There’s experimental, and then there’s The Sound and the Fury.

There’s nonlinear narrative, and then there’s section after section of stream-of-consciousness, italics, and seemingly-random words strung out on the pages.

There are normal protagonists, and then there’s a main character who never once gets to narrate her own passage of the novel, even though her brothers have their own chances to rant, whine, and reminisce. Or, as William Shakespeare would say in his play Macbeth, whose famous last-act soliloquy inspired Faulkner for this novel’s title, these men can “strut and fret” upon a stage that jumps time periods, linguistic styles, and geography.

William Faulkner’s novel from 1929 is a challenging read by any definition. I first read it in December 2017 and knew it was going to be something special from the opening episode told from the point-of-view of the mentally disabled Benjy, a young man whose once-proud Mississippi family is falling apart. The more I delved into Faulkner’s distinctive cadence, including those italicized sentences I mentioned before, the more I fell in love with this novel as a whole. So with that in mind, if you’re a reader ready to put your skills to the test, this could be the book for you.

In four sections from different points-of-view–the first three in first person, the last in third person–Faulkner shows how the Compson family can’t adjust to the modern world where they are no longer a revered part of the Southern “aristocracy.” The Compson children either escape the South, dream of escaping, or else feel so obsessed with the past and the mistakes haunting it that they’re forever trapped in it and can’t go forward.

One major element that modern readers should appreciate is how brutally honest Faulkner depicts his characters and their emotional states. I feel that many other books from this time period tend to sugarcoat characters and the social issues they deal with.

In The Sound and the Fury, though, Faulkner gives readers the ultimate dysfunctional family long before such a concept was in common parlance. Premarital sex and raising a child out of wedlock are two other instances of Faulkner telling it like it is. Even in extreme cases such as incest and suicide, where a lesser author would either shy away from these topics or make them melodramatic, Faulkner lets them add flavor to and overwhelm his characters but keeps his own story intact.

As mentioned earlier, this novel’s title takes its name from a soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth in which King Macbeth laments that life is nothing but a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” With astonishing writing that defies every convention I’d seen before in literature, Faulkner gives ample evidence that each narrator could be the “idiot,” including the third-person section, seeing as how crazy the world can be.

But while the soliloquy claims life has no meaning, Faulkner packs in so much emotion into every sentence–in the stream-of-conscious portion told by the suicidal Quentin Compson, it’s literally every word and syllable–that even if his novel doesn’t make much sense, it’s such an immersive experience that the reader doesn’t really care.

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