Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Review: Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift

"I attempted to rise, but was not able to stir: for, as I happened to lie on my back, i found my arms and legs were strongly fastened on each side to the ground; and my hair, which was long and thick, tied down in the same manner. I likewise felt several slender ligatures across my body, from my armpits to my thighs. I could only look upwards; the sun began to grow hot, and the light offended my eyes. I heard a confused noise about me, but in the posture I lay, could see nothing except the sky" - page 7

In the same vein as "The Odyssey" and "Castaway", "Gulliver's Travels" takes us on four different voyages with Lemuel Gulliver as the adventurous traveler. He's tied down by Lilliputians who bury people upside down and punish fraud with death; dressed up by Brobdingnagians where he defends himself from giant bees with a fly stinger; held hostage by crazed mathematicians called Laputians who travel the countryside in their floating diamond fortress; pitied by horse-headed philosophers whose name sounds similar to the clearing of one's throat.

I found this book incredibly frustrating. The main reason being that Swift's satire as a book just didn't work for me. I'm sure the reason being that I'm so far removed from the 18th century society Swift was mocking. I feel that the book may have worked better as a lecture.

I had so many questions about various delicious tidbits Swift doles out. For example, there was a temple in Lilliput "polluted by an unnatural murder". What exactly happened we never find out. As well, the idea of the Laputians calling people back from the dead and conversing with them was very H.G. Wells. I also liked how the floating diamond fortress only occasionally crushed people.

What I found interesting and enjoyed though, was far outweighed by what I found boring and pedantic, especially when it came to describing how the diamond fortress stayed aloft. We skip moments that might have added to the story like Gulliver's shipwreck. The reader is only given a small summary of what happened and they miss what might have been an amazing description of the storm and his survival. As well, Swift occasionally writes "I shall not trouble the reader", as if to excuse him from removing what little excitement might be found in a particular story. The sentences are convoluted, there's little description of action and the plot suffers while Swift's busy making his point about society and everything about it that he finds insufferable.

The thing I find most frustrating though is that Swift could have done so much more with the story. It could have stayed a satire while beefing up the story. Instead of spending so much time describing the silly rituals and culture of the specific peoples he meets, Gulliver could have been taking action. The part where he's attacked by giant bees is exciting and interesting but it takes up less than a paragraph before Swift moves on. The result being that if I was asked I couldn't tell you much about what happens in the book because that's exactly what happens. Not much.

Rating: 3/5

3 comments:

mister anchovy said...

Gulliver's Travels is one of those books I've been aware of for most of my life but have never got around to reading. After reading your review, I think I perhaps don't need to read it after all.

theduckthief said...

I was originally really looking forward to it after hearing so much about it for so long. That iconic scene of Gulliver waking up to see the Lilliputians crawling all over him has stuck with me for a long time. That being said, I don't think I would ever read this again.

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