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.