Last year, after several aborted attempts, I finally made it through Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. It took some doing, but by the time I finished it, I was really enjoying Faulkner's mastery of the stream-of-consciousness style and especially his lyrical writing. I intended to follow up with The Sound and the Fury, but then I read Chris's review and, since it sounded approximately 10x more difficult than As I Lay Dying, I wussed out... until now.
The Sound and the Fury may be Faulkner's best known and most critically acclaimed work, and also his most complex, although this is coming before I've read Absolom Absolom. It follows one family, the Compsons, over about a decade. The actual storyline is a dark southern Gothic tale of family, betrayal, incest, and a mentally retarded manchild. So it's basically Anne of Green Gables.
The actual narrative is tough to summarize, and at some points, even to follow--I found out upon reading chapter summaries that I'd completely missed a major event; the book is really more about the characters and the way thy see and interact with one another than a storyline. Each section of the book is narrated by a different character, except the last which has an omniscient third-person narrator. The first section is narrated by Benjy, the aforementioned manchild who has no sense of time or place and whose narration skips from the past to the future without warning. The second is narrated by Quentin Compson, the neurotic, intelligent younger brother, and the third by Jason Compson, the cruel, cynical eldest child who takes an iron fist control over the family after the death of the father. Tying all these disparate narrators together is the enigmatic figure of Caddie Compson. Even with three different perspectives on her, we never get a firm grasp on what she actually is. To Quentin, she represents his repressed incestuous thoughts, but also his need for security and to protect. To Benjy, she is his only steady link to the real, linear world. To Jason, she is a thankless whore whose only contribution to the family was Quentin II, her illegitimate child and the bane of Jason's existence.
The Sound and the Fury is a tough book, both narratively and thematically. The Compson family and their neuroses are fully explored and the story itself is both intense and moving, but the actual heft of the book eludes me. At a base level, it seems to be about family and what constitutes it. Benjy, for example, is a much better brother to Caddie than Jason, and Dilsey, the Compsons' slave, is more of a mother to all the children than their own biological mother. I can't help but feel there's a lot that I'm missing here. Unlike Chris, I did feel myself connected to this band of misfits, but much like Benjy, I can't quite tie it all together.
I'm not sure my review makes it clear how much I enjoyed this book, but I thought it was great, and even enjoyed the Benjy section, which a lot of readers find offputting. Faulkner is a master stylist, and it was worth reading just for that, even if I can't quite figure it all out.