Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Quincy emerged from the house, carrying the book, snapping on the porch light as he passed and walking with the air of someone who has just read something powerful and compelling, something that went deep into the heart of men and women and then stopped and expressed what it found there in prose replete with long and complex sentences, possessed of all the strength of a bear-trap, prose that ensnares its reader and holds him, or her, tight in its vice-like grip: Absalom, Absalom! (1936) by William Faulkner.

‘In this book’s pages –’ Quincy pointed to the book – ‘unfolds the tragic tale of that cruel demon, that unflinching and unstoppable force, Thomas Sutpen, and his establishment of a plantation and mansion, named Sutpen’s Hundred, his taking of a wife, and the family they build together. The arrival of Charles Bon, Sutpen’s son from an earlier marriage, and the Civil War together set in motion the decline and fall of Sutpen’s estate until it recedes from its palatial dimensions back, back into the swamp from which it was erected, the South, the land that so dominates his (Faulkner’s) work. This is a novel about that land, the South, and its people, and the divisions between those people: divisions between black and white, between rich and poor, and between community and outsider, and in the end such divisions are inescapable, flowing beneath the skin and across generations. His (Faulkner’s) intellect is ever present, analysing and dissecting, reconstructing as myth the history of the South, and this he achieves in the structure of the novel, whereby Quentin Compson learns of the story of the Sutpens from various sources and retells it to his Harvard room-mate, Shreve.’ Quincy stared into the glowing coal. ‘It was, for me, not as rewarding as The Sound and the Fury because the emotions here are not as raw, bereft as it is of the lyricism of for example Quentin Compson’s section in that book, and yet here we experience Faulkner grappling more closely perhaps with his themes: history, the South, power.’

I had the pleasure of reading Absalom, Absalom! in this 1976 edition with a cover designed by Germano Facetti, featuring a detail from Ben Shahn’s ‘We Did Not Know What Happened to Us.’


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