Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner

I came to this book with absolutely no preconceived notions. Of course I have heard of the title and author before, but I had no clue what the book might contain. In fact, the copy I have borrowed from the library for once doesn't match the cover you see here, because I couldn't find a photo of the plain red cover with gold lettering of the book I have in hand; with the copy I read, I didn't even have the benefit of a blurb on the back cover.

Before I even made it through the first of the four chapters I found this book a challenging read. I was really hoping this would be one of those books whose narrator changes with each chapter, because the first chapter is narrated by a mentally handicapped man named Benjy (or Maury? as it turns out, his family changed his name after they found out he was handicapped), and it's very garbled. It was difficult to be certain, but it appeared to be jumping between settings (in the cold before Christmas, in the spring after a funeral, the narrator's 33rd birthday, and possibly the narrator as a small child), and although many other characters are named, it was difficult to figure out who was who. (It didn't help that there are two Jasons, two Quentins, two Maurys until the aforementioned name change, and Caddy is short for Candace). I was up for the challenge, but I did hope the entire book wasn't written like the first chapter. It sure made me appreciate the organization and precision of the autistic narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

I got my wish about varying narrators, but the second chapter was hardly better than the first. It is narrated by Benjy's older brother Quentin, and while he doesn't jump around quite as much chronologically, it is all very stream-of-consciousness, complete with tangents and digressions and general confusion. It is evident that although Quentin is not handicapped like Benjy, he is disturbed in his own way. And, not that I have any experience with editing, but I guarantee it would have driven me absolutely bonkers to have tried to edit this book. I would have wanted to fix all of the missing punctuation.

The third chapter was easier to read and more plot-driven, narrated by the third Compson brother, Jason. What stood out to me the most in this chapter was the off-hand way in which it is revealed that Quentin had committed suicide. I had gotten the idea in the second chapter that Quentin was contemplating something of the sort, but that chapter ended with Quentin still alive, and his death was merely mentioned in passing in Jason's chapter.

The end of the book reminded me of a short story. Jason is chasing after Miss Quentin (his niece, not his brother) and the plot is fraught with tension. We gather from Dilsey that Benjy smells something he doesn't like, and I assumed this meant someone was going to die. Luster drives Benjy the wrong way around the monument and I thought he must have seen something terrible in Jason's car (like Caddy's or Miss Quentin's body? but that would have made too much sense). There seemed to me to be quite a build-up of anxiety but it turns out to be all for nothing. Nobody dies, Jason doesn't catch his niece or get his money back, and Benjy settles down when he goes the right way around the monument. I guess it fits right in with the quote from Macbeth (once again, Google is my friend): "Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

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