This novel is my first experience of William Faulkner’s writing. I was drawn to it partly because one of my favourite novelists, John Steinbeck, was a great admirer of Faulkner’s work and partly because I felt it was time to fill the gap in my literary education caused by my unfamiliarity with one of the great novelists of the 20th century.
My research into which of Faulkner’s novels to start with indicated that Light in August is one of his more accessible works. This proved to be so, or at least, I found it very accessible. In it, Faulkner weaves together three stories. The novel starts with the story of Lena Grove, a young woman who has walked from Alabama to Mississippi looking for the father of her unborn child. It moves on to the story of Joe Christmas, an abused orphan obsessed with his uncertain racial identity, and to the story of Gail Hightower, a disgraced preacher living on the fringes of society. Their stories intersect in the fictional town of Jefferson and through them Faulker explores themes of alienation, religious intolerance and race and gender relations.
Faulkner’s narrative structure is fascinating. It combines omniscient third-person narrative with interior monologues and extended flashbacks. Faulkner also allows characters to tell parts of the story to each other, relating their experience of particular events and speculating about parts of the action they have not directly witnessed. The point of view constantly changes from one character to another and the narrative travels back and forward in time and place, which allows the same scene to be described from different perspectives.
As I listened to the audiobook I was irresistibly reminded of the writing of [a:Thomas Hardy|15905|Thomas Hardy|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1189902685p2/15905.jpg]. In the past couple of years, I’ve learned to appreciate Hardy’s writing much more than I have in the past. This makes me think that I probably wouldn't have liked Faulkner if I’d read him in my teens or twenties. When I read Hardy now it feels like I’m reading Greek or Shakespearean tragedy in the form of a novel. That’s also how I felt when I listened to Light in August. While the narrative style of the two novelists is quite different, they both set their novels in a fictional location based on a real place - Yoknapatawpha County for Faulkner and Wessex for Hardy. Other similarities between Hardy and Faulkner include their focus on characters living on the margins of society whose idiom they capture in striking dialogue, as well as their use of powerful symbolism and imagery that is almost painterly in its intensity. Further, Hardy and Faulkner were both poets as well as novelists and their poetry seems ever present in their prose. And somehow I think I'm going to be as haunted by Joe Christmas as I am by Jude Frawley and Michael Henchard.
Will Patton narrated the audiobook. His accent and speech rhythms brought the characters to life. Listening to the characters’ words and not just reading them transported me to their world - a world which both shocked and moved me. Listening to this novel was a very special literary experience.