Wise Blood – A review (of sorts)

By Lee Cross

I was gifted Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood for Christmas; and like all presents from loved ones, I immediately came to cherish the book and very much enjoyed the read (not simply due to the pleasure derived from the book itself, but also from the enjoyment of knowing that someone I hold in high regard felt it worthy of recommendation).

Firstly, if I’m trying to write a review, I guess I’d have to admit to never having heard of Flannery O’Connor before, nor of Wise Blood (neither the book or movie); and If I’m being entirely honest, I’m really not sure what to make of the book now I’ve read it.

On the one hand, the skill in the language used is both fabulous and consistent; as is the rather jumpy style in which the story unfolds. For the first few pages I struggled with the way one sentence (or perhaps paragraph) seemed to leave off at one point, with the next taking up the gauntlet a few beats further along the narrative than you’d naturally expect.

I’m struggling to put into words the effect (lacking the obvious talent of Flannery O’Connor) but the way I’d try to explain it to a person yet to the read the book is: – imagine you’re counting off numbers – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – and those numbers represent the way in which a story develops line-for-line.

While reading Wise Blood the structure develops much more like – 1, 2… …5, 6… …9, 10 – with the minds eye left to fill in the missing beats, with its own unique visual imagery.

Once I got used the pattern, it was really enjoyable and an absolute testament to the skill of the writer, that the structure and pacing remained consistent throughout the entire book.

I’m honestly not sure if the particular style of writing could be maintained over a longer novel (Wise Blood is only 160 pages), with Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, which is certainly exceptional,being a fair example of the difficulties in writing in such an unusual way over a much more significant page-count.

I suppose it’s Ironic, but I actually think the shorter page-count is Wise Blood’s particular weakness. I found the description of many of the characters underdone (perhaps all – now I think on it with the benefit of hindsight), as were those of the places and locations in which the story is set.

Wise Blood felt like a book that required a certain degree of inherent knowledge, with regards to the depression-era American South and it quirks of language and character, to be fully appreciated. 

As a self-schooled reader and ex-pat Brit living in Ireland,  I can relate to the ideas of the depression-era (when isn’t it, when you grow up in modest council housing, reliant on income support)  but I couldn’t populate those thoughts into the people and places of a culture to which I have no true frame of reference.

My criticisms of Wise Blood are those of a foolish carpet cleaner though, picking threads from a tapestry that he doesn’t fully understand the true beauty of.

As I mentioned, the writing is superb,  magical really in its effect; with the subject matter deep and meaningful, relatable on so many levels and truly worthy of serious thought (even if you ultimately come to the conclusion that those thoughts are fit for dismissal).

Would I recommend Wise Blood to everyone? – Well, no, quite frankly I wouldn’t. It’s just not the sort of book that everyone would enjoy. There’s a certain type of mind (or reader) that would love this book, and to those I would recommend Flannery O’Conner as absolutely essential reading; and to readers who prefer their stories to come a little more easily off the page, I’d probably advise that they pass on Wise Blood .

Afterall, you’re never going to have enough time to read all the books you should.

[I’m not big into “Ratings” for novels, because half of the enjoyment in every book is dependent on the person doing the reading, as much as the work itself. But if pushed, I’d say Wise Blood is worthy of (8/10) from my own perspective; although I’d concede that it may barley rate a 4/10 on another readers scale – it’s just one of those polarising books I suspect]

[I’d be the first person to admit that I know far from everything about books, so if you have any thoughts feel free to hit me up on twitter.com/LCross137]

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