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The Moviegoer (1961)
by Walker Percy
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Hypnotic story about malaise and meaning in an age of science and reason. New Orleans details made it especially compelling to me.
This short book was actually a very long book about a loser misogynist 30 year old who does absolutely nothing and complains about it constantly. (Ok, so it's something between a coming of age novel and a mid-life crisis novel about a wealthy-class New Orleans man who is unhappy and wants more from life. He goes on various mild escapades with several women but there's no real plot whatsoever.)
That said, the writing is fantastic: very atmospheric and perfectly capturing New Orleans and also Chicago. The writer is also very observant and astutely describes several phenomenon that make the novel almost worth reading. Hart to believe this won the National Book Award, but maybe it just hasn't aged well?
It’s hard to get terribly excited about a book where the main character, John Bickerson “Binx” Bolling, talks about malaise throughout the book. Binx is 29 and lives in a basement apartment in Gentilly, a suburb of New Orleans. His main activities are working as a stockbroker, going to the movies, and pursuing his secretaries for sex. The writing is strong, but the book follows a character who can only be briefly satisfied, then sinks back into a morass of malaise. He is constantly searching for meaning in life, but not finding much of anything. His great-aunt Emily tries to steer him in a positive direction, while her stepdaughter, Kate, contemplates suicide.
Here’s an example of Binx’s inner dialogue: “What is malaise? you ask. The malaise is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo’s ghost.”
What I liked:
- The writing is eloquent
- The sense of place is vivid – it is easy to picture New Orleans in 1954
- Emily’s speech near the end says what I have been thinking throughout the book
What I disliked:
- It is very difficult to feel much empathy for Binx due to his self-centeredness, racism, sexism, and lack of appreciation for his privileged life
- There is little to no plot – I typically enjoy character-driven novels, but I need at least a tiny bit of storyline to hold everything together
- There is no natural flow to the story – it feels like a disjointed series of memories and musings
This book won the National (US) Book Award for Fiction in 1962. If you like philosophical stories about existential angst, you may like it more than I did. It is well-written but rather dreary.
Loved the New Orleans setting...authentic. A little too high-brow for me....philosophical with some amusing parts
Ironic but not cynical, complex without being abstruse, hopeful without sentimentality.
Belongs to Publisher Series
Bibliothek Suhrkamp (903)
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In this National Book Award-winning novel, a young man, torn between the forces of tradition and change, searches for meaning in postwar America. On the cusp of his thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is a lost soul. A stockbroker and member of an established New Orleans family, Binx's one escape is the movie theater that transports him from the falseness of his life. With Mardi Gras in full swing, Binx, along with his cousin Kate, sets out to find his true purpose amid the excesses of the carnival that surrounds him. Buoyant yet powerful, The Moviegoer is a poignant indictment of modern values, and an unforgettable story of a week that will change two lives forever. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Walker Percy including rare photos from the author's estate.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999