Absalom, Absalom! – William Faulkner – 1936
Reviewed by: Paul S Date: 3 July 2005
I find it wonderful to see that people other than graduate students and professors are reading Faulkner’s most challenging novels. I loved his work from the first book of his I picked up (As I Lay Dying) but still found him difficult to read for about 30 years. Finally when I stopped straining for traditional stories or narratives and instead regarded him as a dream weaver, I found my personal key. By dream weaver, I mean a master storyteller who clearly writes at many levels — I’m tempted to say all levels. Critics often claim Faulkner writes at “a mythical level”, and that’s a good way to put it, I think. Successful, enjoyable reading of Faulkner is very close to easing yourself into a cool swimming pool on a hot day. You allow the ripples of his imagery and rhetoric wash over you, and learn to enjoy those and other Faulknerian sensations by themselves, uncritically yet in a deep way. His humor, for example, is not obvious but frequently extraordinary, as in the poignant tale of Ike Snopes and his cow. The settings and rich evocation of place, people and mood in Faulkner are enough to make his novels wonderful to read. I believe that if you will enjoy them in this patient, somewhat emotional way, and read several of them at least, his major images, characters, families, concerns and themes will at last arrange themselves in your mind and in your heart so that they become increasingly familiar and accessible. I’d explain that by remembering how I gradually learned my way around Los Angeles when I first went to college there. I never sat out to memorize streets as some of my friends did, or adhere to specific routes to get downtown or to the Hollywood Bowl or the theaters in Beverly Hills or the Coliseum. Instead, I tried to absorb it all in a relaxed but alert way, picking up the feel of it, if you will. That made it fun and removed the anxiety of it. That’s what I suggest readers try doing with Faulkner. Read through the pages as best you can, finding what you can that pleases you. As one gentleman here said, skip ahead if you need to. Immerse yourself in Jefferson and in the company of Faulkner’s people. Get to know them gradually, and come back to visit often. As I Lay Dying and The Hamlet are particularly easy to read, and maybe it’s a good idea to begin with them. If you’re determined, you can buy one of the books listing all his characters with a brief biography of each. It helps me to know a little about Faulkner’s life, too, and good biographies are available. If you can possibly visit Oxford, Mississippi, and see the courthouse and the little downtown area (and the superb bookstore on the corner!) and especially Faulkner’s home — Rowan Oak — please do it, and you’ll find it all both entrancing and charming.
I haven’t said anything yet about Absalom, Absalom, but it’s probably my favorite for its endless depth and complexity, as well as its richness and truths. I know as long as my eyesight holds out, I can read it and reread it with great pleasure. If my suggestions help anyone read Faulkner and relax with his great stories, I’ll be very happy.
Reviewed by: Emily Date: 22 July 2003
Personally, I found Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! to be both wonderfully gripping and challenging to read. I love how turning the pages from one chapter to the next results in character revelations, as Faulkner adds layers upon layers of personality and perspective.
This is a challenging book because Sutpen and his family are a lost cause of sorts; a compilation of people who must surrender to destiny, and ultimately to utter destruction. Because of the depressing nature of this masterpiece, I read it in small increments, digesting the woe and trauma bit by bit–it was rather draining!
While Faulkner’s oblivion to the precious time of a reader is annoying at times (sometimes I found myself skipping ahead after bogging down in endless pathos), never have I read a book so masterfully woven, so multi-layered; these characters live and breathe in Faulkner’s cleverly crafted grammatical structures…such a provolking journey into human nature and the destruction of the old South.
Reviewed by: Guillermo Maynez Date: 11 September 2002
Just as Chris, I found this a difficult reading, and not because I am unable to understand complex texts, but because I lacked information. I read at Amazon that Absalom is not a good place to start reading Faulkner, both for its complexity and because it is the continued saga of the families involved. It took me a long time to find out who Quentin was, and the thing is you’re supposed to have read other books by WF before this, so when you get to this one you know who the people are. Well, sort of like Emilio Salgari’s novels, only with Salgari you don’t have to know anything to enjoy a wild adventure.
So, Sutpen is a ruthless dreamer, a foreigner despised and feared by other villagers of the Deep South. Horrible things happen to him and horrible things he does to others.
Didn’t I like it? Hmmm… Curiously enough, in the background there is a wild scenery, an almost Latin American tale of rise and fall, of tragedy foretold that compelled me and made me read through even at times when I was completely lost. I must be a weirdo, because that thing has happened to me with other books, like Ulysses, a book I simply love although I’m not very sure why. I agree with Chris in that Faulkner is more of a stylist than a storyteller. I liked the book for its wording, its “atmosphere” and the dark senses alluring below the surface.
Reviewed by: Chris Green Date: 22 December 2001
This was a difficult book for me to come to terms with. On one hand I enjoyed the complicated plot with its twists of inter-familial rivalry, deceit, repudiation, and revenge that would make Aaron Spelling proud, and on the other hand Faulkner’s sometimes overly rich prose left me wondering when the novel would get moving again.
The story itself follows the ambition of William Sutpen to forge a dynasty in pre-Civil War Mississippi. Initially he is successful in all of his aims – acquiring land, a house, a wife and children – but the eventual undoing of his world is brought about by a complex intermingling of the effects of the Civil War, his children’s loyalties, his recalcitrance, and ultimately because of his own concealed past.
In my mind, Faulkner is more of a stylist than a storyteller, and Absolom, Absolom! demonstrates again Faulkner’s innovative stylings. I would not describe this book, however, as truly stream-of-consciousness (as I would “The Sound and the Fury” and “As I Lay Dying”), but more written in a “stream-of-monologue.” The various narrators all seem to speak in a manner more coherent that s.o.c but with the same type of endless prattle that has no real beginning nor end but which contains the story hidden within it. While this style is impressive and an interesting spectacle to witness in small doses, it makes for difficult reading; difficult not in the sense of being hard, but merely difficult in the sense of not being engaging enough to warrant the reader’s continued attention.
One of the drawbacks of a very “loose”, one out of the bounds of mainstream style and grammar, is that its very rambling nature is essential to its charm. While I’m willing to grant Faulkner significant room to maneuver, I cannot escape the feeling that Absolom, Absolom! would be an eminently more readable work after some substantial editing; there are good reasons, after all, for the existence of editors.
The Verdict: This is a tough one. Certain portions of the book I found engaging, and others left me coldly pondering giving it up. I cannot say that I liked it entirely, not did I completely dislike it; rather I conclude that I’m disappointed that what was good was tainted by what was bad. For almost being good: 2 stars.
Reviewed by: Lale Date: 20 Oct. 2016
This a great work of art. I did not much like As I Lay Dying, but I appreciated Absalom, Absalom! greatly. So many layers to peel, and packed with such a complex style. Not a difficult read either. To understand the title, it helps reading the biblical story of Absalom. Speaking of the title, how many novels do you know with an exclamation point in their titles?