(Review of 'The Sound and the Fury' ,
a novel by William Faulkner
First read on August 24, 2015 )
“Caddy smelled like trees.”
William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury)
There is a bollywood movie Gujarish about an ex-magician who meets an accident and is now suffering paralysis from neck down for several years. Finally he requests an amendment in law to make Euthanasia legal, so that he could kill himself. In one scene when he is asked if he wishes to say something before the verdict is given; he says he wishes to show a magic trick to the court. When it is allowed, his assistant brings in a box. The magician asks the lawyer of the state to volunteer, judge orders the lawyer to do so. The magician requests the lawyer to sit in the box and his assistant locks the door upon him. A few moments pass - as people expect magician to do something. He just sit calmly, till the lawyer starts screaming from inside the box. The magician starts talking about some random subject(weather) and thus further frightening the lawyer.
After a couple of minutes,the magician signals to assistant to let the lawyer out. "Are you stupid?" the lawyers says, breathing heavily, after coming out of box, "It was so dark inside, I couldn't see anything, I couldn't breathe.." The magician replies calmly, "It is what my life has been like for years. Two minutes and you wanted out."
This is what reading Benjamin's story is like. Faulkner does an incredible job putting us in the brain of an idiot. There is a good chance you will feel frustrated - I did. You may think this is how the book got the title - Faulkner makes random sounds, you get furious. You check on the internet and find out that it is, in fact, taken from a quote from Macbeth.
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
William Shakespeare (Macbeth)
You may actually want to murder the author but than you remember he is already dead. You look into Wikipedia to find out cause of his death and are surprised to find that he died of totally natural reasons.
.. but really that is the point. Now you know how Benjamin feels like - he couldn't differentiate between flashbacks and present and he is probably suffering from synesthesia without knowing anything about it. Even so much as Caddie's wearing a perfume sets him crying for he couldn't associate the smell of perfume with her - to him she must smell as she always did - likes trees. And he doesn't even know anything about Gods or he too would have curse them .... of course, you are supposed to guess all this by yourself. Faulkner is not going to doubt your intelligence by telling you all this.
There is a good chance you won't understand anything from that first section but that is the point. You may want to read it again after having finished the book - to properly understand it. It is one of the best things that I've read.
Now talking about confusion, there are too many character which are never introduced (except in an appendix in the end) and just thrown on to you; there are different characters having same names and also characters having multiple names and so on - which is justified at least for first section.
However there are unjustified confusions too - When you go to second section; you may be surprised how come Benjy, the narrator is in Harvard. He isn't - it is just our run-of- the-mill change of narrator with out so much as a by-your-leave. I don't know why Faulkner didn't feel need to announce the change, for example, by giving name of narrator in title.
It happens again in third section but by then, you are somewhat used to Faulkner's trickery. Of course he will still surprise you by bringing back a dead character - and upon that, with a change of sex ... but remember he is already dead. you can't do anything to revenge yourself. Having seen three different narrators in three sections, you want to quickly identify narrator in fourth section. Of course Faulkner will beat you again for this time narrator is none other than God himself. Go Guess!
Each successive section is easier to read than the last one and also more boring. The second one is easier compared to first but Quentien the narrator won't tell whether he is fantasizing or remembering. Also, he can occasionally go on for whole pages without using punctuation marks of any sort (Even Benjy had better sense than that.) The last two parts are pretty straight forward but have nothing good about them.
Years after the novel was published, Faulkner got into good mood and was good enough to provide an appendix (more of a character guide) knowing what he has written are only fragments of story - anytime you feel like leaving the book, you may want to check it. Reading it in the end feels like reading answers to a puzzle after you have tried your best to solve it.
“I took out my watch and listened to it clicking away, not knowing it couldn't even lie”
William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury)