on June 3, 2001
I must agree that, at times, the experience of reading _A Fable_ is much like feeling one's way through a very dark tunnel. However, there is indeed a light at the end of that tunnel; as with many of Faulkner's works, the individual stories that make up the novel dont come together until the last hundred or so pages. It takes a very patient reader to glean the important details from the beginning and middle of the novel, and to remember those details when they emerge again later in the book. One must also be fairly well-acquainted with Christ's passion in order for a true understanding of the correlation to reveal itself (which, in many places, it didn't for me). Contrary to the book's selling-points, Faulkner is not merely retyping the Christ story in _A Fable_. He's updating a myth (or "fable," if you will), and using his narration to describe humanity's condition in mid-century (cf. many paragraphs w/ 1950 Nobel Prize speech). This is a long, tedious, and fanatically detailled narrative, but a great novel that pays off with a terrific closing 50 pages for the patient reader. Both the new and the acquainted should be prepared for Faulkner at his most brilliant and difficult.
on February 17, 2012
William Faulkner considers A Fable his masterpiece. It won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 (one of only a handful of books to win both in the same year). These accolades, however, have not led to widespread acclaim or longevity for the novel, and for years it was relegated to afterthought status, deemed "minor" Faulkner, and available only as a cheap, hard to read paperback or as a part of an expensive anthology.
As Faulkner is my favorite writer, and as I am, by nature, a completist, I read A Fable (a library copy that was easier to read than the pulp paperback) a few years back, despite the warnings that it was difficult - even impossible -to read, despite the cautions that slogging through it was not worth the effort...and I loved it.
Now that Vintage International has re-released it (along with most of Faulkner's other novels) in a beautiful new paperback edition, I decided to reread it, apprehensive that I might have overestimated the novel's strengths, having been 26 when I first read it - but I had not. If anything, I found the novel even more brilliant and illuminating on second reading.
This is not your typical Faulkner (as another reviewer pointed out) but it is far from "minor" Faulkner. This book is, at times, difficult, but what Faulkner isn't? - and who would even consider reading any Faulkner if they didn't want to be challenged? And, when compared to some of his other masterworks (The Sound and the Fury or Absalom, Absalom! for example) it is actually a quick, surprisingly easy read.
A Fable has much in common with the aforementioned Absalom, Absalom! in that it focuses more on the human condition and the various aspects of human nature than on character-driven narrative. The characters here, as in Absalom, Absalom! are allegorical representations of diverse facets of humanity, playing out, in their myriad interactions, the eternal struggles we have faced for millennia (the endeavoring for peace in uncertain times, the concepts of forgiveness, and bravery, and heroism, and love, the striving to find meaning and redemption in the world). The lack of traditional characterization in no way undermines A Fable's emotional impact, for we can see, as a result, expressions of ourselves - and our world and history - within these characters.
While A Fable essentially tells (allegorically) the story of Christ and his Apostles, culminating in his "crucifixion" and eventual "resurrection" in the French trenches of World War I, it is not really a religious novel; it never gets bogged down in religious theology, never seems heavy-handed, never becomes either preachy or blasphemous. So too with its anti-war themes: it makes its case by focusing on war as a curse of mankind (and a product of our species' ongoing internal conflict), not by politicizing it or proselytizing upon it. As a result, A Fable achieves a universality found only in the best works of literature, speaking to that that is good - and not so good - in all of us.
