The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne: Ultimate Survival Guide (+ free chapter summary cheat sheet)

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Tristram Shandy is an experiment in writing a novel without a plot. It is also the first time I have genuinely resented required reading. I can see what Sterne is trying to do – parodying novelistic conventions and having a laugh at the reader’s expense – but did it really have to last for 9 volumes and 600 pages?!?

Chapter Summary

Should you ever be forced to read this book, or feel some masochistic urge to, I’ve included a free chapter-by-chapter summary sheet in solidarity with my fellow sufferers. You can download it by clicking the link below:

Tristram Shandy Chapter Summary

Reading Tips

My two most useful tips for reading this taxing novel are:

  • Skim. If you reach a particularly heavy philosophical bit, just think to yourself “Oooh, he’s rambling on about philosophy for another three chapters” and skim through it. Reading in detail will not help your understanding – trust me on this one.


  • Buddy read. My triumph at finally finishing (I literally danced around my kitchen) quickly turned to frustration at what on earth I just wasted entire days of my life reading. You’re going to need someone to vent your vexations to.

If nobody is insane enough to read it alongside you, looking at Goodreads reviews is the next best thing. Below you will find a list of the funniest 1* reviews I found, all of which lessened the pain slightly.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy Survival Guide Pinterest Graphic

Funny 1* Reviews

Fund Literacy, Care for the Environment
1. Wasted potential:

“it seemed like the work of a huge talent essentially dicking around for hundreds and hundreds of pages”

~ Jeremy

2. Umm, I don’t think he’s talking about big “noses”…

“If I ever read another book with an extended metaphor of noses, I’ll hunt the author down and hit them with said book.”

~ Amy

3. Bad memories:

“Reading it reminded me of cramming for tests in college. Staying up all night, drinking two or three pots of coffee, trying to retain consciousness and all the while jittering so bad inside and being sick to your stomach…There should be some sort of medal at the end of the book for those who make it out alive!”

~ Denise

4. Stretching principles:

“If I believed in banning books, I would ban this one.”

~ Dave Moyer

5. You have to draw a line somewhere:

“I actually did not ‘finish’ this book, but I am finished with it!”

~ Warren Fretwell

6. …you really do have to draw a line:

“DNF… 30% in and couldn’t take anymore. I think he managed to get himself born, and I was like ‘omg get me out of here'”

7. And finally – looking on the bright side!

“I’ve done it. It’s over.”

~ Amy

Buy Now on Better World Books:

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Have you read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy? What has been your worst required reading? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!

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