KeithTalent's Reviews > A Fable

A Fable by William Faulkner
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Jan 07, 11

Read in January, 2010

At nine o'clock one morning in the spring of 1918, a regiment of the French army - every man below the rank of sergeant - refuses to take part in a futile assault on the German position. Strangely, the German line opposite fails to take advantage of the situation with a counter-attack, and by noon that day no guns are fired along the entire French line. By three o'clock in the afternoon, the entire western front has fallen silent. It emerges that a saintly French corporal, together with his twelve apostles, has been making the rounds of the Allied forces (and apparently the German forces too) spreading by word and deed a gospel of non-violence and universal brotherhood. The troops, it seems, have understood that they can stop the killing simply by laying down their arms. Naturally, this is anathema to the military hierarchies on both sides, who (tipped off by the Judas among the disciples) are already making covert plans to resume hostilities. The generals, after all, have a living to make and a war to run.

"A Fable" is an allegorical novel about the conflicting impulses that exist within each one of us. The French corporal represents man's inextinguishable impulse towards unconditional love and brotherhood; or, to put it another way, he's the "champion of an esoteric realm of man's baseless hopes and his infinite capacity - no: passion - for unfact". Like Jesus, the corporal holds out the light of selfless love to humanity, but he's doomed to suffer the consequences. For within every man, too, lives the desire to get on in the world, an egotism which produces conflict, wars and armies. This impulse - represented in the novel by supreme Allied general, who is the corporal's father and the author of the quote above - will always conquer in the world of brute facts, will always prevail, but the example that Christ and Faulkner's corporal offer to humanity can never be extinguished. "I'm not going to die," says one of the corporal's disciples at the end of the book. "Never."

"A Fable" is a difficult, audacious and profound book. If complex meditations on the human condition are your idea of a good time, give this one a try.
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