The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury is much easier to understand if you realize that it cannot be understood from the get go, but only when it is complete. To borrow a line from The Big Chill, sometimes you have to let art flow over you.

The book is divided into four parts, the first three of which are told in first-person, stream of conscious narrative from the perspective of three Compson brothers: Benjy, Quentin, and Jason. Benjy’s section is particularly difficult to follow because he is mentally retarded and does not talk, but only narrates what he hears, in no particular chronological order. Quentin’s and Jason’s sections are progressively more comprehensible as pieces of the story develop. The final section is told by an omniscient third-person narrator, ties the loose ends together, and brings the story to its exciting close.

The first-person accounts are made even more confusing by the multiplicity of names. Because this is the story of a large Southern family, many family members share first names. There are two Moreys, although the younger of the two is renamed Benjamin, the first narrator. The two Jasons, father and son, can usually be told apart, but the two Quentins, uncle and niece, are particularly confusing when introduced in Benjy’s section because the absence of chronological consistency brings both Quentins into the story at the same time, although the niece was born after the uncle’s death.

Reading The Sound and the Fury is like watching a masterpiece being painted. Each brushstroke brings out more of the picture until the whole, beautiful composition is revealed.

Reading The Sound and the Fury is also particularly satisfying for compulsive "list" readers, since it shows up on so many "best of" lists, including the following:
Books by Nobel Prize winners
The Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century
Radcliffe's competing list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century
Time Magazine's All-Time Best 100 Novels (1923 to the Present)
The Well-Stocked Bookcase (Book of the Month Club)
The Guardian's 100 Best Books of All Time
Dr. Peter Boxall's 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

1 comment

Rebecca Reid said...

Wow another great review! I haven't read this Faulkner, but now I see I must. Thank you. (I'm going to check out your blog. You write such wonderful reviews!)

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