After weeks of struggling with it, I’ve finally finished reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. I’ve been reading this book for so long, I have no idea what I should do with life now that I’ve finished it.
I once read a Paris Review interview of Faulkner’s and fell totally in love with him. It was that interview that made me want to get started on his books right away. A lot of my readers suggested starting with The Sound and the Fury. When I found this book in a quaint vintage bookstore in Atlanta, I immediately bought it.
Though I bought it in December 2017, I cracked the book open only in June. Every time I tried reading it, some other ARC or 9 to 5 task would interrupt. And when I finally sat down and started reading it, here’s what happened.
I didn’t understand a single word. I didn’t understand what was going on. I would read entire pages grasping at straws, trying to find a semblance of understanding. Just when I thought I understood the story, there would be a dramatic shift, leaving me stranded in the dark again.
I also might have had a meltdown about this book on Twitter.
I labored on anyway. The book is split into four sections. I finished the first and it was only with the second that I started understanding a little bit of the storyline. But I was annoyed with the book nonetheless. My thoughts about the book were cemented–this isn’t America’s greatest novel. This is just the kind of book people don’t read, but put on their dating profiles anyway to sound cool and well-read.
And yet, the thought that there might be more to the story than what I was understanding kept niggling at my mind.
“This isn’t America’s greatest novel. This is just the kind of book people don’t read, but put on their dating profiles anyway to sound cool and well-read.”
I asked for help on my blog and Twitter. Several people offered to help. But I obviously couldn’t ask them to explain the story to me para by para, because every single line was difficult to read, especially in the first section of the book.
Last weekend, I decided to sit down and finish this book. I looked up suggestions on how to read this book. This Reddit thread was a lot of help. The Redditors recommend keeping a close eye on who’s minding Benjy (the character whose POV is chapter 1) throughout.
Benjy is a mentally challenged character and the stream of consciousness style of writing makes it difficult for readers to understand exactly what he’s talking about. There are three distinct years Benjy’s mind keeps jumping between in the first section–1898, 1910-13, and 1928, the latter being the present day in the novel.
And I noticed only two of these three time periods when I read the section the first time.
Though I had already finished the first one and a half sections of the novel, I started over.
I read the entire book again, from the beginning. This time, I was armed with CliffNotes. For Benjy’s section of the book, I compared every paragraph with the CliffNotes explanation. From the next section of the book, I’d read the entire chapter and then read the CliffNotes analysis to see if I’d missed interpreting anything.
Another thing to note is that this book gets easier to read as you turn each page. By Jason’s section (the third chapter), I was not consulting with CliffNotes much. It is just the first two sections that are difficult to read. The novel becomes progressively easier and the story clearer as you near the end.
The Sound and the Fury is not a novel you’ll understand immediately. But don’t give up. It requires a lot of patience and willingness to go back to pages you’ve already read to piece the story together. But once you do, you’ll really appreciate this great novel.
It truly is one of the best pieces of literature I’ve ever read.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing more about how you can read this novel, symbolism in it, and more. Hit me up if you want to co-author a blog post with me or would like to guest post about Faulkner!