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By William Faulkner, 1936
Vintage International, New York
313 pp.

Once upon a time there was a student at Harvard who felt guilty of belonging to a rotten society: the American south. In order to explain his guilt and to soothe it, this student tells his Yankee roommate the tragedy of a certain Thomas Sutpen: his efforts to fulfill a dream by concealing his black blood, hiding his criminal past, and protecting his daughter from an incestuous relationship. This could be one reading of Absalom, Absalom.

The book starts with young Quentin Compson’s first encounter with Rosa Coldfield. He was about to leave his little town to go to Harvard when he is summoned by Coldfield. She is an old woman confined to her house for half a century, who believes that by giving Quentin more details about the drama of the Sutpen’s clan, the whole tragedy of the South could be better explained to the world.

The narration develops in circles. Faulkner jumps in time and does sudden changes of voice. The sentences are long. The subjects and verbs are purposely muddled up. The same facts are told from different angles. This technique contributes to create a feeling of despair in the reader: The same kind of dismay that wraps up Compson when he narrates the story to his Harvard roommate.

At the end of the war the South of Absalom, Absalom has disappeared. The world of Coldfield has been vanquished and removed. Faulkner uses the tragedy of Sutpen, his clan, and his victims, to show us the dire dimensions of that collapse.

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