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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my favourite faulkner and the bible
O.K., so this is not exactly easy to read. At the beginning you have to constantly deduce who is narrating. But once you have learnt that the whole story of the Sutpen family is going to be told through a series of interviews between Quentin and several witnesses of the facts related, you can relax and really enjoy it. For me, one of the greatest wonders and sources of...
Published on 11 Aug. 2003 by ex nihilo

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Losing the thread
There are many good things about Absalom, Absalom! Not least William Faulkner's wonderfully descriptive writing style that conjures up the tensions and atmosphere of the deep south of America in the mid-1800s. The flow of vivid descriptions almost demand to be read in a Mississippi drawl that transmits either the stifling humidity or bone-chilling cold of the area...
Published 4 months ago by Mr N D Willis


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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my favourite faulkner and the bible, 11 Aug. 2003
This review is from: Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
O.K., so this is not exactly easy to read. At the beginning you have to constantly deduce who is narrating. But once you have learnt that the whole story of the Sutpen family is going to be told through a series of interviews between Quentin and several witnesses of the facts related, you can relax and really enjoy it. For me, one of the greatest wonders and sources of joy in this novel was to find the paralelisms between the story of the Sutpen family and that of king David of the Bible. And even though we know what is going to happen with Colonel Sutpen and his offspring (especially the one who stands for Absalom), Faulkner's chilling solution for the conlfict is inevitably amazing. Do I need to add that the paralelism does not only work at the level of the Sutpen family tragedy, but also with the historical setting --the heroic times of the American Civil War in the South?. One of the jewels of universal literature.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sutpen's Hundred, 6 Aug. 2013
By 
Robin Friedman "Robin Friedman" (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
An extraordinary novel, William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" (1936) tells the story of Thomas Sutpen and of the Old South and its aftermath. The book is set in northern Mississippi in Faulkner's fictitious Yoknapatawa County. Part of the story takes place in the small town of Jefferson, but the story centers on a large 100 square mile plantation 12 miles from the town, "Sutpen's Hundred" and on its owner and builder, Thomas Sutpen. The story has multiple voices, the most prominent of which is young Quentin Compson, 20, who narrates Sutpen's story to his college roommate, Shreve Mccannon, a Canadian, during a snowy night in 1910 in Harvard.

In the course of the book, the same story gets told many times, each time with more detail and by speakers with different perspectives. The manner of the unfolding, among many other things, makes the book difficult to read especially at first, as the reader is thrown unprepared into a complex, shadowy past world. There are three basic familial groups in the book: Thomas Sutpen's, the Coldfields,a small mercantile family in Jefferson, and the Compson's. Thomas Sutpen married a Coldfield daughter, Ellen, and the couple had two children, Judith and Henry. The Compson were friends of Sutpen's and narrate much of the story.

The story begins in 1833 when Sutpen arrives mysteriously, acquires land, and builds his large mansion. He remains an outsider to the town. The reader learns a good deal of his earlier life as the story unfolds. The story is dark, passionate and brooding, with themes centering around slavery, incest (resulting from the institution of slavery), and miscegenation. Before arriving in Mississippi, Charles Sutpen had married in Haiti and had a son, Charles, and cast them both aside. When Henry attends the University of Mississippi, Bon mysteriously befriends him and ultimately becomes engaged to Judith Sutpen. The story develops around this proposed marriage, both incestuous and across racial lines.

Sutpen's story is fused to a story of the old South before the Civil War and to the pride that led the South to engage in that disastrous, ruinous conflict. The reader sees the pre-bellum South, the Civil War South, and the defeated, conquered South following the War with a strange insight. The book has the feel of high tragedy. The author's attitude towards the South resists summarization. The Biblical title of the novel suggest that Faulkner sees the old South as David saw his son Absalom: dearly beloved but fatally flawed. Faulkner shows a society doomed by its dependence on slavery, while he shows love for its toughness, independence, and passion. At one point, one of the characters says in describing the Old South:

"Yes, for them: of that day and time, of a dead time; people too as we are and victims too as we are, but victims of a different circumstance, simpler and therefore, integer for integer, larger, more heroic and the figures therefore, integer for integer, larger, more heroic and the figures therefore more heroic too, not dwarfed and involved but distinct, uncomplex who had the gift of loving once or dying once instead of being diffused and scattered creatures drawn blindly limb from limb from a grab bag and assembled, author and victim too, of a thousand homicides and a thousand copulations and divorcements."

