I was always a bit weary of trying Faulkner, thinking that he was going to be difficult to read. This book was a definite wow for me. I think that reading it was part of the Fiction of Relationship MOOC from Coursera helped, as Professor Weinstein from Brown University offered interesting interpretations of the more symbolic aspects of the novel and it did make it easier to dive into the novel and really enjoy it. As much as a I think I am a skilled “reader”, having done one degree in literature, there are times where a little help is needed.
One of the things that make this novel not an easy one to read is the stream-of-consciousness writing. There are a lot of writers using this technique, but it can still be unsettling to figure out the flow of the book and the plot, and to separate different points of view along the way. Where is becomes particularly unsettling is when a character has such a warped view of himself and of the world that it becomes very difficult to make sense of the book. If one expects rational thought, it won’t be found because the stream-of-consciousness is irrational and maybe completely twisted. This results in actions that can hardly be linked to any rationality or understandable intent. This is certainly the case with one of the main protagonists in Light in August, a character named Joe Christmas who is of mixed blood and who life experiences have made into a tortured being who has little understanding of himself and the world around him and who easily resorts to violence in an attempt to resolved ill-understood tensions.
As difficult as the reading was, it is in fact far more satisfying in offering insights into human psychology than more simple novels that tell a nice story but leave one wanting for me. This one is coherent in all its dimensions that it leaves one in a state of deep wonder.
I am looking forward to digging into more Faulkner; I think we have The Sound and the Fury as well as As I Lay Dying somewhere in the house. And yes, the house if so full of books that it’s hard to keep track where they are!
Faulkner, William. Light in August. Vintage International, New York, NY. 1999 .
- final review: Light in August by William Faulkner (audio) (pagesofjulia.com)
- #2: Light in August by William Faulkner (Katarina) (classicbookchallenge.wordpress.com)