on May 29, 2002
After I read this book I had no choice but to immediately consume Walker Percy's novels. Reading Lancelot was like having the top of my head blown off and surviving the experience more awake and alive than ever. In an era where no one is really sure what they believe anymore, Percy sets out an interesting test. If you discovered clear evidence of evil, what would that tell you about the existence of good and maybe even God? I strongly suggest you take this journey and pay very close attention to the parallel travels of the main character's confidant, a priest-psychologist who is himself in crisis. If you do so, the ending will make the hairs stand up on the back on your neck.
on January 29, 2001
This book is a conversation between Lancelot Lamar and Percival. Lancelot, once a member of New Orleans' landed gentry, is now confined to a mental institution. Percival is a priest who went to medical school, and has devoted his life to altruistic endeavors.
Lancelot was a "liberal" southern lawyer who validated his existence by working in civil rights litigation before a discovery that changed his life.
This discovery causes a great awakening. This theme of awakening is prominent in Percy's works. A character arrives at an existential moment in which he realizes that his life to this point has been as a dream: "Do you know what happened to me during the past twenty years? A gradual, ever so gradual, slipping away of my life into a kind of dream state in which finally I could not be sure that anything was happening at all. Perhaps nothing happened." As Lancelot retraces the events in this monologue, we watch the progress of his mental state, and his weighing of possible world views. His selection of a world view will determine his actions.
Another of Walker Percy's major literary themes is captured in an encounter between Lancelot and Elgin, a black MIT student. Lancelot mused, "Unlike him I had been unable to escape into the simple complexities of science. All he had to do was solve the mystery of the universe, which may be difficult but is not as difficult as living an ordinary life."
On another level, Lancelot is a southern white who has roiling feelings about women. His struggle to allow women to be sexual creatures is mirrored in his expressed feelings about his mother, then about his wife, Margot. The reader senses a that Lancelot's feelings toward women are a river of ambivalence. Curiously, this is similar to Pat Conroy's characters, whose southern white characters either lust after or endure their mother, depending on the moment.
If you like Walker Percy, you'll love this book. I do, and I recommend it.
on June 8, 1998
Well, I can't deny that this is a great book, but it kind of worries me that certain other reviewers seem to be taking Lancelot's statements at face value...I mean, come on, the guy is a pretty awful person. Percy takes considerable pains to distance himself from the narrator, giving his name to Lance's audience and double (Perceval) instead.
Not that that madness diminishes the book. Lancelot's rants (which comprise the whole novel) are brilliant, though clearly mad; and the flashback nature of the plot lets Percy drop plenty of hints that something horrible has happened without giving away what it was (always a fun technique). The format of the book is an extended monologue, with Lance speaking to a silent Perceval. Some of the reminders of Perceval's physical presence (when Lance offers him a chair, for example, or reacts to something Perceval has supposedly said) can grow irritating, but they do build up to a wonderul ending. The Perceval of the grail legend remains silent too long, but that's a mistake he's not about to make twice.
Walker Percy only has two or three subjects he ever considers important enough to write about, and some readers might be sick of them by now, but Lancelot's madness gives Percy an opportunity to exaggerate and warp his usual themes till they look new again.
on June 6, 1999
Walker Percy really tackles evil in this, perhaps, his finest novel. He let his demons take center stage, and the dark, brooding novel emerges for what it most certainly is, a stupendous moral examination of our culture. Lancelot is not his most widely read work, for I suspect, this very reason. One need only look at the recent tragedy in Littleton to see why. All the grief counselors and therapists attempt to explain the unexplainable. Unfortunately, since we have lost a moral speech, we can't call a spade a spade. Evil has disappeared from our lexicon and at grave cost. How appripos Percy has Lance mouth words typical of the novelist. You know he sympathizes with him-- in fact he is the sort of person Percy feared he might have become, if not for his faith, yet the moralist makes Lance the personification of pure evil. The priest-confessor, his quite solemnity hovering throughout the novel, harkens to Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, when Christ returned to view the modern world. The ideas here are so out of touch with our present Zeitgeist that most critics missed the central importance of this novel. One critic called it a brilliant "jeremiad." Lancelot is much more, and I pray the day comes when we recognize what Percy was saying.
on June 25, 2014
Percy's use of language is so wonderful, that I find myself indulging in his words. This particular novel, however, is more tell than show; consequently leading to some tediousness. Even so, I found myself intrigued by Lancelot's mental explorations. I was moved to the point where I made some notes on my Kindle; something I rarely do with fiction. I felt that the character was near to clarity and then he botched it, overcome by our modern disease of observing problems and then coming to entirely wrong conclusions about the causes of the problems. Case in point: Infidelity is a problem. Conclusion: Women are either to be used as whores or worshipped as virginal Southern Bells. I wonder if Percy really believed such nonsense or was this just the conclusions of his wayward character. Either way, I found myself rooting for the antagonists in this story.
on December 8, 2006
Percy's Lancelot draws on a thought from Kierkegaard that begins his book the Moviegoer (paraphasing), "The worst thing about being in despair is not knowing one is in despair." From his despair, Lancelot's anger and rage drive him on a quest for the Holy Grail of Evil that leads to ultimately great crimes. But, in his quest he discovers the truth about evil, that it is in fact a "nothing" because it exists only in relation to the good. However, the discovery of the "nothingness" of evil has grave consequences which Lancelot describes through much of the novel.
