Like many others, I read this novel and other Faulkner novels as an English major in my teens and early 20's. I'm 58 now and on an impulse clicked on Light in August as one of my monthly credits a couple of weeks ago. As when I heard Moby Dick on Audible a year or two ago, I am amazed and haunted by the writing, the symbolism, and the themes these writers expressed. What geniuses! As a teenager and very young adult, I really just had no clue what I was reading. I remembered these were "hard" novels. Will Patton's narration of Light in August made all the difference. He's an actor and a Southerner born and bred, and his voice and delivery reflect his roots as well as make this one of the most powerful "reading" experiences I've had in a lifetime of reading (and a few years of listening, via Audible, to classics I've been revisiting now in later middle age). The stories in this novel are hard to take; they are violent, cruel, barbarous. As another reviewer said, there's no one to "root for" because all the characters are flawed, to say the least. The racism is extraordinarily cruel and almost unbelievable today, except for the newsreels we've all seen of Mississippi and Alabama during the civil rights era. It's hard to fathom that anyone ever believed that having even a drop of Negro blood (the novel's words) somehow damned you, made you an outcast, even a monster, for life. And in this novel, the "tainted" blood is just a rumor, even to the guy that supposedly is "cursed" with it. But that rumor is enough, and the boy, then the man, never lives a moment in peace. Faulkner's living breathing descriptions of nature, seasons, woods, weather, wind, moonlight, dew in the mornings, the splintered wood of old cabins and old handbuilt furniture are filmlike in intensity. I can readily believe he spent time in Hollywood as a screenwriter, since he naturally writes in dense, filmlike images full of mystery and foreboding. Superb production in every way
I am not an American so, when I had the opportunity to visit the States earlier this year I thought I would read some American Literature. I came upon Faulkner quite by chance, so I bought the book to listen to on the plane. What an absolute joy. I must admit I started it thinking, "I do not like this at all", but, with the skilful weaving of the stories and the intimate, unhurried development of the characters the story and the writing began to grip me.
The story itself is bleak and reminds me of the tone and landscape of the writings of JM Coetzee. However, the characters within the stories are so finely drawn that they become clearly and uniquely defined within the bleakness. They are not bleak, they are tragic and fascinating, they drew me into the story and they seem to have become real people rather than the characters of a novel.
The wider themes of racism, sexism and poverty are so clearly traced that they almost seem like unique characters within the novel. What I think Faulkner does particularly well is to breathe these external cultural and economic elements into his characters so it is clear how embedded they are in their culture. The question I found myself asking was always "if it had been different, what then, how would the inner worlds of the characters and their behaviours been different if their lives had, somehow, been gentler, calmer, less stark?". I think that this is Faulkner's key strength. He insists that his reader asks these questions but leaves no opportunity for a kinder, gentler world for his characters. Poverty, lack of opportunity and narrow minded bigotry always limit choices in this novel, and these conditions are never absent.
On a final note, the narration is superb. Once again, being a non-American, has made accessing the various elements of the book a lot easier.
I have kept a running stockpile of unlistened-to books in my library lately. "Light in August" somehow kept dropping to the bottom of the pile while new purchases were flowing in. As often happens the book I had been trying so carefully to avoid turned out to be the best of the lot. And not by a narrow margin either.
The novel is set in the American South in the 19th century or possibly early 20th. The central strand of the plot is the story of Joe Christmas who has some "n-word blood" in him that dooms him from the start in the society he is born into. And one day there is a big fire and his life is about to take yet another turn...
For me, it was even more about how it was written. I was especially impressed by the language. So vidid, so natural, so simple yet so beautiful. Much of the credit should go to the narrator for the interpretation. This was much more than simply reading. The accents were so melodious like these people were almost singing.
I would not say that this book was especially challenging. You do have to keep a minimum level of concentration though. It is not one of those books you can tune out of and then jump right back in at any time. The characters that were introduced by name at the beginning of a chapter may be referred to only as "he" or "she" for the rest of the chapter.
I was transfixed by this Faulkner/Patton collaboration.... it was truly a delight to rediscover the gorgeous emotional and descriptive landscape of this great book, to enjoy again what a 'page-turner it is, and to revel in Patton's pitch-perfect performance.
Patton's performance is comparable to a master performance of, say, a Beethoven symphony. Some of the best narration I've listened to, and I've heard a lot. (Arguing whether or not the book, a twentieth century classic, is good is ridiculous. If you don't like it, there's something missing in you, not the book.)