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Book Review: The Sound and the Fury

2014 February 5

sound and the fury


I’ve been on a little bit of a classics kick so far this year, so I decided to finally tackle The Sound and the Fury, a book that routinely turns up on “Best Novels of the 20th Century” and “Best American Novels” lists. I put it off for a long time because, like many great works of literature, it’s known as a challenge. I don’t normally shy away from literary challenges (I’m looking at you, Moby Dick), but for whatever reason, Faulkner loomed large on my perennial “To Read” list, though it sat on a bookcase in my apartment and was beloved by many I knew, including my husband. He’d persuaded me to read As I Lay Dying some years ago, and I’d liked it, but part of me was willing to decide that was my Faulkner quota and move on. But The Sound and the Fury still taunted me, demanding that I take up the challenge.

So, I did. It was the last book I read in New York, in fact. Looking back, it seems an odd choice. Maybe I should have read something quintessentially New York, like The Age of Innocence or The New York Trilogy but instead I read a book that takes place in the South (though one part does take place right here in Cambridge), in the early 20th century, narrated by turns by a mentally disabled 33-year old man, a suicidal college student, a vindictive jerk obsessed with his niece, and an omniscient narrator who focuses on the elderly black servant for the family, one of the only people you’re rooting for in the novel.

It was an unconventional choice, perhaps, but I’m glad I tackled the book. I didn’t take away every nuance that Faulkner intended because I didn’t have the benefit of a professor to help me navigate the complicated narrative, but I found myself enjoying the puzzle of trying to piece together the relationships and events with only the context clues in the book. In some ways, a book that challenging is a more rewarding reading experience because your brain is always working–the author isn’t doing any of the interpretation for you. Obviously, this isn’t fun or relaxing, which is the primary reason why most of us read books in the first place, but sometimes it’s good to give your brain a workout, as it were.

I won’t attempt to summarize the plot or the characters here–I think the main pleasure (I use that term very loosely) of the book is the experience of reading it, of grappling to understand the characters and their motivations and their actions. It’s not for everyone, but if you like a challenge and have been curious, I’d say go for it.

Have any of you read it? Or any other Faulkner? What are your thoughts? What books have been a challenge for you to get through but you found rewarding in the end?

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. February 5, 2014

    I LOVE this book. I read it in high school, for a class in college, and I’ve re-read it on my own. While it’s very confusing, especially the first section, it’s very rewarding when you start to understand it. Great story, great characters.

    I hope your move went smoothly- welcome back to Boston!

  2. kyley permalink
    February 7, 2014

    Faulkner also looms very large on my “to read” list, and many people I know love him. I think there are other books I’m more interested in tackling first (lately I’ve been into academic/social commentary books as my “challenge” reads), but I do hope to get around to him eventually!

  3. February 7, 2014

    I was on a Faulkner kick last year and read The Sound and the Fury, which I found to be very difficult. (I also read it in college.) Like you, I was more conscious of my brain getting a workout, but there are these occasional flashes of great writing that take your breath away, which seems to be the case with Faulkner’s other novels too.

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