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The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Posted by Sherry on 7/27/2008 in Adult Fiction, General |

Periodically blogging my determined attempt to finish and appreciate one of Eldest Daughter’s favorite books:

p. 58: My most insistent thought is that this book is one of the most boring tomes I’ve ever read. O.K., maybe The Old Man and the Sea ranks higher on the boring scale, unless you’re interested in deep sea fishing, but it had the advantage of being shorter than The Moviegoer. Moby Dick was much longer, and it was about fishing, but I’d rather be reading it.

p. 67: These people are not real:
An aunt who sends her nephew inspiring quotations from Marcus Aurelius? (Note: I later read that quotations from Marcus Aurelius were exactly the means of communication that Walker Percy’s rather eccentric uncle who raised him after his parents’ death used to inspire and relate to the young Mr. Percy.)

Said nephew, named Binx, who wanders through life with no goals, lots of odd philosophy, and no passion for anything. And he owns only one book, something called Arabia Deserta, surely symbolic of the desert that is modern life.

Kate, whose fiance dies in a car crash in which she is also injured, but she leaves the scene aand takes a bus home? O.K., maybe she’s in shock. But then she says that the bus trip home after the accident was the best afternoon of her entire life, or something like that. Is she crazy? (It turns out that she is.)

Nonsense. Not eccentricity, but nonsense. Eccentric nonsense can be fun, as in Wodehouse, but this stuff is pretentious. I can tell that the author is saying Something Serious about the Modern Malaise of Twentieth Century Man. And he’s communicating his message through the character of a bizarrely immature, self-centered, movie-obsessed, womanizing, bachelor stock broker. I can’t identify. Except maybe with the self-centered part.

p. 78: There are some ideas here, almost. Binx has a concept of a “vertical search” for meaning in which one can understand everything essential about everything except for one’s self, which is still “left over” at the end. Again, nonsense, there is plenty of mystery in this world that scientific analysis has not even begun to explain, but it is true that the self is the most mysterious and inexplicable of all.

p. 86: “For sometime now the impression has been growing on me that everyone is dead.”

Now I get it. This narrator, Binx Bolling, is nuts. But of course, he speaks truths in the midst of his madness. (Whoops, Eldest Daughter says I don’t get it at all. I’m Prufrock: “That is not it at all. That is not what I meant, at all.”)

p. 178: Almost finished. Deep sigh of relief. I can’t decide if Mr. Percy is trying to be profound, trying not to be profound, or trying to pretend he’s not trying to be profound. Whatever the case, the profundity eludes me.

p. 212: The End.
I have some questions:
Who is Rory? Rory Calhoun, the actor, maybe?

And I second Aunt Emily’s questions to Binx: What do you love? What do you live by? What do you think is the purpose of life—to go to the movies and dally with every girl that comes along?

After I finished the book and wrote the above notes, we discussed it at Eldest Daughter’s book club meeting and in the car on the way there. Eldest Daughter insists, and I have no reason to doubt her, that I just don’t understand the book at all. She also says that Walker Percy was a great fan of Kierkegaard, and that the philosophy and modern quandary in the book are based on the writings of Kierkegaard. I’ll have to take her word for it since I’ve never been able to make it through more than a page of Kierkegaard.

I did finish The Moviegoer, though, and I regard that as an accomplishment even if I did end up in a rather Prufrockish position. I didn’t “get” T.S. Eliot for a long time either. Maybe Percy will grow on me.

(Please forgive all the sentence fragment and incomplete phrases. I think they were somehow a response to the book and symbolic of something. Perhaps even profound.)

John Lienhard, Engines of Our Ingenuity, on Walker Percy and his search for a father figure. Interesting analysis.

8 Comments

  • Isn’t it odd how two people can have such opposing viewpoints on the same book?! My Dad and I share books all the time but recently he’s hated all the books I’ve given him to read … go figure. 🙂

  • Laura says:

    I read all of Walker Percy’s books when I was much younger. When I tried to reread them a few years ago, I found they did not do anything for me. I wonder if his novels are best read when one is young without as much life-experience, and before one has read a lot of good literature?

  • I read The Second Coming in college and The Thanatos Syndrome for a book discussion group years later. I honestly couldn’t appreciate either one, though I really tried–both professor and book discussion leader were passionate.

    So you make me feel better.

    🙂

    Jeanne

  • […] Here’s a counterpoint to this review. […]

  • Tips Photo says:

    I love to read but just couldn’t get into this book. But I am still plugging along just to finish it, maybe it will grow on me.

  • disgruntled says:

    As a college student I can say with utmost certainty that youth does nothing to assist in understanding this book. It did absolutely nothing for me either. I’m attempting to write a reflection paper on it and coming up very short.

  • […] like the beginning of a bad joke, and unfortunately that’s all I remember of the novel. The Moviegoer I read more recently, and according to Eldest Daughter herself, who is a fan, I just didn’t get it. I concur: I […]

  • Gambheyhey says:

    Interesting to read your post and all the comments above. I am a Chinese who first read it in 2007 when I spotted it in the hundreds of English books I purchased for my short-lived second-hand book dealing business. I was 25 back then. Now I am 33 and I must have read it about half a dozen times and I think I will still get plenty of fun reading it.

    3 years ago I began to translate it into Chinese, without being funded by any publisher. Just as a hobby. Now I am working on the 3rd draft.

    This book is one of my favourite. To some degree Jack Bolling is like the main character in The Stranger by Camus, cold, unmoved, indifferent, as people may call them. You don’t get a friend better than that. Or I don’t. I used to have one like them. I think that’s part of the reason that I translate the book.

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