. There is an immensely clever bit of publishing trickery part of the way through, but I won’t spoil that for you. In fact, every page has a visual trick on it. This is the one hundred and thirty thirdedition of the book, which is the literary equivalent of going dodecatuple platinum – and Visual Editions have done this in style.
The problem is this: you won’t find this edition in the library. It’s a much rarer treat than that. Buy it and then try reading it and then (perhaps) test yourself: try writing about it. It may seem like a simple book, but the ideas it contains about life and literature make it one of the hardest books to write about with panache in the English language. It will make you think and it will make you talk, which won’t guarantee you a place at the University, but it will make you want to talk about books, which is what it’s all about.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne