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Here we aint been coming from Alabama but two months, and now it's already Tennessee." A memorable line, from a most memorable character, Lena Grove, who is one of several finely developed characters in this literary masterpiece by William Faulkner. I've read most of his novels, and am in the process of re-reading some that were first read some, gulp, 40 years ago, like this one. Reviews have been posted of The Unvanquished,Intruder in the Dust,The Sound and the Fury, and "Soldier's Pay". Of all his major works, this is the most accessible, while at the same time addressing several of the major themes of great literature. It is quintessential Faulkner, set in the ever-so-well described fictional Yoknapatawpha County, with its county seat of Jefferson (based on Oxford, Mississippi). There seems to be the right amount of major and minor characters, some appearing in other works, who move back and forth across the landscape. Likewise, the author moves back and forth in time, and shifts the perspective among his characters, yet he quickly orientates the reader to the new setting and characters. Faulkner maintains a strong element of dramatic tension; I found the novel to be literally a "page-turner," as I sought to determine how he would resolve the numerous conflicts and dilemmas that he developed.

Joe Christmas is one of the great characters in American literature, as he personifies "The American Dilemma," wrought by its "original sin," slavery. Who is he, really? It is the central question of his existence; far more so than for most of us. To say that he is of "mixed race," in a part of the world where that really mattered, does not do justice to his existential angst. For, to use the expressions of the time, he can "pass" for white, even though he has a few "drops" of Negro blood. On paths that barely intersect, but do overlap, is the aforementioned Lena Grove, orphaned as she was just coming of age, at 12. At 20, she is knocked up by a "sawdust Casanova," to use Faulkner's description. She is an "innocent abroad," in that the "abroad" is anywhere further than a day's walk from her place of birth. She doggedly pursues the "Casanova," knowing he will do the "honorable thing," as he promised, and she relies of the kindness of many a stranger in the process. There is the de-frocked Reverend Gail Hightower, with a misalliance of a marriage, but truly "wedded" to the town of Jefferson, where his grandfather met a heroic death in the Civil War. Or was it heroic? Joanna Burden is the quintessential "outside Yankee agitator," who is now resigned to living a quiet, unassuming, hermit-like life in the country, showing her support for Negro education through her "good works." Yet when the opportunity presents itself, she fends off deepening spinsterhood with some kinky sex. A somewhat lesser, but still strong American Dilemma, the rigid minds of religious fundamentalists are personified, at least in part by Uncle Doc Hines and Christmas' "daddy," McEachern. There is even a cameo appearance by the Harvard educated District Attorney, Gavin Stevens, who does the "right thing." It is a heady mix of individuals that Faulkner develops and handles well.

If individuals can suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), then surely whole regions can, with issues that reverberate still today. There is the re-writing of history, and the mythology surrounding events in a war, which defined much of Rev. Hightower's outlook. There is the grasping for sure answers that defines so much religious and political "fundamentalism," of which the economic relations that race defined is a keystone. Faulkner defined his personal relations with the opposite sex as a "lot of time fumbling under women's skirts." Unquestionably, there is an element of misogyny in his writing, and this is reflected to some extent in his depiction of women in in this work (I suspect the subject matter for at least five PhD dissertations). And there are the most profound questions of life: how do I define who I am, and how I will develop (or not)?

