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The Moviegoer (1961)

by Walker Percy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,704932,411 (3.64)1 / 117
Fiction. Literature. HTML:

In this National Book Awardâ??winning novel from a "brilliantly breathtaking writer," a young Southerner searches for meaning in the midst of Mardi Gras (The New York Times Book Review).
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.… (more)

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 Name that Book: Novel about guy who loves the cinema3 unread / 3kitchener_leslie, September 2011

» See also 117 mentions

English (91)  German (2)  All languages (93)
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
Like a heaping plate of comfort food for me. Also contains one of my favorite quotes in a novel: “Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals.” Hell yeah. But wait, there’s more.

Binx Bolling doesn’t seem to be having a bad time of it, a young man successfully managing an office of the family brokerage firm in 1959/1960 New Orleans, having a series of dalliances with his secretaries, and going to a lot of movies. Only unlike most of us, he has the knowledge that such things are merely an effort to keep the existential despair at bay at the forefront of his mind. He instinctually feels the quote from Kierkegaard that is the novel’s epigraph: “the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair”. Now he knows he is in despair and thus he is a bit better off by Kierkegaard’s reckoning, a step closer to the solution to it, but he is still a long way off a grounding of himself in religious faith. The forms and husk of religion are all around him of course, being plenty thick in the “Christ-haunted” but not “Christ-centered” South, as Flannery O’Connor memorably phrased it, but Kierkegaard too would have recognized the deadness of them. The best Binx can do is an awareness of “wonder” and a rejection of that which he feels too grossly ignores or obscures the wonder.

His state of despair and inadequate search for resolution to it are best recognized for what they are by his step-cousin Kate, who is often in the grip of a strong depression, who seems possibly bipolar. Like recognizes like, in a manner. She tells him, “You remind me of a prisoner in the death house who takes a wry pleasure in doing things like registering to vote. Come to think of it, all your gaiety and good spirits have the same death house quality. No thanks. I’ve had enough of your death house pranks”. She tells him, “It is possible, you know, that you are overlooking something, the most obvious thing of all. And you would not know it if you fell over it.” Not that she knows what it is either, rather she’s given up the possible search: “Don’t you worry. I’m not going to swallow all the pills at once. Losing hope is not so bad. There’s something worse: losing hope and hiding it from yourself.”

Binx, like Kate and Kierkegaard, understands the commonplace human tendency to hide our despair from ourselves, what he calls “sinking into everydayness”, even if the three of them (in the novel’s current moment at least) exist in pretty different places after similarly escaping it. Kierkegaard thinks he knows the answer. Kate thinks there is no answer. Binx, as befits a more modern day literary fiction hero, embraces uncertainty. Watching an apparently materially successful African-American man exiting church on Ash Wednesday, the ending day of the novel, ashes marked on forehead, he thinks
I watch him closely in the rear-view mirror. It is impossible to say why he is here. Is it part and parcel of the complex business of coming up in the world? Or is it because he believes that God himself is present here at the corner of Elysian Fields and Bons Enfants? Or is he here for both reasons: through some dim dazzling trick of grace, coming for the one and receiving the other as God’s own importunate bonus? It is impossible to say.
( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
Couldn't get into it ( )
  Jonathan5 | Feb 20, 2023 |
Hypnotic story about malaise and meaning in an age of science and reason. New Orleans details made it especially compelling to me.

AB ( )
  jammymammu | Jan 6, 2023 |
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? ( )
  technodiabla | Dec 27, 2022 |
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.
( )
1 vote Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
Ironic but not cynical, complex without being abstruse, hopeful without sentimentality.
 

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Percy, Walkerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Handke, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
... the specific character of

despair is precisely this: it

is unaware of being despair.

Søren Kierkegaard,

The Sickness Unto Death
Dedication
IN GRATITUDE TO W.A.P.
First words
This morning I got a note from my aunt asking me to come for lunch.
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Fiction. Literature. HTML:

In this National Book Awardâ??winning novel from a "brilliantly breathtaking writer," a young Southerner searches for meaning in the midst of Mardi Gras (The New York Times Book Review).
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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Legacy Library: Walker Percy

Walker Percy has a Legacy Library. Legacy libraries are the personal libraries of famous readers, entered by LibraryThing members from the Legacy Libraries group.

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See Walker Percy's author page.

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