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.