Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

Release Year: 1952
The Paperback edition I read published by Faber and Faber in 2008
Age group: Adult
Pages: 160

Description (from Goodreads):

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is a story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a "blind" street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawkes, Hazel Motes founds The Church of God Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with "wise blood," who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel's existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdoms gives us one of the most riveting characters in twentieth-century American fiction.

Flannery O'Connor's debut novel Wise Blood published in 1952 offered me a bit of a chance from YA literature, which is what I have been reading mainly for the past year or so. I'm one of those people who always keeps saying that I should read more classics, but that never really happens, and to be honest, I do not feel too bad about it. I don't think reading is something we should feel bad about - there are no right books to read, despite all these lists that circulate in the internet and magazines about the books you simply have to read before you turn 30, before you die, before you read anything else etc. Just read what feels good for you. Just read! That's the most important thing, at least for me.

I was a much bigger classics reader before I fell in love with YA. Once I noticed that my new university was offering an American literature reading course, I instantly got excited because I knew that it would not only give me study points, but it would also encourage me to read books out of my current comfort zone. After getting a list of authors and making an excursion to the library, Flannery O'Connor's debut was my first pick, mostly because it sounded so weird to me, and when it comes to classics, it almost seems like the weirder, the better.

I am not quite sure how to approach this review. I certainly feel like I cannot do it in the same way I do with my YA reviews. The thing is - with YA books I often look for characters I can relate with, stories that are realistic, stories that have a bit of romance or a really good friendship portrayal or, if I do read something else than contemporary, stories that really amaze me with their world building and their originality. I definitely did not relate with Wise Blood. For a lot of the time it feels more like a dream or a nightmare than something real. The characters are all quite difficult to approach and to like. But despite these factors, I think it was a pretty great novel. Weird, but certainly great.

One of the most tangible aspects of the novel is the highly disturbing religious themes it deals with. The main character of the novel, Hazel Motes, has been discharged from service in World World 2 after which he travels to the town of Taulkinham. He is from a religious background, but the horrors of the war have made him lose his religious beliefs and he is now questioning the concepts of salvation, original sin as well as the role of Jesus and what he, according to religion, did to save the sinners. Though Hazel states that he does not believe in anything and starts to preach antireligious thoughts, his attire, his thoughts and his actions tell another story. Essentially, much of the novel deals with Hazel's inner struggles of finding a way to understand his beliefs and religion. 

In addition to Hazel, the novel focuses on characters like Enoch, an eighteen year old young man with some serious mental issues. Enoch beliefs he is controlled by his blood and actually introduces the concept of "Wise Blood" to Hazel. Once the events of the novel start to unfold, the journeys of Hazel and Enoch entwine in more ways that one, occasionally in quite disturbing manner.

Wise Blood is quite a short novel, but it definitely is packed with a lot to discuss and interpret. I wanted to keep this review quite short since I need to put my thoughts together more before I actually start to work on my essay. In general, I found Wise Blood to be an entertaining, very weird, interestingly written piece of literature that I am very happy I ended picking up from the vast collection at the library. 

There's an 1979 film adaptation of the novel directed by John Huston that I will definitely check out at some point too!

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