Wise Blood Paperback – 28 Feb 2008
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'A literary talent that has about it the uniqueness of greatness.' -- Sunday Telegraph
'A work of strange beauty, totally original.' -- Observer
'One of the most gifted and startling writers to have come out of the American South.' -- VS Pritchett
One of the most gifted and startling writers to have come out of the American South.' V. S. PritchettSee all Product description
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It's all in the eyes. Eyes that see sin, through and past it, that have seen war, that witness sex and twist it into perversion, and the eyes that in the end go blind in a wracked tailspin of faith.
Blind faith. Quite literally. Kills you in the end. Hazel Motes stalks false prophets and liars, salesmen and loose women, wandering through the debris of his soul. Creates his own Church in a moment of Protean inspiration, and is as valid and as real as anything orthodox. Barbed wire and self destruction end his days. His self created myth turns to dust.
Southern gothic, darkly comedic, grips like an alligator and shakes you until you choose a side to be on.
The narrative is both beautifully descriptive and humorous without being detrimental to the overall message that O'Connor was wanting to portray. One minor point to make is that as the novel was written in 1952 some of the language and imagery could be perceived as offensive in the present day.
Even the savage murder of a young girl, from a short story I shan’t name, reveals no cruelty or nihilism in the author, but is a means of bringing us to revelation: evil is real, and it destroys the soul. (Whether you think the soul is immortal or not.)
Oddly enough, most of her stories, including those where everyone dies (someone often dies in an O’Connor story), are uplifting and hopeful. They all take place in a universe which recognises good and evil and treats them as objective truths, the road to good being much longer than the path to evil.
Wise Blood, one of two novels she wrote, could be easily dismissed as a painful and bleak book, but for those willing to read it with eyes wide open, it’s about the force of good trying to envelop the lonely and misguided. Or, as O’Connor would have put it, “the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it”.
That unwilling character is Hazel Motes, an ex-soldier returned from World War II, his home town abandoned. The grandson of a travelling preacher, his years away have rendered him a bitter atheist, and he shacks up with a prostitute in a new city, determined to blaspheme. Once an almost pedantically pious man, he’s now a committed heretic.
Motes is a cold and joyless soul. Despite his antireligious beliefs, he chooses a suit and hat which make him look like a preacher. He’s even mistaken for one by a taxi driver, infuriating this new heathen. Furious at his once beloved faith, he becomes a preacher for his own church, a Church Without Christ, proudly proclaiming, sometimes on street corners like a sandwich-board prophet, that Jesus was a liar.
His bleak mission leads him to Asa and Sabbath, a couple of Christian pamphleteers, Asa a hardened conman and Sabbath his unloved teenage daughter. Though their motives are secretly selfish and just as heretical as Motes’, he confuses them for genuine Christians and harrasses them.
Another bone of contention in his life is Enoch Emery, a lonely eighteen-year old zookeeper. Like Motes, he’s driven by blasphemy, though in an innocent and unknowing way.
Ignorant of doctrine and spiritual teachings, Emery believes he has “wise blood,” which pushes him towards revelation without intellectual guidance. His “blood” leads him to a mummified dwarf in a museum on the zoo’s grounds, and tells him that this ancient corpse is the “new jesus.”
O’Connor doesn’t capitalise “Jesus” when describing Emery’s dwarf, perhaps because this saviour isn’t real, and thus doesn’t deserve to share the prophet’s name. What Emery becomes is the true revelation: that his “wise blood” has led him to a false idol. His idolatory, far from fulfilling his spiritual needs, has brought him only madness and loneliness.
Wise Blood‘s second half is its most disturbing, because Motes’ and Emery’s respective obsessions finally consume them. Motes descends further than Emery, and turns into a gross, twisted monster. His pursuit of blasphemy and a godless universe brings him torture. He turns into a martyr almost against his will, which reminds me of a line from one of O’Connor’s short stories: “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”
Wise Blood is beautiful and thought-provoking. Like the scriptures that inspired it, the novel requires close attention. O’Connor’s prose is elegantly crafted, and she never stoops to the level of mean-spiritedness even in her darkest scenes, which provoke empathy, not hopelessness, as a lazy reading of this complex book might.
Hazel believes that he can be saved from evil by believing in nothing. If he has no soul to save then there is no such thing as sin and therefore he can do whatever the hell he likes. By avoiding sin this way he will get to meet Jesus (or something like that).Of course in doing this, Hazel just proves himself as a believer and other characters are used to argue different aspects of theology.
Other characters in the book include a preacher who may or may not have blinded himself with acid, his daughter who only believes in self-gratification and Hazel's follower Enoch who is trying to find the new physical Jesus. It's a strange strange book which brings in one grotesque character in after another and I'm not entirely sure what to make of it all.
I am glad I read it, the characters were all thought provoking and there was a large amount of black comedy throughout. However I don't think I really connected at all with the story and found the narrative quite strange and out of place in parts.
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Wise Blood is a book that truly stays with you forever.Read more
Full of adventure and moving forward all the time.