Book reviews

I had no intention of reading Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner until a literature-loving workmate lent me his copy, telling me I must read it because it was his favourite book. Groan.

Absalom, Absalom! is hard-going. William Faulkner appears never to have heard of full stops and he doesn’t use many commas either – regardless of him successfully having used a comma in the book’s title. I read the first page three times without taking anything in, although I do have a good excuse. There was a push and shove between two men in my train carriage that morning over a seat (and there were available seats everywhere on the train), then a fellow with Tourette’s Syndrome sat next to me and my concentration levels dipped even lower, and then I became distracted by a priest seated near me who was shouting into his mobile phone that as he was saying mass he looked around his congregation and realised nobody was listening. I ask you, how on earth could any book have competed with that particular train ride?

Anyway, I started Absalom, Absalom! again on my trip home and managed a little better, although I found the narrative repetitious to the point of madness. The first half of the story is told by Miss Rosa Coldfield to a young neighbour, Quentin. Her hatred for her brother-in-law, Sutpen, a man who came from nowhere to become an important man in the South before losing everything during the Civil War, lives on in her fifty years later.

The second part of the story wasn’t any better. Now at Harvard, Quentin retells Miss Coldfield’s story of Sutpen to his room-mate, along with information he learned about him from his father, which for reasons that I cannot understand, fascinated both of them.

I struggled with the story and the story-telling style but I did finish the book only to return it to my workmate who then told me he had only skimmed through the middle section of the story…

The message I took from Absalom, Absalom! was that white Southerners at that time preferred for their daughters and sisters to marry incestuously rather than to marry someone who was black.

I doubt I’ll ever read anything else by Faulkner ever again.

Comments on: "Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner" (17)

  1. Oh oh oh, Rose, good for you!! This is a book I started for an online reading group over ten years ago and just couldn’t focus on it – I blame busy-ness at the time. Haha.

    However, I think I would try another of his and have my eye on As I lay dying or The sound and the fury, but probably the former. I think he is tricky overall but I think Absalom is one of his trickiest.

  2. Hahaha! I admire you totally for getting through it – I abandoned it at about page 90 if memory serves me right. The main thing I took away from it is that the people who give out Nobel Prizes for Literature are bizarre…

    • I sometimes wonder if the prizes-givers are a bit like all the people in The Emperor’s New Clothes and don’t want to admit that they have no idea what some books are all about either!

  3. I haven’t read any Faulkner… and this review has confirmed my view that he’s not really for me!

  4. This sounds dreadful, I’ve never read any Faulkner but I think I have one on my Challenge list . . .

  5. Well, it’s more interesting this way than when everybody just loves someone (if you see what I mean), takes the pressure off!

  6. WHY are so many “classics” so depressing and unreadable?! And it’s always so awkward when people know you love to read and thus decide that that means you love to read anything!

    • I don’t know, either! I agree, classics should be joyful and inspiring and hopeful and leave the reader feeling wonderful.
      I suppose we’ve all had all kinds of terrible books pushed on to us, but Absalom, Absalom has been the worst yet for me. To be fair, I’ve had some lovely books thrust upon me too 🙂

  7. johnnylit101 said:

    Faulkner’s body of work is emblematic of the “Southern Gothic” genre, which generally treats dark themes and fallen or troubled characters. Times, they were a-changing in the post-Reconstruction South, and it wasn’t all sunshine and honeysuckle. To read Faulkner is to not only witness brilliant writing, but also to experience a bit of history. I’m currently struggling through “The Sound and the Fury”; I’ve needed to consult Cliff’s Notes along the way. I’m not sure if it’s the story, or the beauty of Faulkner’s wordsmanship, but I’m hooked! Try Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” for a little “less-heady” Southern Gothic…

    • I think you’ve got the right idea reading Faulkner with the Cliff Notes in hand. Now I’m wondering if I should have tried that, but I don’t think I’m ready to try Faulkner again (or if I ever will be)…
      I’ve added A Good Man to my list on your recommendation, have heard of the author and title but had not considered reading it. Wish me luck!

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