The rewards of reading this book cannot be overstated: this is vast, inspired, passionate and virtuosic writing. (Consider the following description: "Her face [was] quite empty for the moment but with something incipient and tranquilly promising about it like a clean though not-yet-lighted lamp on the kitchen bureau.") A Fable is Faulkner at his best, and that is really saying something. Hopefully, now that Vintage International has brought it out in an edition worthy of its merits, it will continue to receive, on a larger and larger scale, the attention and commendation that is deserves. For A Fable is not just a Faulkner masterpiece; it is a literary masterpiece, a masterpiece of all time.
on January 5, 2011
At nine o'clock one morning in the spring of 1918, a regiment of the French army - every man below the rank of sergeant - refuses to take part in a futile assault on the German position. Strangely, the German line opposite fails to take advantage of the situation with a counter-attack, and by noon that day no shots are fired along the entire French line. By three o'clock in the afternoon, the entire western front has fallen silent. It emerges that a saintly French corporal, together with his twelve apostles, has been making the rounds of the Allied forces (and apparently the German forces too) spreading by word and deed a gospel of non-violence and universal brotherhood. The troops, it seems, have understood that they can stop the killing simply by laying down their arms. Naturally, this is anathema to the military hierarchies on both sides, who (tipped off by the Judas among the disciples) are already making covert plans to resume hostilities. The generals, after all, have a living to make and a war to run.
"A Fable" is an allegorical novel about the conflicting impulses that exist within each one of us. The French corporal represents man's impulse towards unconditional love and brotherhood; or, to put it another way, he's the "champion of an esoteric realm of man's baseless hopes and his infinite capacity - no: passion - for unfact". Like Jesus, the corporal holds out the light of selfless love to humanity, but he's doomed to suffer the consequences. For within every man, too, lives the desire to get on in the world, an egotism which produces conflict, wars and armies. This impulse - represented in the novel by supreme Allied general, who is the corporal's father and the author of the quote above - will always conquer in the world of brute facts, will always prevail, but the example that Christ and Faulkner's corporal offer to humanity can never be extinguished. "I'm not going to die," says one of the corporal's disciples at the end of the book. "Never."
"A Fable" is a difficult, audacious and profound book. If complex meditations on the human condition are your idea of a good time, give this one a try.
on March 6, 2015
This is a very challenging, but rewarding read. Faulkner, in his usual way, creates a world that presents serious philosophical and religious themes in an attempt to make us all think deeply about our moral life on earth He drives to the raw bone in his exploration of our human nature and presents a dialectic that transcends time and historical period. So if you are expecting a novel about WWI, you will be disappointed. My favorite part of the novel, ironically, is the chapter that seemingly is misplaced because it does not take place in WWI ---- the chapter about the race horse. What a powerful part of the novel---- unforgetable! And the link to the rest of the novel is unique, penetrating and transcendent. It really made me think about the choices we have in life. I am not sure if this is Faulkner's best work, as I am a huge fan of As I Lay Dying and Absalom Absalom, but it is definitely worth the read and worth the time. Don't give up, just keep reading and it will begin to pull you deep into your soul and pose profound questions that each and everyone of us must answer for ourselves. In that sense, it is a very deeply religious novel. If only going to church could be as cleansing as reading this book. Stay the course -- the last 100 pages will leave you pondering your humanity in a way you have never done before.
on March 27, 2014
As I read William Faulkner's A Fable I kept thinking to myself, "This should be a masterpiece, so why don't I feel like I'm reading one?" The basic story is simple. A French regiment on the Western Front in the last year of the First World War refuses to "go over the top" to make a routine doomed charge against the German line, and the Germans, instead of taking advantage of the disruption in discipline, refuse to counterattack. Naturally, general staffs on both sides are very concerned. Eventually, the source of the passive mutiny is traced to a mysterious corporal and his 12 followers who have spread a message of peace and brotherhood across both sides. The men are arrested and tried while the generals on both sides try to figure out a way to restore order and get the hostilities restarted.
Yes, the parallel with Jesus is very deliberate and in fact, A Fable is the most target rich environment for new Testament allusion hunting since Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, published 14 years earlier. But one thing Greene's work had that Faulkner's lacks is soul. The reader cares about Greene's whiskey priest and gets emotionally involved in his story. In A Fable, the characters are all abstractions mouthing speeches that are interchangeable. There's philosophical drama but no human drama.
