Absalom, Absalom!, first sentence.

If not Dante or Nabokov, why not William Faulkner ?i

From a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that – a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them.

Ok that was long! Definitely longer than I can ever recall an opening sentence of a novel being, and certainly not why I picked this book even though it’s now clearly working a treat, but that may just be my small non-fiction(-mostly-science-fiction) sample size speaking. I guess thanks to Jack for putting me onto ol’ Faulksy ? In any event, it’s a bold play to string together so many adjectives without separating commas but maybe it’s a Great Depression trick to keep the reader from noticing their miserable lot with the art of talking and talking ad nauseum so long as the hours are whiled away and the days are filled with something other than out-and-out bellyaching lest we forget that the year 1936 when the book was published wasn’t exactly The Great Again though this technique of misdirection seems about due for a comeback today but maybe that’s really what reality TV is as its core.

So what can we glean from the opening sentence about the characters, their environs, and the possible plot ? Well, we know that there are at least two characters involved, Miss Coldfield and Quentin, and that they’ve a house to keep themselves warm and dry, one formerly belonging to Miss’ father, who seems to have passed. We also know that they’re a pretty superstitious lot wherever they are, quite possibly in the Old South or even a Caribbean island where polite old world titles and tropical weather reign, and that they haven’t the scientific minds to come up with theories more falsifiable than “moving air carried heat,” which it doesn’t. We can also determine Miss has lived in the same house for over four decades and that Quentin has something of a visual imagination. Aside from those bare descriptions, between the rambling prose, the reader can somehow decipher a half-rotting yet stately manor in the middle of an overgrown swamp, the kind depicted in Forest Gump or Django Unchained but with neither the humour nor the violence, respectively, nor really any action at all. It’s a place that somehow just is – without ever having been created in the first place and seemingly without the possibility of being completed destroyed. How can something be so timeless and yet so of its time ? Yet there it is.

To be continued…

  1. This will be the first bit of Faulker I’ve ever read. Like ever. And you’re along for the ride!

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