Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Small Victory

After two failed attempts to read William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury, what was supposed to be my initiation into his writings, I took the advice of a friend, which was to try and start with one of his less experimental works before moving into his more challenging novels.  As I have a habit of introducing myself to a writer with what is considered their best, often also their most challenging work, it took me a few years to heed the advice.  However, I can now finally say I've read something by Faulkner and what's more, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My entry point was his first novel, Soldier's Pay.  What immediately struck me was the level of experimentation.  It's not a fully formed style as his influences can easily be seen, particularly with his Joycean phrasing, but to have the confidence to write a first novel in that manner is impressive.  He shifts focus to several characters through the novel, providing minor players with almost as much attention as the major characters.  I felt that the "soldiers" of the title act more as a point around which the individual tales of the characters revolve, rather than a story about the effects of soldiers on their post-war lives.  He wraps up the story in an untidy manner, but in a more realistic manner that several of the story lines could have provided.

Is this a masterpiece?  By no means.  I found an unevenness through the work where the style wasn't consistent, with passages of unconventional but effective wording interspersed with relatively conventional writing.  I also felt that the motivations of some of the major characters were underdeveloped.  Why was Jones the way he was?  Why did Gilligan follow on this venture to begin with?  These, and many other questions are left unanswered.

While I didn't expect a masterwork, Soldier's Pay was more than enough to motivate me to revisit Faulkner in the future.  I highly recommend it as an entry point into his works for anyone else who has been interested yet hesitant.

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