This is not a slam at Faulkner's style. His brilliant Absalom Absalom was also stylistically difficult, but the characters had flesh and blood and the story was about human failings and foibles on a tragic scale. The classic pity and fear that Aristotle suggests is the proper audience reaction to great drama drips from the pages as the story of the fall of the house of Sutpen unfolds. By the end, the reader is wrung out by the revelations and their tragic consequences.
A Fable tries in part to repeat Absalom's basic formula in using a classical text as the template for a story set in more modern times. In Absalom it was the Oresteia and in A Fable it is the New Testament. This is an intriguing approach and Faulkner exploits it to excruciating lengths, in fact, to the point where the larger story is swamped by a tide of verbiage and detail, as are the characters. In the end, the story is so denatured, so bloodless that it ends up reading like a graduate thesis in philosophy.
Reading Faulkner in chronological order as I make my way through the English language literature of the 20th century, i'm struck by just how much trouble he had following up his string of masterpieces of the late 20s and early to mid 30s, culminating in Absalom Absalom, to me the greatest of all American novels, in 1936. What followed were misfires (The Wild Palms, Intruder in the Dust), stitch-together jobs of short stories of varying quality masquerading as novels (The Unvanquished, The Hamlet, Go Down Moses) and failed experiments (Requiem for a Nun). A Fable was clearly an attempt to recapture the glory of the early years. Faulkner thought he succeeded, calling A Fable his masterpiece. Few would agree. I certainly don't.
on August 23, 1998
It seems every modernist attempted to write a great work concerning the great war (except fitzgerald, who didnt get to go himself). Faulkner's attempt may be second only to Hemingway's "A Farwell to Arms." "A Fable" is classic, which won the pulitzer prize,has long been overlooked simply because it represents a change from Faulkner'susual subject matter. In reality though, it may be his second greatest work behind "the sound and the fury." THis work is a brillian anti-war novel that looks at wars affects both on soldiers and civilians, and even on religion. A must read for any fan of Faulkner or modernism.
on February 27, 2014
If Faulkner novels like As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury aren't your style, try this novel. It is much easier to read and doesn't require an additional study guide to figure out what is going on in the story.
on November 26, 2013
A Fable was a National Book Award recipient and is a typical overwrought account of a French mutiny in World War I. It is also a veiled fable of the Passion of Christ. However, there are some readable nuggets of tales within the novel, including a three-legged racehorse and its owners, some exciting air battles, the three women who travel far for the fate of the Christ-like figure, the assigning of three American soldiers to execute a German officer who insists upon being executed from his front, the fatal decision of the Christ-figure to die when he could have had his freedom, the story of the one who is considered to be a Judas, the bizarre episode of French soldiers being sent out to bring back bodies from a devastated war zone (They trade one body for some wine) and then they return to retrieve the Christ figure's body for the three pleading women.A Fable is difficult to read but challenging. That is why one reads Faulkner--Right? Faulkner won several awards, including the National Book Award. In 1949 he received the Noble Prize for Literature.
on December 25, 2006
I am not entirely sure why this book recieved some of the lousy reviews it did. This book is brilliant, it requires more from the reader than passive reading, so if you are looking for a story you don't have to think about look elsewhere. Anyone familiar with post-Great War literature will find this book to be par for the course. Dos Passos's "Three Soldiers", comes easily to mind. Don't pay attention to the other reviews, this book won awards for a good reason. If you read the book and find yourself frustrated go back and reread sections. Literature is not always meant to be read in a passive state. This book requires active reading and should not be taken lightly. This book does carry a message about the horrors of war, but also our own individual responsibilty in allowing those horrors to go forward.
on January 7, 2014
This book, written in 1955, ten years after the close of the Second World War, is one of Faulkner's very best. Strangely enough, the scene of this book is World War One in France. In addition to an extended Christ parallel, with Christ's father being the commander of the French army, there are many witty and lenghty threads which come together at the end. There are also passages which, in their complexity, may strain the patience of some readers. But the journey is well worth it. Faulkner understood our world and the human condition at a level unrevealed in the work of any other American author.