Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Light in August by William Faulkner

August in a small town of Jefferson, MS becomes the scene of life-changing events for guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, enigmatic drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.

I tend to be intimidated by classical literature. There's so much praise and admiration that more often than not I don't pick up these books for fear of them being too much or too little or just at the wrong time. So here I was, with another classic on my reading list, this one more recent than the rest and yes, I didn't jump right in, but the further I got the more I thought that I should have. It is beautiful and insightful and every word in it counts. I actually tried to skim on a number of occasions because of the assignment deadline and very shortly learned that I could not do that. Every time I tried I missed something, so I stopped trying.
Faulkner most likely wouldn't be to everybody's taste: his writing style is peculiar with unusual punctuation, he creates his own words by putting other words together, a lot of the characters behave in a reprehensible fashion and none are all that likeable. To top it all off his descriptions can take you off guard or confuse you if you're not paying attention. But if you are paying attention this book is worth every minute of your time. I couldn't help but read and reread some passages because they cut through all the superficiality and got to the very core of the human condition and human interaction.
I think Faulkner was a very attentive observer of people and when he set out to write a book about the not-so-pretty side of life he didn't hold back in using what he saw. Here's what he said about women: "Her own self one of the first ones to cut the ground from under a sister woman". If that's not brutally honest I don't know what is, because let's face it, we women often aren't too kind to our own. There's plenty more where that came from and combined with quite a bit of violence with no remorse it can be jarring.
An author can have all the writing mojo in the world but to have real staying power a novel has to have something that will touch the reader, something that will get them thinking about more than the plot. Light in August does that. It brings up issues of identity, fitting in, race, gender, family history and faith, things we all have to contend with at one time or another. Lena in particular made me think about believing that things will work out. I think books like this one can be re-read time and time again and every time something new would be relevant. I'm usually not one to re-read, but for a while now I've been wondering whether that's because most of the novels I pick up don't have as much to offer as books like this one do.
With this I'm going to leave you. Jorge Luis Borges is up next and I'm looking forward to seeing what his Ficciones hold in store.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck Olga! I find Borges a bit tough :) but inspiring nonetheless.