I haven’t, as I usually do, given this book a rating, because while I have finished reading it, I am not yet done with it! This is the most difficult book I have read and I intend to return to it again. What follows then is not so much a review as an exploration of my first impressions on reading the book for the first time. In fact, I think this is a book that must be discussed, not reviewed. And so, this ‘review’ might not even make sense to someone who hasn’t read the book!
The story, which is split into four parts revolves around the Compson family and is set in Mississippi. Three parts are set in 1928 and one is set in 1910. The main characters are the father – Jason Compson III, the mother – Caroline Bascomb Compson , their four children – Quentin, Caddy (Candace), Jason and Benjy – and Dilsey, the maid who, along with her children, looks after the family. It attempts to describe the circumstances that lead to the falling apart of the Compson family, by explaining events through the thoughts of three of the main characters.
The first part is told in the first person by Benjy, the youngest of the four Compson children. He has a mental disability and is 33-years old at the time of narration. This is an extremely disjointed section as Benjy’s thoughts flit back and forth between the present time and the time when he was a child.
While reading this section, I thought I understood parts, but more often than not, I realised that what I thought to be true a few pages earlier, might not in fact be the case! I nearly gave up a few times, but then when I realised that the first section was only 60 pages long, I decided to plod on.
Then an odd thing happened. The confusion I felt while reading the first section, seemed to disappear when I had completed it and the fragmented thoughts, on reflection, seemed to make sense, in retrospect, as a whole. I felt like I was immersed completely in Benjy’s head. And I’m guessing that that was one of the main reasons for Mr. Faulkner writing the book this way – to put us into the minds of each of the characters, without any distractions in the form of third party narratives.
One thing that really stood out amongst Benjy’s often incomprehensible thoughts was the fact that his sister Caddy truly loved and cared for him. And I think this was also the one thing that Benjy was certain of in his distorted world – that Caddy loved him .The only other person to show any such emotion was Dilsey, their cook/maid. In that sense, I also think this is an excellent example of ‘show, don’t tell’ in writing. The actions and words of the other characters, tell us so much about them, with this section having no descriptive narrations at all.
The second part set in 1910 takes us into the mind of Quentin, who suffers from depression and severe anxiety. This part was, for me, the most difficult to read and I have to admit I merely skimmed through the latter part of this section, without reading in detail – it was just too intense for me. But still, I thought it was brilliantly done, even though I couldn’t bear to read it all!
Next we come to Jason’s section, and this is more like ‘regular writing’ for want of a better phrase! But I enjoyed it the least. Perhaps it was the character Jason that made it unlikeable – he shows himself to be materialistic and preys on Caddy’s emotions to successfully blackmail her. (I don’t want to go too much into detail about what is happening in the Compson home, for fear of giving too much of the story away)
The final section is told in the third person and is mainly about Dilsey, the loyal maidservant at the Compson home who knows each member of the Compson family well and has been with them through all their trials and has witnessed the family’s downfall as a whole and that of each individual member too, gradually, on a first hand basis.
The preceding paragraphs were supposed to be my explanation of the book!
Now on to what I thought I about it:
It is interesting to ponder how the same situation can be viewed differently by different people, depending on their state of mind, personal desires, character etc. etc. I wonder why Faulkner never wrote a section from Caddy’s point of view. I would love to read that. I felt really sorry for Caddy. She seemed like a nice girl who was led astray by circumstances.
On the one hand, good writing, in general, is supposed to convey in an articulate manner what is on one’s mind. Elements such as punctuation and grammar are meant to aid in this. But here we have a book that throws all that out of the window. Yet, as you wade through Faulker’s writing, you slowly begin to realise that there is perhaps no better way to show the mind of certain characters, such as a mentally disabled person and a person suffering from anxiety and depression, than the way Faulnker has, using the stream of consciousness technique.
Faulker, I also feel, believes that his audience is intelligent – they will figure it out. And I think his readers do, if they just give it a chance. Halfway through Benjy’s part, you begin, in a way, to think like him; somewhere through Quentin’s bit, you no longer feel the need for those missing punctuation marks. I think this is quite a remarkable achievement by Faulkner – to make his reader, after a mere 30-40 pages think like his character/s. And I don’t think this would have been possible had he written the book in any other fashion.
The acclaim the book has received (though admittedly only some years after it was first published) also gives hope to aspiring authors (like me!) that there is a chance of acceptance of unusual story telling methods.
Have you read The Sound and The Fury? What are your thoughts? Did you love it, hate it or do you, like me, want to spend a lot more time with it?