Quentin Compson and his Canadian friend Shreve offer differing perspectives on the South and on the tale.

"Absalom, Absalom!" is notoriously difficult to read. Part of the difficulty arises from the layers through which the story unfolds. But the larger difficulty lies in the baroque, bravura, and wordy writing style of this book with long, almost endless sentences, wandering clauses and digressions, and full vocabulary. Styles make books. In this case, the style is integrally tied to the story and the meaning that the author conveys of a distant, difficult world, that is opaque and hard to understand. The story and the world and life it shows can be seen only through a glass darkly. In coming to the book for the first time, I was frustrated together with many earlier readers. I think the best course is to persevere and not to linger overlong over the many obscurities and hard passages as the story unfolds. The book becomes more dramatic and accessible with the telling.

I was greatly moved by this book and by its portrayal of the South and of the Civil War. The novel tells of the human condition in ways that cannot be found in histories. "Absalom, Absalom!" belongs in the front rank of American novels. I am glad to have read the book at last.

Robin Friedman
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Losing the thread, 21 Oct. 2014
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There are many good things about Absalom, Absalom! Not least William Faulkner's wonderfully descriptive writing style that conjures up the tensions and atmosphere of the deep south of America in the mid-1800s. The flow of vivid descriptions almost demand to be read in a Mississippi drawl that transmits either the stifling humidity or bone-chilling cold of the area.
Absalom, Absalom! is the story of the south from its days of slavery and rich plantation owners through its catastrophic war with the north and eventually its ruinous and honour-destroying defeat. This story is told through one family residing in the estate of one Thomas Sutpen. A mysterious and cruel man who rode out of the Haitian darkness with a mysterious fortune and slaves enough to establish the home of Sutpen's Hundred.
The cast of characters is by no means extensive, with the author able to weave enough guilt anger and tragedy through a family and step-family of three generations. The big issues of the time are all weaved into the book: new frontiers, slavery, emancipation, war, poverty and hunger.
There are, however, a few drawbacks. The structure of the writing is far too dense. Sentences run so long that subject is forgotten, paragraphs are near non-existent. The pages are presented as heavy slabs of text that are tough to wade through. There is also the problem of allocation when it comes to speech. Far too often dialogue and thoughts are difficult to attribute and unspoken thoughts near impossible.
The timeframes can also be difficult to follow. The minimal grammar and attribution leave the reader wondering where, who and when someone is talking, with the answer often not revealed until deep into a passage.
Despite the vivid portrayal of the stories and characters it was ultimately their poor presentation that left a lasting impression on me. There were times when I went to pick up a book during a spare moment and opted for a more welcoming, digestible read. Too often Absalom, Absalom! felt like hard work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Most diffucult but ultimately readable narratives, 27 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
This is one of the top 100 books of world literature and as I'm working my way through them, I thought I'd give it a try - I have previously read "As I lay dying" by Faulkner but to be honest didn't like it too much. I think it's an agreed American classic written in 1936 (and compared to Melville and James - neither author I unfortunately like)

Anyway I found this book extremely difficult and hard going but let's do the basics: This is the story of Sutpen who acquires slaves and an estate in Mississippi in the 1850s - his goal is a male heir and along the way wealth and "standing". He marries Ellen Coldfield and has children Judith and Henry - job done you might think, but no: Henry goes to University and meets Charles Bon, who on meeting Judith may marry her. But wait Civil war starts and of course Sutpen joins the Confederates. But how and where did Sutpen get his money?, why does Sutpen not want Charles to marry Judith?, but conversely why does Henry want Charles to marry Judith?, but then why does Henry want Charles to marry Judith despite perhaps knowing what Sutpen knows?, why does Ellen's virgin sister dislike Sutpen?, do we seriously believe Sutpen has no other relationships before Ellen? Who'll die in the war, return and/or killed on their return. This is a tale centred around Quentin, who is the main character receiving, much like the reader, the broken narrative from certain cast members. The story is about ambition, racial/slave society, pride, incest?, loss (through war), illicit children, death and more death.

