Having grown up in the South, the daughter of someone who wrote her masters thesis on Southern fiction, the idea of writing even a 300 word review of William Faulkner’s classic Light in August is intimidating, to say the least. In the South, Faulkner is a rite of passage, someone we all read in high school or college but certainly not since, preferring to celebrate our literary legacy through more contemporary “Southern fiction light”. Faulkner is just tough it’s dense and wrought with meaning classic literature at its finest, but not what you would call a beach read (unless you’re my mom).
And then I listened to Will Patton perform Faulkner’s Light in August.
Faulkner’s stories are written out of chronological order, in layers, in such a way that you might come to know a story over time from hearing it told by many different people in a place. Those who have studied Faulkner say when you get really caught up in one of the author’s page-long sentences, the best thing to do is read it out loud.
It’s even better to listen. With intonation, and the honey smooth cadence of Patton’s voice, the story is suddenly clearer.
Patton introduces us to Lena Grove as she begins her journey to find the father of her unborn child, Lucas Burch. Instead she finds Byron Bunch, who feels a strong pull to take care of her, though it puts him in an awkward social position. For guidance, Byron visits the Rev. Gail Hightower, a man so haunted by not even his own past, but that of his grandfather, that he has trapped himself in his own home.
Even before we encounter Joe Christmas, the 33-year old drifter of ambiguous race, the allusions to the life and death of Jesus are thick. There is a fire and a murder, and it all unravels from there. Patton’s voice carries us through it all, enhancing the story with approachability and authenticity. The Charleston-born Patton’s southern accent is true and real—not a touch of the theatrical, overdone linguistics adopted by some other actors.
In Light in August, Faulkner addresses themes of morality and race, religion and redemption all too deeply to address in these few words. But he does it without preaching or judgment, leaving the reader and in this case the listener to wonder about our own stories, and how they might be told. Sarah Evans Hogeboom
Audible is pleased to present Light in August, by Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner.
An Oprah's Book Club Selection regarded as one of Faulkner's greatest and most accessible novels, Light in August is a timeless and riveting story of determination, tragedy, and hope. In Faulkner's iconic Yoknapatawpha County, race, sex, and religion collide around three memorable characters searching desperately for human connection and their own identities.
Audie Award-winning narrator Will Patton lends his voice to Light in August. Patton has narrated works by Ernest Hemingway, Don DeLillo, Pat Conroy, Denis Johson, Larry McMurtry, and James Lee Burke, and brings to this performance a keen understanding of Faulkner, an authentic feel for the South, and a virtuoso narrator's touch.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Light in August, you'll get exclusive bonus audio added to your library - an interview with James Lee Burke about William Faulkner, conducted by James Atlas.
Be sure to check out Faulkner's The Wild Palms as well.
This production is part of our Audible Modern Vanguard line, a collection of important works from groundbreaking authors.
©1954, 1976 William Faulkner (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics." (Ralph Ellison)
Short, Simple, No Spoilers
Faulkner is a bit intimidating and difficult to process. I read several of his books in school, but somehow missed this novel. "Light in August" is undoubtedly the easiest to enjoy.
In the fictional town of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, the time period is just after the Civil War during a time of extreme racism while rebuilding. This theme is carried out by the main character, Joe Christmas, an angry man of mixed ethnic origin who doesn't know who his parents are and who rebels against prejudice, embarking on a murderous rampage as a cry for help. He's trying to find his way in the face of cruelty; committing unthinkable atrocities. The themes of violence, perseverance, and hope walk you through the story without judgment by Faulkner. You draw your own conclusions and are free to interpret as you wish. He is truly the voice of Southern literature.
Semi retired CPA, Sarah's mom, corgi mom, avid traveler, political junkie, somewhere north of ATL
I have tried many times to make it through a Faulkner novel, only to become frustrated with my inablility to follow the complicated (albeit brilliant) style of his writing. He and Joyce are the two greats that I have not read to finality with any of their novels that I have attempted. Consequently, I was delighted to see that Audible was publishing this audio book with Will Patton as the narrator. Having listened to at least a dozen of his readings, light dawned instantly that this was the answer to my predicament. I was confident that, with his assistance, Faulker would no longer be a puzzle that I could not solve. He would provide the roadmap to get me through the Mississippi terrain.
