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Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Sound and the Fury

My latest book was  The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.  Next up are Robot Dreams, the second part of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, and An American Tragedy.

The Sound and the Fury tells the story of a family in early-1900s Mississippi failing to cope with their steep decline from aristocracy to poverty.  It is not an easy read or one I'd describe as enjoyable, as it's fairly depressing.    It is, nevertheless, an important book that I'm glad I read.  It provides a look into the working of minds generally and the minds of the troubled characters specifically.

The difficult nature of the text is along three different dimensions.  First, the sequence of events is intentionally unclear.  The characters flash into and out of past events without tranition.  For most of the book it wasn't even clear to me who was alive.  Second, you are often perceiving events from the perspective of characters who are developmentally disabled or deeply troubled.  Their confused and stilted viewpoints are not easy to understand.  Third, the antiquated language, heavily accented dialogue, and pervasive slang make it hard to understand what's being said.  Without spoiling anything, I will also say there are two characters named Quentin, one a man and the other a girl.  Failing to realize that kept me confused for quite a while.

Unlike other books I've read with these elements (e.g. The Recognitions and Infinite Jest), they do seem essential for the author to tell his story, rather than being put in only to make the book seem sophisticated.  I was probably also more okay with them being present here because this book is a third the length of the others, which made it a good deal more tolerable.

While generally ignored at its release until Faulkner became more popular from his later works, The Sound and the Fury has come to be regarded as one of the great works of English fiction, and rightfully so.

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