Considered by critics to be Barth's most distinguished novel, The Sot-Weed Factor has acquired the status of a modern classic. Set in the late 1600s, it recounts the chaotic odyssey of the hapless, ungainly Ebeneezer Cooke. Cooke is sent to the New World to oversee his father's tobacco business and to record the struggles of the Maryland colony in an epic poem. On his mission, he is captured by pirates and Indians; loses his father's estate to roguish impostors; falls in love with a former prostitute; is nearly robbed of his virginity, which he is (almost) determined to protect; and meets a gallery of treacherous characters who continually switch identities.
The Sot-Weed Factor is a hilarious, bawdy tribute to all the most insidious human vices with lasting relevance for listeners of all times.
©1960 John Barth (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
Though a lengthy work, John Barth's Sot-Weed Factor flows apace as the protagonist bumbles his way through myriad adventures in the late 1600's of England and America. Barth has a great turn of phrase, his wit magnified through his idealistic, hapless and often rather daft Ebinezer Cooke.
I am reminded of Voltaire's Candide, and would extend an extra recommendation to anyone who has appreciation for that work. The wit is two-fold in that much is humourous on the face of situation and yet the underbelly of issues related to colonialism, class structure, the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as suffrage, to name a few, are raised by an ever changing cast of characters surrounding our main man Ebenezer. To boot there are a great many passages that toy and explore the notion of identity, and we witness a few switcheroos that play well in the adventure.
I was not surprised, though very pleased, to see that Kevin Pariseau is the narrator of choice for all of Barth's full length books, as he brings true character with his narration. Pariseau is a perfect match for this tale, and his phrasing, tone and pacing are pitch-perfect. He has done great justice to the spirit of the work and really has made it an audio book that engages and paints vivid scenarios in the mind.
I was first exposed to The Sot Weed Factor in my first year English Lit class at university in 1972. I read this book at least once a year for many years until I lost my copy and found it difficult to find another. I have be hoping that it would be made as an audiobook, and now my hopes I come true.
Although the story can be a bit convoluted at times, it is always entertaining, usually funny and sometimes a bit ribald. Barth has managed to capture the life of the early 1600's in both England and the Americas, making it real to the reader on every level.
I just now downloaded it, and have not yet listened to it, but the story itself is incredible and I am sure the narrator will do it justice.
Once i got past the old english language i was hooked. the story has countless twists and turns that keep you guessing.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
I do not question John Barth's credentials in the world of postmodernism. I count myself as a fan of both, but I can find a lot more postmodernism in Tristram Shandy than in this work. For that matter, there's a good deal of Tristram Shandy in this work, but Barth does a better job of tying it all up in a cohesive narrative. In fact, it felt to me like this book was more of a homage to Sterne or Fielding than an attempt to carve out bold new territory in the realm of the novel. It is a hilarious story full of all the stock devices culled from a hundred different sources and smushed together. It is just as bawdy and earthy as Sterne or Fielding (in fact, he may be trying to outdo them), but never as explicit as modern authors are.
For the first 60% of this book, I confess I could not fathom why this book merited the reputation it had. It was certainly inventive enough but the pacing and the plot devices were always just at the verge of tedium. However, the last 40% picked up and all the work laid up to that point began to bear fruit. In fact, it started to be fun to see what horrible predicament the author would put his protagonist in next, just to see how he could possibly extricate him.
In the end, it was a rollicking good story, though I am less sure it qualifies as great literature. And I am still unsure how it qualifies as postmodern.
Kevin Pariseau turns in an excellent performance keeping the myriad characters separate. His choice for the protagonist, though wholly appropriate, is annoying. But for that I have to blame Eben Cooke more than Mr. Pariseau.
I didn't really read the description of this book before I downloaded it. I missed the word parody. Or farce. Or spoof. I saw it was historical fiction and it was a long book. And it was all of those - parody, history and long. If it had not been for the narrator, Pariseau, I would have given up and added it to the short pile of 2 other books in my lifetime that I simply could not complete reading. But Pariseau made it worth the time - what a phenomenal range that man has!! The story itself is convoluted and has so many short stories within its bounds that I wonder if the book's whole purpose wasn't to supply a connect the dots effect to all those stories. Colorful characters, all. The main character, an English poet, is a fool in the realm of life, but he does get under your skin. I found myself rhyming a lot during the time I was listening to this book! But would I recommend the book -
nay, I say.
While it starts a little slow, and has a tendency to run on a bit (rather like Don Quixote), there is more than enough plot and humor to make the whole thing undeniably worthwhile.
Erudite, witty, literary, and long. But most definitely worth the time if these words don't scare you away.
I love long audiobooks, usually on the more challenging side (my two all-time favorites are Middlemarch and The Way We Live Now) but an author has to work to earn the right to my attention for this long. Barth has talent, and some of the basic themes and characters in the book are interesting. However, he lacks all self-discipline, throwing in every idea that came into his mind without regard to whether it advanced the book as a whole.
This one all but ruined audiobooks for me, Normally I go through them at a frightening pace, but just couldn't finish this one, I I kept saying, "I will stick with it, I will finish it." I found I simply stopped listening because I was so bored. After a few months of non-listening I decided to declare defeat and move on.
I actually wouldn't mind a plot synopsis find out what happened since I did care a bit about the characters, But not wasting any more of my life to find out.
A good premise with an excellent performance by the narrator yet too depressing to be enjoyable. I understand that with any good book one must have adversity but this book pushes the limit of what I was able to endure. The main character is put through ridiculous and unbelievable situations at every turn. This supposed intellectual is conned, tricked, impersonated, and more without a single victory until the end. I prefer stories with a little more common sense.
"Huge, funny and amazing"
Very long book but will listen again almost immediately. The narration is wonderful and the humour is rude and side splitting. Like no other book really
Difficult to compare it to another book. It is written in style of 17th century writers. Reminds you of parts of Treasure Island, Moll Flanders, Oliver Twist. Old fashioned bawdiness, but full of wit and wisdom. Deep philosophy is made really entertaining
The narration was the best I have ever listened to, even better than Dick Hill. The various attitudes of Ebenezer Cooke to all the adventures that befall him are given life and vision by Mr Pariseau. Ebenezer Cooke is a hero for our times. Lost and aimless and gormless, he comes through and grows before our eyes.
A couple of hours at a go is about right since it contains so much detail and intrigue that you begin to get confused. But that is part of the point - human life is confusing and things change. Once you accept the pace then the humour revives you when it appears out of the blue and knocks you for six
Its huge length, scope and education may count against it for some folk, but it is packed with amazing stories, characters, deep thoughts and laughter. John Barth must be some man. Kevin Pariseau deserves commendation
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