The dialgoue of Lancelot and Percival does a great job of showing that one's "character" is the sum total of his/her moral choices. Lancelot makes a choice for evil and reaps the consequences that spin him into moral chaos, while Percival (his friend the priest-psychiatrist) has chosen to follow the path of goodness. The book is a great comparison and contrast of the battle of good and evil that occurs in every one of us.
Walker Percy is an establishment in modern southern literature. His novels, while roving in plot, are firmly set explorations of time and place, of people's actions and reactions. "Lancelot" is a quick-paced, at-times absurd read through the mind of one man in an insane asylu: it is Percy at his wittiest and most unguarded.
The reader is drawn in immediately, beckoned by Lancelot's call to 'come into my cell', a statement made to a psychiatrist-priest, but reads as if directed at the reader. Lancelot begins by regaling his old friend with stories of their shared youths, before moving into the gaps where they lost touch with each other - his marriages and children, his famous house Belle Isle, and the most important, the reason why he is in the "nuthouse". Lancelot's narrataive shifts rapidly between times, one minute focused on his most recent wife Margot before shifting almost with no transition to his first wife. The core of the story lies with Lancelot's discovery that his youngest daughter is not his and that his wife is still cheating on him. With her gang of movie friends filming at Bell Isle, Lancelot tries to find the evidence he needs to prove that Margot is unfaithful to him, and takes the solution to that problem in his own hands.
Readers of Walker Percy may be most familiar with "The Moviegoer" or other more popular titles. They may be surprised by the frankness of "Lancelot", the blunt observations and fantasies of its main character, and how graphic some of those observations and thoughts are. Yet this seeming departure is in keeping with the story at hand and with Lancelot's character. "Lancelot" is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, with several laugh-out-loud moments, with a somewhat ambiguous ending that will leave readers wanting to know more.
on August 13, 1998
I can overlook that Percy basically stole Machado De Assis' "Don Casmurro," but only because the latter tackles such difficult issues, and is a VERY difficult read. And yet, Percy pulls it off. Just as we begin sympathizing with Lancelot, we're sprung forward again from our LAZ-E-BOY recliners and are reminded of the reality of his actions. I kinda wish Percy hadn't written the book in Second Person, as if WE were the therapist or something, but if THAT'S what it takes to reassure us that WE'RE not mad, so be it. A very uncomfortable, un-pretty, DISTURBING read -- worth the effort, but hard to recommend to anyone else.
on May 26, 1998
This belongs in the highest tier of American fiction. Only Walker Percy could have distilled this masterpiece from the rotting Southern gentry and the moral rot of the life-is-just-a-movie generation. This suspenseful, funny, mesmerizing, brutalizing novel is the Love Song of Violent American Death that no Tarantino, no Stone, has ever come close to matching -- or ever will, because filmmakers who push the buttons of love and death are among the problems, the diseases, that Percy's Lancelot challenges to the joust. Read this and you will understand -- and shiver to understand -- the world's crusades. And possibly join one.
on November 27, 2014
This book is once again an example of Percy' s beautiful prose that is a pleasure to read on every page. I call this one different from the others I've read because the protagonist finds himself nearly out of control, institutionalized, at the story's opening, while most of Percy' s protagonists carefully plan their every move. This book is also much more overtly sexual than his others in terms of literal description.
It is a story of a man, Lance, with an ambitious wife who moves from one relationship to another to achieve her goals. He allows himself to be used and marginalized into a pathetic routine of a role as the master of an old southern mansion, while his wife carves out a new career as a movie actress using the mansion as the setting for one of her films. He is jolted out of his half-drunken stupor when he discovers by accident that his seven year old daughter is not his, but was fathered by his wife's movie director. At that time of discovery, he does begin his careful planning of a way to resolve his messy predicament that results in the destruction of the mansion and the deaths of a number of his antagonists.
The story is actually told in flashback from Lance' s cell, using a real or imaginary alter ego, Percival (Percy?), who seems to play the role of a conscience. There is some question at the end of the story as to whether Lance's life will resume in a happy new chapter. This reader hopes that it will.