12 September 2020
Book Review: Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais
I don't remember how this title ended up on my reading list. But in any case, I haven't had much exposure on Renaissance literature, and definitely I didn't have much awareness regarding François Rabelais until when I read this book. This was definitely a book that allowed me to access cultural bits and pieces of French society back in the Renaissance, and is something that I enjoyed.
See, Gargantua and Pantagruel is a collection of five books about two giants, Gargantua and his son, Pantagruel. There are many fantastic elements in this book. And the adventures of these two giants are definitely amusing, extravagant, and satirical, and features plenty of vulgarity and wordplay. It made me think of Monty Python, there's a humour one either likes or hates, when reading this book.
While I am not too enthusiastic about the narrative per se, what I find more interesting is the window this book provides in 16th century French culture. Rabelais was a humanist, and therefore used these books to attack certain social structures. Religion was a common target, and indeed, this book was the target of censorship by the Sorbonne. It is refreshing to know that there are rational and logical thinkers who battled against faith and dogma even back then.
Another aspect I liked was the wordplay. There's plenty of it, as well as puns and double entendre phrases. Rabelais was a polyglot, and there definitely was plenty of elements in this book showing his linguistic prowess.
I have read the version translated by Michael Andrew Screech, which was a very accessible translation. It must have been a massive feat to transpose the numerous puns from Classical French to Modern English. I am glad that he took the liberty to transpose elements as needed, otherwise there would have been plenty of items that have been lost in translation.
This is not an easy read, but if you have patience, then there's plenty of interesting tidbits that one could glean from this tome. I definitely enjoyed it, and would give it 4 out of 5 stars.
See my other book reviews here.
Categories: Book Review