Sanctuary by William Faulkner – review

sanctuary william faulknerI hate this book.

This review will be completely biased and one sided. I’d also like to stress that this is purely opinion and not a review based on education or knowledge where I weigh in on things like cultural significance and literary technique. I simply think about shit I like and then compare it to that.

I tried really hard to like this book. I feel like if I don’t like all the books on this list then I’m an asshole and my opinion of myself deteriorates. Doubly so because this was written by the all-powerful Faulkner. No matter how hard I willed myself to squeeze out some kind of enjoyment, it just didn’t happen.

With that being said I will do my best to make sure the next few hundred words or so aren’t just derivatives of “Fuck this guy” and “Fuck this book”.


Rumour has it that Faulkner, frustrated that he didn’t make mountains of gold from As I Lay Dying or The Sound and The Fury, decided to write Sanctuary for the sole purpose of getting paid. He decided to write a book so sensational/shocking, and so jam-packed with loathsome and scandalous characters that he’d be able to turn a quick buck and get back to churning out books worthy of his skill (it should be noted however that close friends and colleagues have varying opinions on the subject). This, for the most part, describes an almost sure-fire way for me to joyfully flip through a few hundred pages. I like to see good people punished for no reason other than bad luck. I like to see bad people do bad things. I like hopelessness. I like despair. And this book has all of those in spades.

Sanctuary, simply put, is about 17 year-old Temple Drake, the daughter of an important local judge, a good-time girl known for getting herself into a little mischief. She gets in over her head when her gentleman caller, Gowan Stevens, a drunkard, takes her to a bootlegger’s house to buy whiskey. Once there he gets drunk, beaten up and abandons her the next morning, leaving her in the company of some very nefarious people. What Temple faces next (by way of an ear of corn for example) is truly horrifying and while that level of misery usually appeals to me (not that rape appeals to me specifically), Faulkner has a way of ruining the whole thing (solely my opinion).

This may not paint me in the best light but I hate Faulkner’s style. Everything just seems so lazy and relaxed, there’s no urgency in anything. It’s not just that it doesn’t enhance the plot for me it’s that it genuinely prevents me from enjoying it at all.

That being said I understand why it’s on the list. For a book this dark to be written by a major author at the time is pretty huge. This is quite clearly a precursor (but not necessarily a blueprint) to the noir that followed.

While I’ll probably never read anything else by Faulkner I can at least get some satisfaction that getting through Sanctuary bumps my intellectual credibility up a notch or two.


This is a part of the 200 noirs project. An attempt to read and review every book on Allan Guthrie’s Top 200 Noirs list. You can follow him on Twitter @200Noirs

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One Reply to “Sanctuary by William Faulkner – review”

  1. When my daughter was first born I read this aloud to her, just for the rhythm of the words. Of course, it occurred to me somewhere along the way that it was grossly inappropriate.

    Doesn’t seem to have hurt her much, though. Except she’s deathly afraid of corn.