17 August 2012

Review of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Faulkner was not afraid to break from mundane and predictable writing; that which later leads to obscurity. If you are looking for a nice point A-to-point B type story, this is not it. This leans more toward something like a mixture of his other work and Joyce/Woolf amalgamation. Yes, it has that in it (stream of consciousness writing). That said, it isn't Joyce or Woolf. It is Faulkner rollicking in the intoxicating power of words, at the height of his game. I love it because of that. Stick with it and you will see that there is a method to the madness; it is not for the faint of heart, to be sure (please excuse the cliché); it requires breaking out of the trained-laziness that much of contemporary literature and internet reading is breeding in us.

On that note, it is disheartening and nauseating to read about people who get bored because there wasn't tension in the previous two sentences, or because an author wants to take some time and really have a play with language. Editors, agents, publishers, writing gurus all spew the same thing: tension, tension, tension. It's as if the entire world is suffering from learned ADHD (not to take that disease lightly: I struggle with this condition myself, so I understand the pain it can cause; but, we cannot allow it to govern everything: i.e. make literature easier, more exciting, tension, tension, tension; but instead, we must make ourselves stick to something and why shouldn't that something be great works of literature?). If this is to change, we have to change it. Reading great literature requires sacrifice and sometimes it requires breaking out of the the blasé expectations of how literature "ought to be." "Oughts" are very ugly things....

Faulkner's writing, especially in this case, is more art than craft. Many of his other works are very tight, craft-wise (as is The Sound and the Fury; but it's tight in its own way: i.e. when there is what seems like a lot of jumping around, it really should not bother a contemporary reader, whose attention span has been hacked down to nearly nil by television and internet; this part of the book is very much like a movie: quickly switching from scene to scene, bringing into the reading the dizzying effect that the character is experiencing on the page).

The Sound and the Fury is one of Faulkner's more difficult books and didn't really catch on until after he had published Sanctuary. It isn't my favorite of those I've read of his works, but it is a strong book and has a lot to recommend it: chief being the way Faulkner plays with language and builds his characters.

Don't give up, it's worth the time you put into it.

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