After reading The Lord of the Rings for so very, very long, my 63rd book from the list, The Sound and the Fury seemed like a breeze. It only took 10 days and there were days I looked forward to reading it; such a departure from #62. But there were a couple of problems; a couple of big problems.
When I finished reading this book, I have to admit I wasn't entirely sure what I had just read. The book is broken into four sections, each narrated by a different person. Well, except the fourth section which switches to third person. Of course Faulkner is hazy on the details of who is narrating and it usually takes ten pages or so to establish who 'I' now is.
In short, the book follows the Compsons, a Southern family in the early part of the 20th century. There are four grown siblings, a father who isn't around anymore (I think he's dead) and a mother who seems to be suffering from...something, maybe depression. If that seems vague, it's because so is the book.
One of the sons has a mental handicap (we're never really sure what the problem is as it's never even partially explained) so we read through his blurred sense of reality via his inner thoughts. But since this is never really explained, we actually read through a series of incoherent babble for 75 pages and wonder what the hell just happened. Later we learn about his handicap and are meant to now understand why it didn't make any sense.
Another son went to Harvard and later committed suicide. Much like the first section, we are treated to a stream of consciousness that is impossible to follow. As an added treat, Faulkner eschews all punctuation, letting us enjoy four page sentences with time shifts and location changes (all unexplained of course).
The third son, Jason, is basically an asshole who now heads the family household. This was easily the most interesting part of the book, and I actually enjoyed it. Faulkner abandons cryptic thoughts and phrases and instead tells us a story with vivid descriptions and interesting character developments. If the entire book was written in this fashion, I believe I would have a totally different opinion of it.
I found reading most of this book to be like trying to piece together a family's history by listening to them talk at the dinner table. Unfortunately, few families rehash the details of their past, as they already know them, and they certainly aren't trying to help a silent observer understand them a little better.
The result of this is not only not understanding it, which I'm sure most don't, but also that I am left feeling as if I am somehow an inadequate reader. That this book is so highly acclaimed leads me to one of two conclusions. First, these people are smarter than I am (unlikely). Second, that they didn't really understand it either, but fearing this being discovered, they heap praise on it as a way of transferring the burden of not understanding it to anybody who doubts their praise. I think I'll go with door number two.
I am confident in my assertion that this book is impossible to understand and it has nothing to do with my skills as a reader. I make this claim because I usually understand the books I read, and because Faulkner wrote an appendix in 1945, 16 years after it was first published, to explain the family lineage and detail the events that took place. Basically, to explain the things we were unable to learn from actually reading the book in the first place. As I've said before, I don't think a novel should need an appendix, as a well written book would accomplish the same goal the first time around.
When I'm reading a book, I want to be entertained. But it is impossible to be entertained when you're spending most of your time trying to figure out what is going on. The best line about The Sound and the Fury I've found is, "Because of the staggering complexity of this section, it is often the one most extensively studied by scholars of the novel." Or to put it another way, more people didn't understand this section than any other, so they spend a lot of time trying to get something out of it, in an effort to explain why people think so highly of this book."
While I understand that every book will be different things to different people, this is a book I cannot get behind. I shudder to think how many people were turned off of reading after having been forced to read this in high school.
The good news is that like Virginia Woolf, I have now finished William Faulkner. Both had two books on the list, and all four were a struggle to read. If I were ranking the books I read (which I may do in the near future), these four would find themselves near the bottom.
My next book is going to be The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Along with Red Harvest, perhaps the only 'mystery' novels on the list. Should be a quick read, and one I'm looking forward to, having seen and enjoyed the Bogart movie.