By: Graham Greene
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
When Father Quixote, the local priest of the Spanish village of El Toboso who claims ancestry to Cervantes’ fictional Don Quixote, is elevated to the rank of monsignor through a clerical error, he sets out on a journey to Madrid to purchase purple socks appropriate to his new station. Accompanying him on his mission is his best friend, Sancho, the Communist ex-mayor of the village who argues politics and religion with the priest and rescues him from the various troubles his innocence lands him in along the way.
I’ve been meaning to read more books by Graham Greene. My first novel by him was actually The Power and the Glory; read it years ago when my brother had to read it for a high school English class. I had never read anything by him so I borrowed it and found it really intriguing. But I never got around to another book of his until this one. This book caught my attention because of the title; I had read Cervantes’ Don Quixote years ago for an undergrad course but sadly had to rush through it so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted (would like to re-read it this year but I don’t know if I have the time). I thought the premise of this novel was very interesting, so I picked it up 🙂
This book is part of the Everything Espana Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.
I honestly don’t know where to begin reviewing this novel, or even laying out my thoughts about it, because I feel no words could sufficiently describe my feelings for this novel. It was delightful, it was intellectually intriguing, it was just profound. The story of Monsignor Quixote follows quite broadly with the events of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, except it is set immediately in the post-Franco era and the characters of Father Quixote and Sancho are very much in the 20th century save for them being on opposite sides of the social spectrum, so to speak: one belonging to the church and the other in communism. Their love of food, wine, and hanging out together makes for a curious friendship, one that transforms them over the course of the novel.
Part of my delight in this novel lies in the intellectual discussions between Quixote and Sancho about their beliefs, Quixote on faith and Christianity and Sancho about reality and true communism. Both tries to convince the other about their own beliefs, reading each other’s books (which was intriguing), but how each of them end up interpreting the other’s beliefs through their own, which was both interesting but in the end they fail to convince the other. But it’s not so much that “failure” so-to-speak, but rather they are exposed to each other’s ideas, they think about their own, and in the end their own understanding about who they are and what they believe in are ultimately changed as a result: Quixote gains a greater understanding about the human experience outside of his pastoral duties, and Sancho gets in touch with that sense of idealism and wonder of the world that he had as a child and lost as an adult. Their strange friendship, which both men questioned time and again over the course of the novel, is quite a testament of how friendships and fellowships can form between the unlikeliest of people as long as there is respect between the two.
The writing in this novel is equally delightful, and pretty funny at times. The circumstances in which Father Quixote becomes monsignor was pretty funny, and the narrative’s observations of the situations he and Sancho find themselves in are pretty fantastic–my kind of humour. There’s also a lot of fantastic quotes throughout this novel, many of which made me stop and reflect on them.
Monsignor Quixote is a wonderful read. It was a lot of fun travelling with the monsignor and the ex-mayor across Spain in their antique car, the zany adventures they get into, and the profound conversations that they have over a good bottle of wine (or five) and cheese. Post-Franco Spain comes to life through these pages, I was quite sad when I reached the end of the novel, which was as powerful and as profound as the rest of the novel (especially, from my experience reading it, from Quixote’s experience and character journey, but also for Sancho regardless). Fans of Don Quixote and readers of books set in Spain as well as novels by Graham Greene will want to check out this novel, it is definitely a favourite from this year.