Wednesday, November 17, 2010

R holds forth on Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

Wise Blood: A NovelThis is the first contact, as it were, that I've had with the works of Flannery O'Connor. I believe the Southern Gothic genre, of which this is a quintessential example, is one that is uniquely linked to the culture and geography of its country of origin... which may serve to explain why I (a non-American) had never heard of this title until I came across it on Goodreads. (I suspect that, internationally, lists of "classic" English language novels tend to be biased against American literature in favour of British writers... but I digress.)

Anyway, I've heard Wise Blood described as a comic novel - but if you approach it anticipating a barrel of laughs, you'll probably be sorely disappointed. That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind; it hasn't necessarily failed as a humourous work. The thing is, the humour here is in the uneasy semi-reality of the scenes, with the characters doing outrageous things that you could almost imagine someone doing in real life, although the very thought of it remains deeply unnerving. Wise Blood is chockfull of genuinely weird stuff that strays to the farthest end of dark comedy. If it causes any laughter at all I can only imagine that it manifests very occasionally, and primarily in nervous, slightly horrified little giggles.

Beyond that, if I'm honest, I scarcely know what to think about it. In that case, you may wonder, why bother to attempt to review it at all? Well, there aren't many books that leave me as bewildered as Wise Blood did. Generally speaking, the books I've read can be broadly categorized into two distinct categories - Books I Liked or Books I Didn't Like. My bewilderment at this book belongs to a unique category of its own; I rarely read a book that I think I like, though I find the memory of it vaguely unsettling.

It's a showcase of the dark side of religion, an exhibition of individuals for which religion and penitence act as a conduit for madness. Basically it's just fantastically bleak and now, having given it 3.5 stars, I might go off and stare at a wall for a moment to clear my mind.

7 comments :

  1. I have A Good Man is Hard to Find by O'Connor here on my shelf! I really want to read it as I've heard such great things about this author! Great review!

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  2. I don't think I have heard about this author before but will have to check out the book.

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  3. I don't think I have heard about this author before but will have to check out the book.

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  4. I love those things about Flannery O'Connor--the bizarre reality, the unsettling picture she leaves you with. I always feel as if my brain has expanded a bit after reading her.

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  5. I love Flannery O'Connor. Her short stories are always fun and I love the way she portrays individuals. Jamie, A Good Man is Hard to Find is probably my favorite out of all her works!

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  6. I've been meaning to read more O'Connor: I've read some of her short stories and her collected letters (which was over 500 pages long! She was bit into correspondence). But I do shy away from the bleakness of her writing: I have to be prepared for it!

    If you're interested in reading more Southern Gothic stuff, do give Carson McCuller a go. :) And in the more contemporary realm, Daniel Wallace is wonderful (start anywhere but Ray in Reverse, imo)!

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  7. Flannery O'Connor is amazing. She's so darkly demented. The shorts A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Good Country People are sick and twisted but totally amazing. I'd recommend her work to anyone with eyes.

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