April Book Review2
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; read this month; 1.5 stars (out of 5)
I’m not really sure how to review this.
Certainly it isn’t a pleasure to read this book, at least for most of it. It’s a trial to have any idea what is happening for so long; it’s the kind of book that really needs (at least for the vast majority of people) to be read in an English literature class, and with a lot of help throughout. I am not opposed to having to do a little work and to have to have extra focus and concentration when reading, but I do think that, in the end, the book should then be understandable. I’m not sure this qualifies. I do feel like I got a good part of this book, at least in terms of plot, but it wasn’t easy. (I read the first two sections slowly and then started the book over, and the second time around understood much more. I also consulted the internet along the way the second time around, so I could see if I missed anything in what I’d just read. This helped quite a bit, even though it still seemed like there was more that I wasn’t getting.) I really don’t mind doing a little work, but this book seemed to require more than should be asked of readers. Especially readers 70 years ago without analysis on the internet at their fingertips. I hesitate to write this, though, because I do believe strongly in a writer writing not for the benefit of their audience, but because they need to write, and because they have a story that needs to be written. Or even just because they want to do it a certain way. I think, in the end, for me, it seemed like Faulkner didn’t ‘dumb down’ his writing for the general public (as I think he shouldn’t), but that he might have intentionally convoluted it (as I think he also shouldn’t). He apparently wrote an appendix about 15 years after publishing this book (that my edition didn’t include) that explains some of the story. I don’t think that a book can be legitimately called such a success when a subsequent published explanation is required of the author to elucidate the original text. Frankly I’m more than a bit surprised that this was published at all in the first place. That said, I am tempted to rate this higher because of what he did manage to do for writing and for storytelling. I might not particularly like it or have enjoyed it, but what he did was important and innovative, and changed literature. So that’s something. And there are passages that, when they’re understood, are quite nice. But it is so hard to read this that I don’t think I can rate this any higher, and even feel kind of like that half star is awfully generous of me.
I’ve read 3 of Faulkner’s books now, and have been wondering what his style is this whole time. He is so very good at writing in the voice of other people that I don’t feel like I know his voice at all. Perhaps this is his major talent – writing so truly in the voice of his characters. That said, maybe, just maybe, we see his voice come out in the fourth section of this novel, the only one told in the third person. To me, this section read a lot like a play, without all of the overt stage direction. Stylistically, after the struggle of the first two sections, the last two didn’t ring true for me. Jason’s section, the third, felt like an assignment someone else was writing to give Jason’s perspective, while filling in as many puzzle pieces as possible that were left out from Benjy and Quentin’s sections, the first two. And the play-like narration of the last section didn’t fit in well for me, although I was glad to get the point of view it gave.
I don’t know. As I write this review I realize more and more how much I wanted to appreciate this book but just didn’t. I like to think of myself as a lover of literature and that includes the classics, so it’s always disappointing when I don’t like books that are considered so important to the literature canon. I’m sure I would have liked this book (and understood it far better) had I read it in English class, but foundationally I just don’t think that’s fair to require of your readers. So I guess that’s it then – I wanted to like this book but mostly just didn’t, and I’m left just kind of being annoyed at Faulkner.
Some quotes, only one of which was pulled to show how hard it is to read this book:
“His hair was parted in the center. The part ran up into the bald spot, like a drained marsh in December.”
“Hats not unbleached and not hats. In three years I can not wear a hat. I could not. Was. Will there be hats then since I was not and not Harvard then. Where the best of thought Father said clings like dead ivy vines upon old dead brick. Not Harvard then. Not to me, anyway. Again. Sadder than was. Again. Saddest of all. Again.”
One of the lovely passages that on first pass I didn’t really get:
“her face looked at the sky it was low so low that all smells and sounds of night seemed to have been crowded down like under a slack tent especially the honeysuckle it has got into my breathing it was on her face and throat like paint her blood pounded against my hand I was leaning on my other arm it began to jerk and jump and I had to pant to get any air at all out of that thick gray honeysuckle”
“Then Ben wailed again, hopeless and prolonged. It was nothing. Just sound. It might have been all time and injustice and sorrow become vocal for an instant by a conjunction of planets.”
And I will take a love of “Caddy smelled like trees.” and “honeysuckle all mixed up in it” with me as I go. Although I’ve heard quite enough of the word “hush” to last me a lifetime.