I was not wrong in my expectations and I have not been disappointed in Mr. Patton or Mr. Faulkner. Each time I pull into my parking place at work, or into the driveway at night, I am disappointed that I must wait to continue with the story. But it is such a prize that I want to stetch out the experience for as long as possible.
While I was not alive during the era he writes of, I can remember my youth in the South twenty years later. The storyline and culture are eerily familiar. The strands of human nature still woven into today's headlines. Mr. Pattons's voice is a welcome friend and contains not a trace of falsity to the Southern tongue. The story line is relevent today both as history and commentary. It is all here......and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I can see from some of the reviews that this book is heavy going for a lot of readers. And it is heavy going, no question about it. It's bleak and relentless but there are flashes of gold so pure and true that I felt not only was it worth it, but that without the darkness, the flashes of light would not have shone so brightly.
The language... oh, if you love poetic language and rich, fertile descriptions, this book is so linguistically erotic there were times when I felt almost embarrassed to be listening to it in a public place.
I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading/listening to this. I'm so glad I did.
I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
I've made it a LONG time without reading any William Faulkner. I decided it was time to cross it off my bucket list when I saw this had been narrated by Will Patton. The narration was first-rate, as expected. As to Faulkner ... it's not a fit for me. This was heavy, dark and dreary. A tough go. I appreciate Faulkner's gift for writing. It's singular. It's just not the kind of thing I want to read when I'm taking a break from the world.
I first read this book back in college when it was an assigned reading. I liked it then but in my youth had not yet had the life experiences which made me love it as I did this time with Will Patton's evocative narrative. Since downloading it, I've listened to it twice through and every time I glean new insights on the human condition. The characters still live for me. Great job, Audible!
This is my first time reading the notoriously difficult Faulkner. I did not find Light in August to be particularly difficult, though it's also said to be his most accessible work. Faulker writes in a sort of sparse poetry that reminds me a little of Cormac McCarthy (though it's probably more appropriate to say that McCarthy reminds me of Faulkner). Faulkner is not as sparse, though; his prose requires a fair degree of sophistication to grasp and he weaves many, many themes through this novel, so I can see why he's considered a challenging read, especially in the era of YA ascendancy.
I was captivated by that prose very early. I was prepared to fall in love with Faulkner. The first act of the novel is compelling: the simple tale of a naive young woman named Lena Grove who leaves home in pursuit of the ne'er-do-well who done left her in an expectin' sorta way, possessing an almost childlike faith that it was all on account o' him not knowin' the situation and planning to send for her anyway once he's all settled, so once she catches up with him, the Lord will see to it that they is married like a couple with a baby comin' ought.
Yeah, right, and pigs will fly.
While the writing remained beautiful and poetic throughout the book, the third act, in which Faulkner wraps up all his themes, ties up all the loose ends, and brought it all home, dragged to the point that I thought he spent quite a few pages just indulging himself in the portentous importance of his own ponderous prose. It didn't diminish the genius of his writing, but it did wear on me, as someone who has developed a much greater appreciation for literary writing in the past few years, but still prizes storytelling as an essential ingredient in a great novel. The flashbacks and stream-of-consciousness chapters pile on, never becoming less finely written, but I started to see why Faulkner is considered "challenging"; the book starts out as a fine Southern tragedy, but dumps us deep in literary Faulkner-land by the end.
Also, this book is squirm-inducing in its beautiful and poetic rendering of the rankest misogyny and racism. The n-word abounds and yes, it's set in a time and place in which it would be unbelievable not to hear it flung about freely, but I found myself uncertain to the end just where Faulkner stood and what he was trying to say about his racially ambiguous anti-protagonist Christmas, who spends his life reflecting the world's contempt and abuse back at it. Joe Christmas grows up hard and mean and who can blame him? What I also found as horrific as it was authentic was the multi-layered hatred of all womankind, expressed through every single male character in one way or another, even the relatively sympathetic ones. Women in Light in August are the enemy even when they are self-sacrificing martyrs, oppressing men by the very act of martyrdom. I know it's fashionable to dismiss authorial intent, Death of the Author and all that, but man, methinks Faulkner had some issues with women. One of the most compelling passages in the book was the one explaining Christmas's solidarity with the unloving, hated adoptive father who beat him against his doormat of an adoptive mother who did nothing but try to comfort him. It was hard and true and ugly, and just left me awed at such prose that could fill me with such disquiet.
