This is one of those books that makes a gigantic claim. As if it’s either genius or it’s Emperor’s New Clothes. It won’t settle for anything in-between. On every page I felt Faulkner was straining at the bit to prove to me he’s a genius.
The title has always put me off reading this. The Sound and the Fury. It’s melodramatic, humourless, a bit pompous. It sounds like one of those American war films of the fifties starring John Wayne.
But what is it with southern writers that they only seem able to write books if they can believe they’re geniuses? Look Homeward Angel makes that claim too. Except Look Homeward Angel is probably the most overwritten novel in the history of literature. Wolfe maybe had some genius but he wasn’t in control of it. Faulkner unquestionably is different. Faulkner has genius and is in control of it. But…
Essentially to enjoy this you’ve got to also enjoy codebreaking. I don’t. I’ve never even done a crossword puzzle in my life. I doubt if I’ll ever try Finnegan’s Wake again after failing to make head or tail of it the first time. Also, you’ve probably got to be prepared to read it twice. It’s probably every English teacher’s dream book – a book that requires notes formulated by someone with a higher intelligence than your own. It’s not very flattering to realise your own intelligence isn’t up to the job. Should a novel require notes? Shakespeare might be enhanced by notes but he doesn’t need them. I needed to refer to notes to understand what was going on in part one. Okay, I’ve got it now but did you really need to be so wilfully obtuse? It’s not like you’re explaining particle physics. This is essentially a family melodrama, not a treatise on the meaning of life. If you strip away all the literary devices, that’s what it is – a family melodrama. Sure it has a broader social reach – but only bad novels don’t have that. It didn’t for me have the wide cultural reach of Gatsby. It felt parochial, claustrophobic.
Putting aside the decryption demands of the novel I also think it has some more obvious flaws like the character of Jason His villainy was somewhat coarse. He wouldn’t even get in my top 100 best villains in literature!
I’d like to read another Faulkner – but one where he isn’t trying quite so hard to prove he’s a genius.