Observation 1: the details. This is often called the first English novel. As such, it is an autobiographical novel with no chapters, no line breaks, no divisions. The sentence structure is hypergrammatical and long. Paragraphs feel like they go on for days and go into too much detail. It is tedious, woefully tedious.
Observation 2: the issue of plagiarism. I know, I know you must be thinking, "Plagiarism, how can the first English novel be plagiarized." Well, I am not accusing anyone of plagiarism in Daniel Defoe's day, but I certainly found more than a passing similarity between Robinson Crusoe and Life of Pi (my previous review here). I remember being outraged around page 50 at the way that Robinson Crusoe and Pi Patel's paths seemed to be running parallel. As I read on, I discovered the themes of the books must be the same. One must explore the process of survival in a desperate situation to an exhausting degree (for believability sake, I guess). One must have a background in faith tested and changed over the course of the stranding. But it was a bit disheartening to know that Yann Martel's Life of Pi was really just a restructuring of an already trod story. As a note on this: Yann Martel was also accused of plagiarizing another book, but after speaking with the author of the other book, the other author dropped his case. I wonder if Defoe and Martel had some sort of medium-coerced meeting that would make all claims of plagiarism of Robinson Crusoe moot, too?
Observation 3: the verdict. So far it seems like after reading one book, I despised two books. Well, that is not necessarily the case. Although reading the story of Robinson Crusoe after reading the story of Pi Patel instilled in me again that everything must go in order; I actually ended up liking (to a degree) both books. Robinson Crusoe, in particular, is filled with the most amazing quotes. It is absolutely unbelievable in it's plot line, tedious in the telling, and a little long on ending; but there are these moments where the book shines. I believe the book to be a cross between novel and theological treatise. As I was a Church History (Theology) major in college, this intrigued me greatly. I found myself wading through the waist deep, soporific story line to get to the parts where Robinson speaks of faith.
Observation 4: the gospel. The book is largely a book of faith (must be why they don't assign it in public schools anymore). It tells the story of a man who is regretful of all his wrong choices, finds faith in God, lives his life according to faith's principles and shares his faith with another. In the middle of the telling are some of the most thought-provoking statements on the nature of faith, humanity and God. Robinson said of himself early in the book, he "was born to be [his] own destroyer," "the willful agent of all [his] own miseries." He speaks of prodigal sons in their youth:
[T]hey are not ashamed to sin, and yet are ashamed to repent; not ashamed of the action, for which they ought justly to be esteemed fools; but are ashamed of the returning, which can only make them be esteemed wise men.Thus Robinson, being youthful, travels on the sea and begins a life of many terrors. He of, course ends up shipwrecked on a desert island and stays there under the hand of Providence for almost 30 years. During this time, he begins to create a life around him from the things he salvaged from the wreckage of the ship. A few years in, he discovers the work of God in providing him these things and works out the struggle to survive as a work of God:
How mercifully can our Creator treat His creatures, even in those conditions in which they seemed to be overwhelmed in destruction! How can He sweeten the bitterest providences, and give us cause to praise Him for dungeons and prisons! What a table was here spread for me in a wilderness, where I saw nothing, at first, but to perish for hunger.Robinson survives not because of his strength or his ingenuity, but because he works under the hand of Providence with what he has. He lives on his island, not in a state of fear and terror, but of serenity and calm. The disruption of his calm, by certain events, causes him to ruminate on the protection of God even from one's own thoughts:
How infinitely good that Providence is, which has provided, in its government of mankind, such narrow bounds to his sight and knowledge of things; and though he walks in the midst of many thousand dangers, the sight of which, if discovered to him, would distract his mind and sink his spirits, he is kept serene of the dangers which surround him.The story of Robinson is the story of redemption and sanctification. There is a weight of sin, a realization of that weight, a Savior found, a faith placed, and a life lived in thankfulness for the removal of the weight.
Observation 5: If you decide, based upon this review, to pick up this book and read it; I advise you to stop reading at the point where Robinson Crusoe sails home. The rest of the book is unnecessary and boring. It does not further the story in any way. But I do cut Defoe a little slack because he was writing a new form of fiction altogether. We can't expect him to get it right the first time, can we?
Rating: 4.62 out of 7