“She is like all the rest of them. Whether they are seventeen or fortyseven, when they finally come to surrender completely, it's going to be in words.”
This was really quite an experience. One has to have a taste for Faulkner, I think, and I suspect people will have wildly varying emotional reactions to him. I was drawn into Light in August enough that I will certainly read Faulkner again. 4 stars, because the prose is truly Nobel-caliber, but the story became abstruse and, for me, hard to love by the end.
A fine performance by Will Patton, whose accent is Southern enough to be authentic without being so thick as to hinder clarity.
I wanted to read a work of Faulkner's. I bought the Kindle edition so that I could follow the sparkling prose and fabulous literary presentation both aurally and visually.
The story was good. The idea of the passages each character endured in his/her life was excellent. It was not especially unique, which was kind of good too, because there was a truth, reality about it.
I just don't understand Faulkner's use of the flashback-flashforward structure in the telling. It was not difficult to keep track of -- well maybe a little with the names of Bunch, Burch, and other near-sound alikes. The individual stories were great stories. The saga of Joe Christmas was Dickensian if nothing else and the story of Rev. Hightower, while not as riveting as Joe's, was very good, very logical, very well told. I don't think the women characters were so well fleshed out. Lena was a single-faceted character. She had one goal in mind and she was tenacious about it, but.. shrug... so what?
I am not a Faulkner scholar, so my opinion should hold little weight with those wishing to pursue this literature, but I am well read in many genres and many eras. I came away feeling Faulkner was a troubled man... turns out, after reading more about him, he really was a kind of lost soul. I felt the passion in the prose, but I had to work so hard to read the story/stories and to follow all the links between them, that it was tedious rather the pleasurable.
I don't think I will read another Faulkner -- not by Audible or in print. Life's too short.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
It's hard to describe just what the structure of this book is. Characters we think are central disappear for long stretches. Characters we think are peripheral come to have major roles. The central plot line appears to lead nowhere. I am left with the sense that the real plot lies outside of what is reported in the book, and can only be inferred from the general shapes outlined therein. Faulkner is probably the most successful experimental writer of the 20th century. One of the few where we feel the experimental elements serve the function of the story instead of the other way around. In this book, it is the fragmented way of telling the story, and the sense of an overarching purpose that cannot be directly stated. Nowadays, the fragmented chronology has become so common that we may not appreciate how revolutionary Faulkner's work really was. One thing Faulkner is always good at is at expressing the ambiguity in a character's words or actions. Rather than simply say what a gesture means, he will leave you with a multitude of interpretations just as you are left in real life wondering what a gesture truly meant. Just as our own gestures mean more than can be neatly summed up in a tidy soundbite explanation.
It's not giving anything away to say that there are numerous allusions to the nativity story in this book, though it can be easy to forget as the story twists away in different directions. It's a very dark twisted version of the nativity story all the same. I think the underlying meaning of the book lies somewhere in the contemplation of its elements as they relate to that archetypal story.
Will Patton does a terrific job of keeping all the characters straight and of evoking the period and the people.
Yes, I would recommend. I loved the visual created by the words. I very much enjoyed the language and dialect of the writing and performance. The story was a about a simple place and time.
A young pregnant girl and her journey. Christmas and his story.
Tangential, eclectic, avid listener... favorite book is the one currently in ear.
If you miss a few seconds, you will have transitioned in time and point of view and be lost. His writing is beautiful, difficult topics placed in a cruel world... if I was to read again, would do in book form. Performance was great, the story thought provoking but it didn't work for me as an audio book.
"Slow in the extreme"
I never give up on a book. Well, I never have until this one. It's dreary, tedious, tells us every tiny moment in drawn-out misery and I can stand no more. The narration is similarly drearily drawled; I enjoyed his style for The Son, but it just reinforces how dull this story is here. I'll have to remain a philistine when it comes to Faulkner.
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