Faulkner's writing style uses different view points, times out of sequence and very long wordy sentences - tell me what is for example (44 words...) "that Presbyterian effluvium of lugubrious and vindictive anticipation"(... 61 words end of sentence)?. I found it very difficult to follow; who was who and when. I needed half way through to search the net for a study aid to get a grasp of the story only then could I enjoy it - I wish I'd known at the start as I would really recommend knowing the story first. I was also unaware that an octoroon is an `eighth' black and a quadroon a "quarter" black person, the n-word is used extensively.

In summary; it feels like a literary jigsaw without the box's picture, some pieces missing and perhaps the author has even deliberately cut off a few nodules. You get a strong flavour of slavery, the deep South and loathing. When I finished it only then did I discover at the end of the Vintage edition a full chronology and character list at the back of the book - which at least told me I wasn't going mad about the difficulty. I can recommend this challenging book and is probably another of those `best at the second reading' stories but don't expect it to be easy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is Faulkner's Best, 2 April 1999
By A Customer
As a Mississippi native, I fell in love with Faulkner at an earlier age than most. I have read many of his novels, specifically his best works during the thirties, and most of his short stories. Many acclaim the work of Sound and the Fury as his best piece; the accolades are well founded. Yet, Absalom, Absalom as an experiment in fictional writing is unparalleled in his Yoknapatawpha Tales. Also, it offers an interesting, if not sordid continuation to the saga that the Sound and the Fury began. It is a must read for serious lovers of American fiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Drugged with Mimosa, 24 Mar. 2013
By 
Samuel Romilly (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Absalom, Absalom (Hardcover)
To even begin to understand this novel you have to read it at least three times. This is a task and challenge but not a chore. It has a soporific quality, and the luxuriance of decay and decadence. On the first reading you are almost drugged by the heat and above all the smell of the old South,sweet and corrupting. This book constitutes the best introduction one could have for the post-bellum period in those states' history. The stench of slavery and its insidious influence on the lives of all who live there is incarnate in this fine novel, one of the classics of American literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars doused with mimosa, 24 Mar. 2013
By 
Samuel Romilly (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
To even begin to understand this novel you have to read it at least three times. This is a task and challenge but not a chore. It has a soporific quality, and the luxuriance of decay and decadence. On the first reading you are almost drugged by the heat and above all the smell of the old South,sweet and corrupting. This book constitutes the best introduction one could have for the post-bellum period in those states' history. The stench of slavery and its insidious influence on the lives of all who live there is incarnate in this fine novel, one of the classics of American literature.
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5.0 out of 5 stars arguably Faulkner's greatest novel, 23 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
Set over roughly 100 years from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century, Faulkner’s novel is focused on the family of Thomas Sutpen, a man who appears as if from nowhere, with no past and no one to vouch for him, and establishes an estate in Antebellum Mississippi. The novel’s title and some character names carry a symbolic load, and the narrative is woven through with themes from the Old Testament and Greek tragedy. But Faulkner’s handling of these is masterful, and one never feels the story is contrived to fit mythical templates (compare, for example, the rather heavy-handed use of the Cain and Abel story in Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden’). Sutpen’s family and his estate instead come to stand for the pre-civil war American South and all that, in Faulkner’s view, was rotten with it. The novel’s concerns are those Faulkner worked with in so much of his fiction: race, patriarchy, miscegenation and relations between the sexes, slavery, class, honour. As with all Faulkner’s work, the novel also requires patience from the reader. Faulkner has a poet’s inventiveness with language, and sometimes his sentences are labyrinthine, layered like an onion with suspended clauses nested within suspended clauses. His tracking back and forth through time can also be disconcerting, with events being foreshadowed in miniature before their being fully revealed. It often pays to re-read passages that are confusing, and the novel makes much more sense when read the second time round. Reading Faulkner can sometimes seem like hard work, but I always felt it was worthwhile with this book. Though ‘The Sound and the Fury’ is the Faulkner novel that frequently gets singled out in best-of lists, this equally demanding work is in my view his crowning achievement.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Greek Tragedy in Mississippi, 25 Jan. 2013
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
The self-made Thomas Sutpen achieves his ambition of carving out a plantation for himself in the Mississippi wilderness and acquiring a wife and heir, only to lose it all, partly owing to the calamity of the American Civil War of the 1860s, but also through past events coming back to haunt him. His life is a metaphor for the inward-looking, class divided, prejudiced, proud, stubborn, slave-owning South driven to its knees by defeat in the Civil War, the aftermath still evident when a young neighbour Quentin Compson tries to piece the story together, abetted by his friend Shreve, a Canadian "outsider" who is both fascinated by the South and able to assess it with an objective eye.

