Thursday, 9 August 2012

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (5/5)

Goodreads says: As I Lay Dying is a novel by the American author William Faulkner. He claimed to have written the novel in six weeks and that he did not change a word of it. Faulkner wrote it while working at a power plant, published in 1930, and described by Faulkner as a "tour-de-force." It is Faulkner's fifth novel and consistently ranked among the best novels of 20th century literature. The title derives from Book XI of Homer's The Odyssey, wherein Agamemnon speaks to Odysseus: "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades."

The novel is known for its stream of consciousness writing technique, multiple narrators, and varying chapter lengths; in fact, the shortest chapter in the book consists of just five words, "My mother is a fish."

As I Lay Dying is Faulkner's harrowing account of the Bundren family's odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members – including Addie herself – the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.

I say: It took me a while to get into this, and then when I did, I got ill and stopped reading due to some weird superstition. Having gotten over that, I returned to these unfortunate people and felt my blood almost boiling all the way through due to their collected mistakes.

Especially the father, Anse.

Goodness me, what an idiot.

When we meet these people the wife and mother, Addie, is dying, while one son is building her coffin outside of her window so that she can watch the progress, and two others head off to make a delivery. While they are gone Addie dies and is put in the coffin the wrong way around so that her wedding dress won’t be wrinkled. Mourners come and go, and a few days later the two sons return home. It is now time for the family to take the body to Jefferson town to be buried, as per Addie’s last request, and it is on this journey that we accompany them.

Now, the book is narrated by 15 characters over 59 chapters, which was the cause of my initial confusion – it took a while to get a hang of who was who. Also, most of these people’s narrations are in some sort of Mississippian vernacular, which was quite annoying to read before I got into it.

It was constantly “durn this” and “durn that” and all I could think about was the South Park episode Goobacks and the men going “dey tuuk uur juurbs.”

I know, I know...

Having overcome all of those obstacles I really started enjoying the novel, even if most of these characters enraged me to no end. Anse, who was a complete idiot, and the one forcing his children on this godforsaken mission, kept making one stupid decision after another. And when things didn’t work out the way he planned, which they never did, he started either going on about how he was the most unfortunate man to ever walk the earth, or used his dead wife as a means to guilt people into helping him out.

It genuinely amazed me how unbelievably docile and loyal these children were – ok, so the three eldest were men – especially after Addie’s chapter where she explained how she felt about them. Instead of continuing to judge them, I felt a strong sense of pity.

It’s quite amazing they made it into adulthood.

I’d love to say more about this family, but it feels as if it’ll just turn into spoilers, so I shall refrain from doing so. This is my first Faulkner novel, and since it was written in so many different voices, it was hard for me to pinpoint his literary style. I particularly enjoyed Darl’s chapters since they showcased a sensitive, eloquent and very observant man; and the prose bordered on beautiful quite frequently. I am in awe of him managing to keep separate all these 15 voices, and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.

5/5 because this is a masterpiece from beginning to very surprising end, and I can definitely see myself re-reading this in the near future.

*This is my twenty-second entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).

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