When a book is as well-known as this classic, it’s difficult to know whether anything new can be said about it. But a review is a personal opinion and may help other readers yet to try the work, so here goes.
The edition I bought (as part of a package bought with a recent birthday voucher) included an introduction and several following essays and comments from the literary world. I read some, but not all, the literary add-ons, and the introduction turned out to be useful; I suspect I may not have persevered with the novel had I not first read that.
Written from the points of view of several characters, the book portrays the lives, beliefs, ignorance and misdirected courage and determination of poor white people in America’s deep south. Faulkner has delved deep in the minds of these individuals to convey their views of their world. But he’s employed his own vocabulary, metaphors and style to enhance their otherwise dull and sometimes incomprehensible meanderings.
Having done something similar in one of my own recent books, I can hardly complain about the method here! But it does make for some difficult reading, especially in terms of comprehension.
What the approach does very well, however, is convey the emotions, ignorance, intelligence level and belief systems of the narrative characters.
Here, we have a family group raised in the biblical tradition of uncritical thinking and acceptance that inevitably leads to both hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance, so that the people inhabiting this novel are perceived almost at once as both ill-educated and socially disadvantaged, not only by their poverty in material terms but by their lack of knowledge of the wider world. The local pastor, as usual in such communities, provides his own slewed, prejudiced and incomplete view of the world as seen through the selective lenses of the Bible.
In this isolated community, where the whole philosophy of life is imbued with the superstition and false values of narrow religious beliefs, we follow the sometimes absurd adventures of a family tackling a tragedy. That they do the best they can, given their disadvantages, serves to create a story of courage and dogged determination that must inspire admiration in the reader even as incredulity and laughter at their sheer stupidity hover on the surface.
I won’t precis the story, other than to say that the determination of the father, along with sympathy over his grieving, is decidedly modified in the reader’s mind by the event at the end of the tale. Motivation?
The main characters, in spite of their narrow minds and stunted knowledge, manage to get under the reader’s skin and induce some empathy. The location, almost a character in itself, is given substance through the actions it necessitates. Some of the minor characters seem to have stepped out of the background of B movies, but their stereotypical presentation and behaviour seems to fit well with the story.
I find I must repeat a comment made by a publisher about one of my own early, unpublished, rejected novels, ‘This is a book more to be admired than enjoyed.’ And I think I’ll leave it at that.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]