Not long after I read this work the first time I was in a movie theater watching Robert Altman's superb film, Nashville [DVD] [1975] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]. As one of the many fine touches, Altman had the character who was playing Loretta Lynn, when she was in her hospital bed, reading a copy of this work, the one with a cover with the rain-spattered window pane, and the golden light (yes, of August). Unlikely she would have been actually reading it, as she was depicted, but rather IN the book, well, yes. 6-stars, on the second time around.
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on 23 February 2014
Facing possible death, a character in a novel I read recently (possibly Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom’) ponders some of the things left undone in their life. One of these is the question, ‘Is Faulkner any good?’ After reading four of Faulkner’s earlier novels, it was a question I didn’t feel I had an answer to, but that has changed after reading ‘Light in August’. Although the book pivots around a woman’s death, this is not a crime novel; or rather it is, but told in Faulkner’s inimitable way. Set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, the story follows several characters – a young, single pregnant woman; a labourer at a saw mill; a former Church minister; a middle-aged Yankee woman; a young labourer cum bootlegger named Joe Christmas, to mention a few – and jumps back and forth in time, sometimes covering the same events from different view points. Though Christmas’s story could be said to be at the heart of the novel, the book’s strength lies in the way other stories, and thus other lives, intersect with Christmas’s own. In the end, what we have is less a novel about a supposed crime than a portrait of a society, and one from which it is possible to understand the nature of and responses to that crime. Many of Faulkner’s trademarks are here, such as his concern with race, miscegenation, patriarchy and Puritanism, and how these are interwoven with bigotry, discrimination, violence and a concern with honour and reputation. Also present are those habits that can put readers off: the piling up of adjectives; a certain evasiveness in the writing of key plot events; and passages that are sometimes simply baffling. Yet despite occasionally struggling through his novels, there is something that has drawn me back to read more, time and again, and after reading ‘Light in August’ I would have to answer the question as to whether Faulkner is any good with an emphatic ‘Yes’. This book, ‘a landmark in American fiction’ according to my copy, is a good place to start, it being a more straightforward read than, say, ‘The Sound and the Fury’ and ‘Absalom, Absalom!’
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on 16 April 2001
This a Faulkner's major work which could be considered as one of the best American novels of the 1930s. On its surface, Light in August seems to be a chaotic narrative of life in the deep South after Reconstruction. However, such a chaos mirrors the chaos of a whole society unable to cope with the shadow of racism. For it is racism, the very truth behind racism, what Faulkner explores in this novel.
Behind the violence and confusion of Faulkner's narrative, there is a glance into the very core of human condition. Faulkner shows how we are, our fears, our secret dreams, our prejudices. Although, Faulkner's style is complex, the reading of "Light in August" is utterly rewarding.
This book represents the best introduction to Faulkner's novels and to the history of the deep South. Anyone interested in American literature should read it.
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on 1 September 2013
This is one of those books which society and culture have overlooked for a while. Very tricky subject matter for Americans to engage with so I don't suppose that they have been keen to export it. Being black and alienated because you are not quite black enough is an odd topic. The narrative is very sharply written, brisk and well described.
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on 29 January 2013
This Faulkner novel has all the character types and the odour of the deep south of America that might be expected. The narrative not only holds the reader's attention, it draws him/her in. Little quirks of pronunciation of the English language are not obtrusive. The Modern Library hardback is nicely produced with readable typeface, good quality paper and binding.
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on 14 September 2013
Magnificent work, rightly named in 100 best twentieth century novels lists.

This Kindle edition is slightly marred for me by the numerous misprints ('be' for 'he' just one typical example)in this Random House edition; in this respect it compares poorly with several of the free Project Gutenberg books I have downloaded. Poor show Random House.

Faulkner's style takes a little getting used to: his overuse of the words 'myriad' (employed both as a noun and adjective) and 'threatful' is a minor irritation. However,having just discovered Faulkner,it certainly made me realise what a craftsman he was and I certainly intend to read others.
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on 19 February 2013
A brilliant novel from Faulkner! A fascinating couple of introductions, including a introduction by Faulkner himself- so a really great insight into a great novel.
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on 4 March 2004
Don't read this when feeling depressed about the state of the world - it's Southern Gothic mix of racism, poverty, violence and general depravity will do little to relieve your angst. That being said, the novel is beautifully written and well-worth a read. Faulkner is a master of scene and his sense of pacing is incredible. Overall, an unsettling, but powerful work.
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on 27 February 2015
I quite enjoyed it, although it is fairly heavy going. I think perhaps I have over-dosed on this genre at the moment.
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on 21 August 2013
This remains my favourite novel by this great author. Themes, images, narration pace, psychology, social issues... Nothing is missing. Unique in his style, Faulkner presents a mercyless fresco of his social enviroment with uncommon talent and, even in the most tragic moments, he provides a "solar" effect in our imagination as readers. Just try and see this "light in august" in his pages.
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