Faulkner's stream of consciousness style which must have been groundbreaking in the 1930s carries the reader into the characters' minds, using vivid visual impressions and memories to trigger a chain of fleeting thoughts. I like the way he tells the same story from different at times contradictory viewpoints, often repeating details with a hypnotic persistence, only to advance the tale without warning as another important fact is almost casually thrown in. It is also intriguing to grasp that key characters like Rosa Coldfield may only ever hold some of the pieces of the jigsaw - Faulkner is fascinated with the way people's perceptions vary, memory is distorted and complex motives may remain ambiguous, with actors themselves remaining unsure what they are going to do and why.

Despite some poetic passages of extraordinary brilliance and beauty, some sharp dialogue in the compelling southern idiom and a potentially powerful plot, I feel the work is flawed by a tendency to let experiment tip over into self-indulgent ranting and a descent into melodrama. The unrelenting focus on human degradation, the doom and gloom of the work prove unbearable at times, "the turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs". Also, the reliance on characters recounting past events tends to defuse the drama of what should be striking events, although I admit that some moments of high tension remain, even when I "knew" what was going to happen.

I can accept the perhaps at times unintentional racism of the piece as being a feature of the period. Faulkner's misogynic tone is hard to excuse.

This book needs to read twice, even several times to be fully appreciated. I wanted to read it the first time without benefit of notes, to get the raw impact, although it probably helps to consult a "study guide" for a second opinion on some of the obscurer passages. I like best the descriptions of the South stripped bare of overblown emotion, "he looked up the slope...where the wet yellow sedge died upward into the rain like melting gold and saw the grove, the clump of cedars on the crest of the hill dissolving into the rain as if the trees had been drawn in ink on a wet blotter." Yet even here is evidence of his verbosity.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The flapping of a butterfly's wing..., 3 Jun. 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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...in China, which causes the proverbial tornado in Kansas (a topical subject in itself). Admittedly it is a simplistic formulation, but it is the classic metaphor for the Chaos Theory which states that dynamic systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions. Human life itself is an essential "dynamic system," and it seems that Faulkner was a proponent of the Chaos Theory, in his writings, even before the theory was formulized. In Intruder In The Dust (Vintage classics), the "initial condition" was a young, cold white boy being offered warmth, and a plate of collard greens. Faulkner depicts this scene at the beginning of "Intruder." In "Absalom, Absalom," one must read more than half the book before realizing the "initial condition" that set all else in motion, in the form of a Greek tragedy: being asked to go around to the back door.

