"The Sound and The Fury"

The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

Not easy to read, this was nevertheless a very good story. It's written in "stream of consciousness" style, a literary form I gave up on when I read Ulysses by James Joyce. I actually read only half of Ulysses but that was enough to last me a lifetime, or so I thought.

In Ulysses, it wasn't the style I disliked so much as the meaningless made up words and long, run-on sentences that in the end told the reader nothing. That book felt empty; this one is full - brim full and overflowing -  with life and feeling. You may not like all the feelings coming your way or the path the story is taking but that's beside the point. The great thing about this book is that right away you get pulled into the pages and never have to wonder what the point is.

There are four chapters, each with a different narrator. The first is told by Benjy, a 33 year old severely intellectually challenged man who has no sense of time other than now. He experiences memories and current situations all as happening now so the chapter feels a bit jumbled, but when you read it you do get a strong sense of what he's feeling and you know it will all come clear eventually.

The second chapter is from the point of view of Benjy's brother, Quentin, and is set ten years prior to the first chapter. There is another Quentin mentioned in the first chapter - it had me rather confused at times because sometimes Quentin was "he" and other times "she"- but it refers to the young girl who is the niece of Benjy, Quentin and their brother, Jason. The girl is the illegitimate daughter of the family's only daughter, Caddy, and Caddy's promiscuous behaviour is the reason for the overwhelming angst the elder Quentin experiences in this chapter.

Fast forward ten years again and the third chapter is narrated by Jason, the mean, selfish, self-pitying brother the family now depends on financially. This part of the book is a little easier to read as far as words and sentences go, but it was hard to swallow all the rage and hostility.

The final chapter is written from a third person point of view so it felt more organized and it clarified some of the questions I still had from the previous chapters. By the end of the book, you know clearly what happened to each character and how it affected the rest of the family.

That gives you an idea of the writing style, but not the plot. It's about the Compson family, a name well-established and well-respected in the area, but now the family is in decline. Benjy's condition, Caddie's behaviour, Quentin's tragedy and the father's alcoholism-related, untimely death reduce the mother, Caroline Compson, to a whimpering shadow of a woman, incapable of dealing with, or being of help to, anyone. It would seem that Jason has control now, but there is a servant, Dilsey, who has more sense than the rest of them combined, and she isn't about to give up on them.

It's a powerful, agonizingly realistic story. I felt the effects of its emotional force for days after I put the book away. If I'd known the style of writing, I probably would never have attempted it, but once I started I couldn't let go, or it wouldn't let go of me. If you read it you may want to look online first for a summary or outline so you have some idea where it's going. But, if a bit of  confusion at the beginning doesn't bother you, just dive in because it all becomes quite clear as you go on. It is definitely worth the effort.


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