BOOKS: a book that changed me

CHARLES FRAZIER on William Faulkner's 'The Hamlet'
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When did you first read it? In graduate school: it was a revelation because it's an extremely funny book. I hadn't found the comedy in Faulkner or really enjoyed his writing before, but we had a really engaging teacher and a small group , so it became a group-reading experience. The professor gave us time to read it at a pace that made sense, over a long period of time, which was unusual at graduate school, where we had to read so much under huge pressure. It gave me time to appreciate it for what it is. It was all my class wanted to talk about whether we were in class or in a bar.

Why did it strike you? The language of the book is just dense and marvellous and often hilarious. It is utterly uneconomic - it is the antithesis of minimalism - there's one bit where a guy rides up to the farm on a horse and it takes him two pages to get from the gate to the front door and nothing of any significance happens whatsoever. I'm not so fond of some of the more overblown, enormous Faulknerian sentences, full of Latinate words. The Hamlet is about an historical period in my part of the world, which really no one writes about, that transformation of the American South after the civil war into what it's become now, which is, in some ways, a banking and business centre. It's about the change from that old Southern ideal of the rich, cultured guy in a mansion running everything, to a situation where these lower-class people have risen up - a family's rise from abject poverty to pretty much owning a town over a period of decades. They are ignorant and uncultured in every way but they have this ferocious rapacity. It was a book that was just filled with delight. A delight in language, invention, character and situation on every page. It's something that I miss in books a lot. Like Dickens he worked so hard to give you that delight. For a Southern writer, Faulkner is like an obstacle. He's the figure that you have to come to grips with, either with admiration or hatred.

Have you re-read it? I re-read it six to seven years ago to see if it was as good as I remembered - it was such a group experience that I thought that maybe it wasn't that good - but I still liked it an awful lot.

! Charles Frazier's novel 'Cold Mountain' is published by Sceptre at pounds 6.99