Nicholas Armstrong's Reviews > Absalom, Absalom!

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
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May 23, 12

did not like it
Read in April, 2012

Ah Faulkner, we meet again. If I thought As I Lay Dying was a headache to read, I was sure in for a treat with this novel. I will again belabor my point with his previous novel. It is far more challenging to get a difficult point across to a wide audience than to hide a difficult point and force an audience to dig for it. It is not art to be difficult either. Absalom, Absalom! so wholly enjoys being difficult, convoluted, and confusing that it practically breathes self-satisfaction.

The story is told from a variety of narrators, which will get to, who overlap and repeat themselves several times. What is most interesting is that not only do the single narrators run in circles repeating themselves, but once the reader has slogged through a section, they are taken back to it by a second narrator who belabors the same points, sometimes describing new things, and sometimes entirely contradicting things that were said by previous narrators. This is not designed to be a critique which claims the artistic design behind repetition or cycles or the indefinable or elusive nature of the theme of the novel; I don't particularly care why Faulkner designed his novel this way, though after as much interpretation as I have done for it I have a pretty good idea. What I care about is that it is not fun to read. Just like a game the returns a character to levels or areas to be repeated, a film which shows the exact same story from multiple perspectives, it becomes very tiresome.

Furthermore, the elusive language of his other novels is perhaps strongest in Absalom, Absalom!. The characters dance around topics without mentioning them and in such a way that no person would actually do. It is as if the characters are saying "Voldemort", and so they know to speak it aloud would bring terror. So instead, none of the characters are specific, they say it or they say the thing and while it is sometimes easier and sometimes harder to figure out it is always fatiguing. The characters speak as no person ever would, especially considering they all speak the same. The old woman, the father, the narrator, and his roommate, all command the same voice. And again, I belabor, I don't give a damn if Faulkner is trying to send a message about the story absorbing the teller or some other intellectually masturbatory thing.

The characters become nothings because they are so obviously merely toilet rolls held to Faulkner's mouth so he may shout a point. Aunt Rose is no stronger a character than Shreve because they all blend into one. The illusion of a fictional world falls apart because none of them is convincing, because Faulkner can't bother to create real characters when he is so busy creating mouthpieces. The descriptions of one character cannot be judged but neither can the descriptions of any of the characters. A reader will quickly realize that all of the narrators are unreliable and virtually none of what they say can be trusted, which leads the entire story to be circumspect. In fact, at one point, Shreve and Quentin are making the story up. They are literally just guessing about what happened, and this is the entire end of the novel that they are guessing. Whether this is supposed to be magic that allows them the ability, or some indefinable nature of the tale, Faulkner never says, and I don't think he even knew. He does it to fit some larger theme which overshadows every other facet of the novel, including the all important interest of the reader.

Faulkner's flaunting of reader consideration, or even attempts at connecting with the reader, are not the only sin which he commits in writing, and I do not say this lightly, as I think good writing can do nearly no wrong. Faulkner uses words in ways which they should not be used. He uses them in direct opposition to the understood meaning of the words, to the connotations which all would draw from them. The only reason to do this is to further confound his reader and his own work. For instance, Faulkner uses the word innocence, something which all people recognize as positive and related to youth, to have some meaning related to racism and prejudice. Thus, the reader hears of a characters innocence and has no idea what to make of it because the language and the setting go against it, but the reader is also given a character, Sutpen, which confounds the meaning further.

Sutpen says he must fight against the man that owns the plantation. The statements he makes, the imagery described, and the metaphor which he uses, sets him against the aristocracy. He details his entire journey as being aimed at becoming something so that he can battle that which he becomes. And yet, the novel does not follow this. Sutpen says this, becomes something else, and the novel makes no mention of it. Sutpen's infamous 'design' merely goes away and becomes vague and ethereal. Just as with the rest of the novel, it fades into unimportance beneath the weight of Faulkner's purpose, and there is nothing left but that.

This novel goes against its characters, its own story, social conventions and connotations, and everything which makes a text approachable. No novel will ever be good when it is designed to impede meaning and the reader at every turn.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new)

Michael O'Neill So why did you read it?

message 2: by Ras (new) - rated it 1 star

Ras "The characters become nothings because they are so obviously merely toilet rolls held to Faulkner's mouth so he may shout a point." That is beautiful. I'm currently reading this book for a grad school seminar and I've been looking at one star reviews because AbsAbs! (I don't even feel like typing it all out) is so convoluted and frustrating.

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