The Moviegoer portrays one week in the life of Jack ‘Binx’ Bolling in Louisiana during the week of Mardi Gras. Why Mardi Gras week? There are vague references to Mardi Gras, but the carnival celebrations have nothing to do with the story. In fact, Binx leaves town for a few days on a business trip at the height of the festivities.
I have no idea what this book was about. A war veteran suffering post traumatic stress disorder? A love story? A story about a dysfunctional family? A novel of nostalgia for old movies and southern tradition? If you read the inside cover, consumer reviews, and professional book critic’s comments, you will invariably be told it is about existentialism. Perhaps that is so, but Walker Percy did not do a very good job selling me on that theme.
With reference to the title, Binx finds most of his pleasure in watching movies… then later in public, self-consciously emulates the movie stars, striking a pose of his favorite heroic character as though he has no real personality of his own. But that does little to expand on the existentialism theme. The meaning of life is just a random thought now and then as Binx goes about his daily business. Whatever Binx’s problem is, he is not a likable character. He is sullen and humorless, dull and self absorbed. He does not enjoy the company of other people and what characteristics he does have are vague and contradictory. He’s a loner, but friendly. He’s kind, but thinks nasty things about most people. He is bored by other people, but is boring himself. He is inflexible, intolerant, and seems implacable, yet impulsively gives in to his mother and aunt when they suggest a career change – which is very confusing because his work as a stock broker is the one area of his life where he seems comfortable and happy.
And that is one of the problems of the novel. Our main character does not seem like a real person. And don’t try to tell me that was intentional and part of the existentialist theme. Read some of Dostoevsky’s novels like Notes From the Underground, or Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, or Sartre’s Nausea. The philosophical theory of Existentialism does not suggest a lack of personality. Walker Percy just seemed to lack the talent to completely express Binx’s feelings, or explain his actions.
Binx mentions several times in an abstract way that he is “searching” for meaning, but abandons that halfway through the story. In a glib afterthought… in the epilogue, Binx sums up his mystical search, “I have not the inclination to say much on the subject. For one thing, I have not the authority, as the great Danish philopopher declared, to speak of such matters in any way other than the edifying. For another thing, It is not open to me even to be edifying, since the time is later than his, much too late to edify or do much of anything except plant a foot in the right place as the opportunity presents itself – if indeed asskicking is properly distinguished from the edification.” (Pg 237) Could someone explain to me exactly what that is supposed to mean? Does anyone really talk like that?
And finally, as if that isn’t enough, the plot has little depth, lacks focus, and is scant in details. There is little character development, and the dialogue is embarrassingly stilted and fake. I just don’t see the merits of this novel. It was a chore to finish and in my opinion it was not worthy of the National Book Award in1961. And I seriously doubt it would have made No. 60 on the Modern Library list of best 100 novels if Modern Library also included novels originally written in a foreign language…. like Dostoevsky, Sartre and Kafka. Furthermore, the content is passe’ and though existentialism is thriving and of relevant interest, this novel is not a good representative of that philosophy – or in my opinion – of anything else. The Moviegoer has exhausted it’s shelf life… in my library anyway.
Rated 1 Star.
I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Book rated 1, I seldom finish. Books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.