The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: American Ulysses

A perfect novel and distinctive, masterful version of the stream-of-consciousness style

American author William Faulkner. Photograph: Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures/Getty

American author William Faulkner. Photograph: Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures/Getty

 

Back when I gave James Joyce walking tours in Dublin, I would often (in my thickest, hungriest-for-a-tip brogue) reflect fondly and with great relish on how much the Irish hated Joyce at the time – how he was considered indecent, perverse, totally unreadable (I would then, often to the bemusement of my group, rant and rage about his misappropriation into the canon, explaining at the man wearing the “Leopold Bloom hat” that to celebrate Ulysses in such a way is anathema to the very concept of the book – then I’d remember that there I was, giving half-hour walking tours, hamming it up with the “snow fell all over Ireland” bit from The Dead to finish, and I’d feign momentary insanity, and on we’d merrily go).

Often, on these tours, I was told by people from the southern United States, that Faulkner was their Joyce – the writer who had shown them up for what they really were, underneath the apparent gentility and grandeur of the south. The only difference, they told me, is that they hadn’t quite forgiven him yet. Perhaps they were exaggerating, but I was told, more than once, that “Faulkner” is still a bad word in some company below the Mason-Dixon Line (and what a befitting name for a curse it is – Faulkner!).

Re-reading The Sound and the Fury, I can, I suppose, see why. Here is a book without redemption. Here is a family and society that bring to mind the central panel of Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych – that of the earth, filled with desire, confusion and a weary, bloated sinfulness. There’s something biblical, in fact, in all of Faulkner’s writing, in that the characters are so abysmally bound by fate. Yet rather than parable or allegory, he offers us the starkest vision of human reality; the frailties and foibles, and all those terrible daily interactions, laid out so bloodied and raw that they are almost too true to bear. This is a perfect novel, and his distinctive, masterful version of the stream-of-consciousness style therein is genuinely mesmerising.

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