Quentin Compson, preparing to drown himself, is remembering when his nihilistic father gave him an heirloom watch. The words immediately preceding Phillips's epigraph are: I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.
Faulkner may have known we can't escape time, but he did a great deal of evasive manoeuvring.
by Jayne Anne Phillips
The Sound and the Fury plays temporal games involving flashbacks, stream of consciousness, fractured storylines and competing perspectives. Jayne Anne Phillips does less shadow-boxing and the result is considerably more accessible than Faulkner's book. Both are told via the alternating viewpoints of four members of an extended southern family, one of whom is deemed an "idiot" by most around him, but who understands more than they think or he can communicate.
Both books have disjointed plots hingeing on a woman's sexual coming of age; both concern the bonds of familial love; both contain a suicide that is pivotal and strangely inconsequential. It is about Big Themes: It aspires to poetry and to jazz, an ambition that will probably discourage more readers than it attracts. But at its best, this is a moving meditation on the redemptive power of family and love, a sometimes grim story that transcends its own bleakness to reclaim the hope and desire that Faulkner abjured.
Phillips's story spans three days in late July, with a quasi-epilogue taking place another three days later, but its trick is that those six days themselves bridge nine years, as the tale alternates between the end of July and the same dates exactly nine years later. The idea of time as a bridge and a tunnel provides the novel's architecture and its leitmotif.
Lark and Termite Summary
As it opens, Corporal Leavitt is in Korea, remembering the pregnant wife he has left. A young jazz trumpeter, he has fallen madly in love with a torch singer called Lola, whose somewhat mysterious past includes having a daughter, Lark, whom she has sent back to West Virginia to be raised by her older sister, Nonie.
Trying to shepherd Korean civilians to safety, Leavitt stops to assist a young girl who is struggling to help both an old woman and a young blind boy. American forces, believing there are insurgents among the refugees, begin strafing the crowd and Leavitt is hit by friendly fire.
He spends three days dying in a dark tunnel under a railway bridge, trying to protect the girl and her brother, remembering his passion for Lola, convinced that she is in labour as he dies. While she parcels the narrative between five central consciousnesses, the only one to be fully differentiated is that of Robert.
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips - review - Telegraph
In a virtuosic passage, Phillips describes his encounter with a column of South Korean refugees caught in friendly fire when US soldiers mistake the ricochet from their own rifles for enemy retaliation. Robert helps a young girl, her blind brother and elderly aunt to the relative safety of a tunnel. The girl then looks after him when he is shot. In some unexplained way, the relationship between the girl and her brother is echoed in that of Lark and Termite. Nine years on, the severely handicapped boy is being cared for by an alternative family: Moreover, she too often reduces Termite to a mere literary device as he records long conversations about such adult topics as menstruation and sex.
Phillips has previously written about adolescent relationships in Shelter and the tensions between mothers and children in MotherKind.
Both those novels were far more coherent than Lark and Termite , which contains several impenetrable and perplexing mystical episodes. Likewise, the enigmatic social worker Mr Stamble, visible to some of the characters but not to others, serves no discernible purpose. Get the best at Telegraph Puzzles. A collection of the best contributions and reports from the Telegraph focussing on the key events, decisions and moments in Churchill's life.