This is a great novel; a quintessential American masterpiece. The "great" themes of life are there: striving, hubris, the choices made in the mating rituals, hierarchical social relations, the means by which the few maintain control over the many, war and peace, aging, family relations, and on and on. Themes that transcend the American condition, and apply to all societies. But few novels speak so directly to that uniquely American issue: its "original sin," slavery and race relations. This issue permeates the book. It has rarely been stated as starkly: "So it's the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear. Henry doesn't answer." Maybe, just maybe, this question was answered in the last election. Imagine, if you will, the sheer strength of "black blood." Just a bit, one-eight or even much less, makes a person "black." Faulkner explores this idea with more than one of his characters.

As a narrative, well, there are actually several narratives, it starts in 1909, with Miss Rosa Coldfield sitting in "a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers...latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes..." Wisteria makes its appearance on the first page also, but one must wait for the fireflies, an essential element of Southern summers, to make their appearance later in the book. Miss Coldfield is intent on telling the story of the Sutpen's, and her interactions, as well as her family's, with them. The receptive vehicle, soon bound for Harvard, and those cold northern winters, is Quentin Compson, grandson of the person who first befriended Thomas Sutpen when he arrived on "the frontier," which was Northern Mississippi in the 1830's. Faulkner is demanding of the reader: long convoluted sentences rarely duplicated, just a hint of a particular relationship or incident, and then he moves on, returning and backfilling, explaining. The author dazzles with his style, which rests on a solid basis of content concerning the human condition. I savored it like a fine after dinner drink: small doses of 20, 30, at most 50 pages at a time. In doing so, I was richly rewarded. I even learned what an "octoroon" is, a term that should slide into the dustbin of history. And who would have ever thought of them as "sparrows," living in New Orleans?

Another "topical" subject is Haiti, still poor, forevermore? White men going there, and becoming rich. Need to learn French? "...because Grandfather asked him why he didn't get himself a girl to live with and learn it the easy way..." Are Caribbean planters a model for Southern society? Sutpen obtained, earned, or stole his "grub stake," take your pick, and built a mansion in the middle of his hundred square miles of land. The reader struggles to keep up with the dates; at least I did, knowing the "doom" is coming in 1861. War, a losing war, which will haunt the proud survivors. Faulkner keeps the war mainly in the background, but is still insightful: there is the year of marching backward, towards Richmond, trying to slow down Sherman as he marches up from devastated Georgia. On Southern military leadership Faulkner says: "...because of generals who should not have been generals, who were generals not through training in contemporary methods or aptitude for learning them, but by the divine right to say `Go there' conferred upon them by an absolute caste system;" Faulkner had the wisdom, obtained from his personal experience in World War I, to identify one strain in the forces which cause wars: "...that wars were sometimes created for the sole aim of settling youth's private difficulties and discontents."

Why is Miss Coldfield so angry? What was the insult she experienced at Sutpen's One Hundred after the war? I do not doubt that a good 20 PhD's have been awarded based on the theme of women in Faulkner's writings. Absalom is a rich mine of material, not only for Rosa Coldfield's anger, but the circumstances of Ellen Coldfield's marriage, the unfailing loyalty of Clytemnestra Sutpen to her dubious family role, the bucolic innocence of Judith Sutpen perched on her pedestal.

Based on some of the negative reviews, I can only say that it is indeed a pleasure to read this book for the pleasure, and not as a school assignment or a PhD thesis. With all due deference to Amazon, I purchase my copy from the excellent bookstore "on the square" in Oxford in April of this year. It was the weekend; we didn't have reservations and there was "no room at the inn," (any of them) as the town filled for a spring college football game. The bookstore proudly displayed another "native son," Richard Ford, but you have to go upstairs, past the coffee bar, to the very front of the store to find the Faulkner selection. No doubt some of the football fans could have explained why: Sure, they are proud of him, in an ambivalent sort of way, but he did tell far too much about them.

An essential read, and even an essential re-read, in five years time, given the allocation. Absolutely 6-stars.
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Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics)
Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics) by William Faulkner (Mass Market Paperback - 19 Jan. 1995)
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