The Canterbury Tales – A Book Review

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Whew! I am finally back with a book review. I really didn’t expect to take such a long blogging and book break. But life’s been hectic and I have had a severe case of mommy brain –just haven’t been able to focus long enough on any one task without cocking up my ears to check if baby is crying or not…if baby is not crying, then quietly tip-toeing in and checking why baby is not crying…ending up waking up baby and baby crying…endless crazy lovely cycle.

But now, life has started to settle down a bit more. I am back at work, back reading, and hopefully back to blogging as well.

The first book I read this year has been The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I don’t know what made me pick up this book because reading verse is really not my thing. And this book for the most part is entirely verse. Only a friend challenged me to it, and that coupled with my native stubbornness made me complete a book that was really a meh at best.

The Canterbury Tales is a series of short tales. A group of strangers are heading out to Canterbury on a pilgrimage. To enliven the journey, each one tells a story. As is the usual in such type of books, some stories are excellent, some are all right, and some are just downright terrible.

I don’t want to summarize the tales here as there are better summaries of the tales available on the web…for example, http://www.gradesaver.com/the-canterbury-tales/study-guide/short-summary/ has nice summaries on all the stories in the book.

It is enough to say that this book requires, really requires a lot of effort. The language in the book is Middle English and it takes some time to understand and process it. After struggling for some time with the printed book, I decided to use the awesome Audibly app for the iPad and listened to the story while I followed along with the book. This helped me focus on the language and the footnotes without trying to follow the rhyming and the pronunciation. Once I got used to the lingo, I soon found it pretty easy to read and appreciate and found that I even did not need the audio cues.

The actual stories vary greatly from each other in quality, length, and even values. Some of the tales are very bawdy, bordering on the vulgar, a couple of tales are chivalric, some are very devout, and then there are one or two that are absolutely senseless.

Surprisingly, I loved the bawdy tales. The characters and the situations in them are laugh out loud shameless and funny. Not so surprisingly, I disliked the religious and the chivalric tales.

What is amazing though is how often I realized that some of these tales were already familiar to me, having been modernized and adapted in different languages also! I just never knew that the source was probably the Canterbury Tales.

Overall, this was a book that I eventually liked. It was a tough one to get through however and definitely not for the casual reader. Even though I read a lot of English classics and was mentally prepared for some amount of verbosity, I was startled to find that some of the 30+ page stories could have been easily summarized within a page or two without losing anything.