Tristram Shandy was written in five installments and published in these segments:
Book 1 and Book 2: December 1759
Book 3 and Book 4: January 1761
Book 5 and Book 6: December 1761
Book 7 and Book 8: January 1765
Book 9: January 1767
For its time, the novel is highly unconventional in its narrative technique - even though it also incorporates a vast number of references and allusions to more traditional works. The title itself is a play on a novelistic formula that would have been familiar to Sterne's contemporary readers; instead of giving us the "life and adventures" of his hero, Sterne promises us his "life and opinions." What sounds like a minor difference actually unfolds into a radically new kind of narrative.
Tristram Shandy bears little resemblance to the orderly and structurally unified novels (of which Fielding's Tom Jones was considered to be the model) that were popular in Sterne's day. The questions Sterne's novel raises about the nature of fiction and of reading have given Tristram Shandy a particular relevance for twentieth century writers like Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce.
There is great fun in Tristram Shandy, but it comes from being in harmony with the author rather than from being contrary and rebellious. Most eighteenth- and nineteenth-century readers loved the tender, sentimental passages in the book, but they disliked the fun. They lost their tempers at the many calculated twistings and turnings of the story, at the many jokes (bawdy and shaggy-dog types) — in short, they disliked the author because he didn't write the kind of book they wanted. Many modern readers have felt the same.