The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding, 4/5
This charmingly scandalous novel follows the escapades of one Tom Jones, whose good heart and good looks get him into rather more trouble than he seems to deserve. The author’s moral point of view is unusual and surprisingly modern in that his most spiteful commentary is reserved for those characters that appear saintly on the surface but are truly hypocritical, selfish and devious. Sins that have historically attracted more outspoken condemnation, such as sexual immorality, dishonesty, and theft, are all tolerantly chalked up to the imperfections of human nature in a manner that, while not condoning such behaviour, does seem surprisingly nonchalant. Despite its length and the sordidness of some episodes, the book is a light and entertaining read, thanks to the very short chapters, the author’s outspoken [often hilariously so] commitment to not boring the reader, and the artful ease with which the reader is transported between scenes. Perhaps because I have not read much 18th-century literature, Tom Jones reminds me a good deal of Tristram Shandy (written only 10 years later), but in much the same way that a beautiful rainbow might remind you of an oil puddle.
[Why I read it: It came up in conversation with Tom, a fellow choir member.]