6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Year Published: 1929
Pages: 326
First Sentence: Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.
Rating: 1/3 (don't bother)

The Sound and the Fury is William Faulkner's third of three novels on The List and, um, I hated it. It just goes to show you should probably give an author more than one chance before you give up on them entirely, because if I'd started here I'd never want to read Faulkner again.

I've always heard about how difficult Faulkner is, and Light in August was fine, whereas As I Lay Dying was tougher. Having read The Sound and the Fury I'd say it was toughest of all, not on the level of Finnegans Wake, certainly, but it was one of the more alienating things I've read lately. At least it's all written in English, though.

Let me tell you what it's about before I keep complaining. Oh wait, never mind, I read this entire book and I'm still not sure what it's about. I'll try my best, and do feel free to laugh at me if I get it wrong. There may or may not be spoilers ahead.

The book is split into four sections:
  • April Seventh, 1928, narrated by Benjy,
  • June Second, 1910, narrated by Quentin the elder,
  • April Sixth, 1928, narrated by Jason, and finally
  • April Eighth, 1928, with an omniscient narrator.
Benjy, Quentin, and Jason are the three Compson brothers, who have a sister named Caddy. Caddy has a daughter named Quentin.

Benjy is intellectually disabled—I've seen some reviewers call him autistic but I'm not sure if that's what's going on or not. In any case, his chapter is related stream of consciousness but the stream is broken—it skips through time in a way that's nearly impossible to follow without some sort of guide. I left this section knowing two things: Benjy dearly loves his sister Caddy, and his name used to be Maury. To be honest I think it would reward a second reading knowing what happens later in the novel except that I have only one life to live and I've already spent over a decade of it on this project.

Next up is Quentin, who is contemplating suicide because he goes to Harvard or something. This section is also stream of consciousness. Quentin may or may not have committed incest with Caddy. Did he get her pregnant with the baby who becomes young Quentin? I don't know. I thought so while reading the book. Now I just don't care. I read the Wikipedia entry about the book and I don't even remember the end of the chapter as it's described; apparently I've blocked it out already.

Jason, after Quentin's suicide and their father's death, ends up as the head of the family. He's very bitter. His narration in the third section "makes sense" though, which is to say it's possible to follow from beginning to end. Caddy's daughter Quentin is now living with the family and they're preventing any contact between mother and daughter.

The fourth section just sort of wraps things up by showing how all of these people are doomed, basically. I've skipped a lot of stuff because I don't care enough.

Listen, if you've been reading my reviews for any amount of time at all, you'll know that I have no patience for this sort of thing. In this case "this sort of thing" means being needlessly opaque about what is actually happening. If I can't figure out enough of the content of a novel by reading it through once, I just don't care. The author hasn't given me a reason to care. Again, I'll reiterate that The Sound and the Fury isn't Finnegans Wake-level total incomprehensible nonsense. I actually did care about Benjy, who is one of the few disabled characters to appear in a List book, and whose treatment by the majority of the characters in this novel is devastating. Jason, Mrs. Compson, Dilsey, etc. are all characters who jump off the page even if I didn't necessarily like them. I understand that these characters on their own might be enough to make some readers want to go deeper. I'm not one of them. It's not that there's something wrong about a book that's difficult in the way that The Sound and the Fury is difficult, it's that the book doesn't serve the purpose I want it to. What purpose do I want books to serve? I want them to expand my worldview, show me things outside of myself, and to entertain. If I can't understand what's going on, then none of those things are happening.

Five books to go, and two of them are by James Joyce. These complaints may be coming up again soon.
- - - - -
"Let them go, Caroline." Uncle Maury said. "A little cold wont hurt them. Remember, you've got to keep your strength up."
     "I know." Mother said. "Nobody knows how I dread Christmas. Nobody knows. I am not one of these women who can stand things. I wish for Jason's and the children's sakes I was stronger."
- - - - -
The lights were coming on, and people going along the streets toward home. Sometimes the sparrows never got still until full dark. The night they turned on the new lights around the courthouse it waked them up and they were flying around and blundering into the lights all night long. They kept it up two or three nights, then one morning they were all gone. Then after about two months they all came back again.
- - - - -

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