This is the most challenging book I’ve read this year. I don’t know how far I would have gotten without Google. This book is amazing, but it’ll sure make you work to understand its amazingness.
The Sound and the Fury is divided in to four chapters, each focusing on a different member of the Compson family.
The first chapter (titled April 7, 1928) is narrated by Benjy. It’s the hardest chapter to understand because Benjy is mentally disabled and has no concept of time. There are flashbacks in the middle of sentences, and it’s nearly impossible to separate what is actually happening from what Benjy is remembering. To make things more confusing, there are a ton of characters, and several of them have the same name. Even though this chapter is challenging, it’s my favorite in the book. Benjy is an interesting narrator because he has a unique perspective. He loves his family (especially his older sister), but he doesn’t understand what is going on around him.
The second chapter (June 2, 1910) is narrated by Benjy’s brother, Quentin. Quentin is a student at Harvard. He’s so upset by his sister’s promiscuity and the deterioration of his family’s reputation that he contemplates suicide. As he becomes more suicidal, his narrative becomes more fragmented and confused.
The third chapter (April 6, 1928) is narrated by another brother, Jason. He’s violent, controlling, and generally a nasty person. He steals money from his own family to buy prostitutes, but he spends his chapter trying to prevent his niece, Miss Quentin, from following in her mother’s promiscuous footsteps.
The final chapter (April 8, 1928) is written in third person. It focuses on Jason and Dilsey, one of the Compson’s servants. In this chapter, Dilsey is struggling to take care of the Compsons and their demands. Meanwhile, Jason is still trying to track down Miss Quentin and her lover. Dilsey is my second-favorite character in the book (after Benjy). I feel bad for her. She has to put up with all of these horrible people.
On the surface, it seems like this book is about three brothers’ unhealthy obsession with the sex lives of their female family members. It is about that, but it’s also about an obsession with time. Benjy doesn’t understand time, so he believes that his whole life has happened in a single moment. Quentin is so caught up in the past that he can’t move on from it. Jason is so focused on the present that he doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions. I love that the characters in this book have such distinct personalities. Each of them has a unique voice and narration style.
The story starts out confusing, but it becomes clearer as the book goes on. Each chapter helps fill in the gaps left by the previous chapters. In the end, it does make sense. The book is a puzzle that I enjoyed solving. Watching the slow disintegration of the Compson family made me feel something, and that’s unusual.
So, if you like challenging books, I’d recommend this one. It’s worth the effort.