The Sound and the Fury

My first Classics Club read for the year and I’ve managed to read and review my spin title before the January 30th deadline! Unfortunately that’s the end of the good news. I came to this having no idea what to expect and got a bit of shock and will come clean at the beginning by saying that I haven’t read this in a linear, read every word kind of way.

The gradual disintegration of the Compson’s, an old family from the American South is told through four fractured narratives, using stream of consciousness, flashbacks and inner monologues. There were times when I was completely lost, I didn’t know who was who, whether they were male or female, family or friend or stranger, grandparent or child. But I did feel a sense of dread in the heap of broken images.

The first three parts cover the families story from the perspectives of the three sons. The first part, April 7th, 1928 is seen through the eyes of Benjy, a man of 33 whose mind hasn’t developed beyond that of a young child. In his mind there’s no concept of place or time and his narrative is a chaotic stream of consciousness with a frenzy of characters and events that makes harrowing reading that’s almost impossible to follow.

The second part belongs to Quentin and we go back to June 2nd 1910. A depressed neurotic determined to commit suicide, he has an unhealthy obsession with his sister Caddy and clings to old Southern ideals of purity and honour. Long spells without punctuation and drifting in time, this was only slightly easier to read.

Then to April 6th, 1928 and brother Jason; a cold, bitter, unpleasant man who now as head of the family clutches on to remnants of the old family while working in a hardware store.

The final part, April 8th 1928 comes as a bit of a relief as its told in the third person and Dilsey, the black servant who has been with the family throughout becomes a main character and provides some much needed solidity. Here at last we can begin to fill some of the blanks left gaping by the other narrators.

We don’t see life or the family from their sister Caddy’s perspective although she is at the centre of her brothers narratives. She’s the only member of the family who really loves and is loved by Benjy, she’s the object of Quentin’s desire and provides a reason for Jason’s rage. She’s the only element of kindness and by seeking excitement outside of the family she could actually be a future for them. Benjy describes her as smelling of trees and its to her that the image and scent of honeysuckle recurs.

I wasn’t ready for this either in its complicated structure or its unrelenting cruelty. In the introduction, Richard Hughes encourages the reader to keep reading because with each narrative the fog will clear a little more, and this is why I didn’t give up completely. But I did start flicking through the next sections and then going back and re reading because I found the confusion mixed with the constant racism, the treatment of Benjy and the mysogyny in this almost loveless society overwhelming.

At one point I was going to stop reading and this was going straight to a charity shop, I’ve tried Faulkner, end of experiment, he’s not for me. But now that I’ve had time to ponder and flicked around and through it a few more times I’ve decided to keep it and maybe give it another try because it is a startling way of telling a family story.

16 thoughts on “The Sound and the Fury

  1. As this is a freely rendered quote from Macbeth (“It is a tale |
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, | Signifying nothing”) are we to take a cue from the accompanying phrases? Do these lives signify nothing? Is the ‘idiot’ telling the tale Faulkner, or at least the omniscient narrator?

    By the bye, those were the days, weren’t they? Before typewriting a few thousand more words pukka writers put on a jacket and tie, waxed their moustaches and lit the best shag tobacco tramped down in their pipes; it’s horrendous what authors wear today…

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    1. I don’t know if it can be taken as literally as the ‘idiot’ telling the tale, but I do think Benjy’s bellowing which (as I’m sure they say somewhere) doesn’t mean anything, is a symbol of the emptiness. It makes me feel depressed just thinking about it – so hooray, yes, for Faulkner’s sartorial elegance!

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    1. No, don’t rush! I think I must have put it on my classics list just because it’s one of those books isn’t it?! The one’s you know the title of so well – if it wasn’t for the challenge I don’t think I would have given it as much time, but would that have been a good thing? I don’t know. . .

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  2. After reading Absalom, Absalom! I swore I had suffered enough. Even if you had said The Sound and the Fury was the best book you had ever written I would not have been tempted by your review (which I enjoyed very much, btw).

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  3. Would now be a good time to confess that I tried to read this book a few years ago without getting very far with it? (It’s my only experience with Faulkner, and I feel a bit of a failure for putting him aside so quickly.) From memory, I think it was a combination of the style and the cruelty that defeated me, so I can sympathise with you on this one…

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    1. I think that’s completely understandable, I’m not sure I would have continued if I hadn’t been reading for the classics club. As you say it’s the style with the cruelty – I’m not afraid of the style but to be struggling when everything you read is extremely uncomfortable (to say the least) is not a very happy experience. At least if I give it another go I won’t have the same shock!


  4. Hahaha, when I saw the title I was all ready to try to find something diplomatic to say about Faulkner, but now I can be honest – I think he’s dreadful! Emperor’s new clothes – I don’t believe anyone actually enjoys him, or even understands him unless they’re forced to study him by cruel University teachers! You did much better than me though – I gave up after about 100 pages of Absalom! Absalom! It’s more like a jigsaw puzzle than a novel – with missing pieces! And those sentences that go on for pages! Ugh! 😉

    I can’t resist giving you a link to my Absalom! Absalom! “review”… sorry! 😀

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    1. I’m going to go and have a look at your review, Rose above was saying how difficult it was – and there was I thinking I’d give it a go! The thing is I don’t mind it being difficult/experimental if it’s worth it – Ulysses and The Grapes of Wrath are both delights, the changing tempo is exciting or Virginia Woolf and the rhythm of her sentences but this was all the work without any joy, just a loveless place to be

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  5. I’ve never read Faulkner, but have always assumed I would eventually. I think I even own a couple. I still might someday, but I won’t rush into it and I might even make a little room on the shelf for something else! 🙂

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