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Jacques the Fatalist is a rambling novel presented largely in dialogue-form, with the author popping up occasionally to add his two cents to the proceedings. The dialogue-partners are Jacques and his Master, and while the novel has them have a few real-time adventures along the way and at the end of their journey more space is taken up with Jacques' story-telling though the Master gets in a few episodes as well. But even here, the stories are not related in straightforward form: the Master wants to hear specific things such as about Jacques' love-life and frequently interrupts and redirects matters -- and the intrusive author also pushes things along, especially when they threaten to get too tedious.
This approach gives Jacques the Fatalist a very modern feel; it's no surprise that Milan Kundera is such a big fan of the work and author and, in fact, adapted it for the stage. The playful aspect is appealing enough, but Diderot handles it particularly well: it feels fresh even now, when we're used to all such games and at the time of its publication must have seemed all the more impressive.
The author is playing with the genre -- and even as he lets the reader know it, manages to write an engaging enough tale and series of tales to make the reader forget it again. The person who takes what I write for the truth might perhaps be less wrong than the person who takes it for a fiction. Nowadays, the neglect Diderot means is not as obvious -- novelists are more likely to do just as Diderot does -- but for his day he certainly was not true to the form.
There are other examples from the past two or three centuries, but this is a particularly fine one of what we recognise as a modern novel -- an example of what the novel has evolved into since Diderot's times. Fatalist Jacques is a talkative sort -- a mania apparently the result of having spent his childhood literally gagged.
The France of that times apparently isn't one that appreciates talk: even once he leaves his home and all the enforced quiet he can't seem to hold a job until he finds the Master, as: "I was a born talker and all those people wanted silence. There's some adventure along the way, both in the present they have horse problems, and women problems, and a few dangerous and awkward encounters and in the stories, and there's also a philosophical bent to the narrative.
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