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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - various thoughts


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  • 2 weeks later...

A very good read, even if depressing and down beat. A very accomplished book for someone in their early twenties. McCullers seems to have drawn on her own aspirations when creating the character of Mick but putting her in a setting of abject poverty as opposed to her own circumstances. Singer, Blount, Copeland, Brannon and the rest of the cast and the setting were so well observed it's hard to fathom where her understanding emerges from. The story gives much pause for thought on the nature of isolation and loneliness, do we deliberately seek it out, is it embedded in our nature, can we break the barriers and save ourselves?

Having finished the book I read the introduction by Kasia Boddy. I regret doing that now, for me it over analysed what had been a very thought provoking book, it took the edge off, and interfered with my personal thoughts. I'll be more careful in the future!

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Good thing I didn't have an introduction in my edition, then. I don't like them much anyway. Same as you, I was quite surprised how someone that young could have written a book like that.

I've had this book on my TBR list for ages, the title just fascinated me. And it is a good title for a good book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Yes, it is sad but there is so much to think about, so many characters that you can follow. And even though there is a lot of despair, there also is a lot of hope in there, don't you think? Maybe her young age made that shine through?

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I agree with you Momo, I was certainly left with an element of hope. I think the young Mick balances out the older characters and you are left with the feeling that just maybe, she will turn her life around and do something about her aspirations.

 

I did learn a few things from the introduction, but on the whole it reminded me of those awful exam type questions we get with our library book group read. Thankfully we usually skip the most absurd of them and enjoy chatting about the book instead.

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Exactly. I have given up reading introductions, they usually contain spoilers. Even if it is a classic, that doesn't mean someone doesn't read it for the first time and doesn't want to know that a certain character dies or another one marries etc.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've read just the first two chapters so far. Another vote for the language: it feels like it says a lot, but still has a lot of space around it. Sparse, I suppose you could say.

 

The characters are starting to come into view, especially Biff, after the long night described in chapter two.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Without reading any of the above comments, or the introduction in the book, because I want to 'discover' this story with my own eyes, I just wanted to say that I am about two-thirds through and am thoroughly enjoying the read. Such beautiful, thoughtful and insightful language. I'm not even sure I want it to end!

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Sadly, I've finished reading the book. Yes, it was quite sad in places and I am so sorry that I have nothing more of it to read.

 

Having now read through the comments I am glad I didn't read the Introduction. Having seen your reaction to it Cassie, I don't think I will bother to read it now - although I had started to read it last night.

 

Like others, I loved the prose, the deeply drawn characters and the slow way things evolved. For me it added to the feelings of the states of mind and the weather.

 

In fact the weather seems to appear quite a lot in the book. McCullers seems to use it as another character for me. You could almost feel the intense heat, the awfulness of the continual rain.

 

I cannot remember who suggested this book, but would like to say a big thank you. I would never have picked this book up. I don't like the cover on my Penguin Classic edition and neither the title nor the author's name seemed encouraging. Oh, how wrong a reader can be.

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Not for me, I'm afraid. Characters simplistic, language simple and deadly monotonous. My favourite character is the still silent centre who talks with his hands - though he's obviously set up as a 'goody' and will help everyone. I just longed for a real narrator, hating the quasi-internal monologues of one word sentences, the 'prose' of each 'speaker' often like that of many others in this collections of lonely hunters. It's not only John Singer who's struggling with language but the author herself. Give me some well-muscled prose for a change.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

 

Carson McCullers’ debut novel continues to thrill readers, at least according to reviewers on Amazon, but I found this naive, simplistic and sentimental tract a bit of a bore. I totally agree with the Dubai Reader when she says ‘the plot is slow, tediously slow at times and I couldn’t help but wonder what the point was to all these people wandering in and out of Singer’s room.’ Singer, by the way, is the deaf mute who listens to all the other carefully selected victims oppressed by society: a drunken labour agitator, a tomboy who dreams of getting a piano, a very observant cafe owner and an idealistic black doctor. The point is that only Singer listens, listens to all their troubles on behalf of the reader, who is expected to empathise.

 

‘The book makes for excellent discussion,’ the same reader concedes, but is that the main aim of reading a novel? I read a novel in the first place to engage with the protagonist, to get inside the skull of another consciousness, to understand how it feels to be him or her. I do not want a novel that bores me with big issues, that presents types, counters to be moved around on a chess board: the handicapped, the drunk, the idealist, the informant, the outcast. McCullers picks her types and then pushes them into situations. They are not interesting as persons in their own right.

 

Much of the gushing response to this novel seems to derive from the author’s ‘wonderful’ writing, but not one of the reviewers on Amazon quotes a line from the book’s banal and dreary prose. Another reader admits to not ‘feeling any empathy towards any of the characters.’ Exactly! And why? Because the naivety of the young author is revealed in her simplistic internal monologues. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they all ‘talk’ alike (Blount is given some remarkably cogent – but most unlikely – drink-inspired speeches). But on the whole both the language and the acts of all four major characters are stilted (Singer’s hands always in his pockets, Copeland always discreetly spitting into his handkerchief - that's them tagged!).

 

McCullers’s prose for the most part is undistinguished and juvenile and I feel it would be better had she retained her naive voice, for when she seeks to sway the reader she employs a ludicrously unconvincing bombast. Thus Biff, the good drunkard: ‘in a swift radiance of illumination ... saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valour. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labour and of those who – one word – love. His soul expanded. For in him he felt a warning, a shaft of terror. Between the two worlds he was suspended....The left eye delved narrowly into the past while the right eye gazed wise and affrighted into the future.’ Biff here is so obviously a spokesman for the author. You’d better believe it, but sadly I didn’t. I didn’t trust the teller or the tale.

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I agree, tagesmann. Some books we can only read for pleasure and there is not much to talk about. Others might seem tedious or hard to read but they generate the best discussions. I usually prefer the latter because it makes you enjoy a book even more. We all have read a book for a discussion we didn't much ilke but were happy to have read in the end. In all my book club years there are only a few I wouldn't have read if I'd known in advance how horrible they would be.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've just finished. What a wonderful book, despite the bleak ending.

 

 

Following the sudden brutal death of Singer, it's hard to imagine an even darker turn. But Mick ending up working a dead-end job that she hates and getting in return, not a piano, but to take over someone's hire purchase payments on a radio - I think that manages to just about sum up the weary hopelessness of modern life.

(Blount is given some remarkably cogent – but most unlikely – drink-inspired speeches)
True, those speeches don't sound like someone who is really worse for wear from drink. On the other hand, I wonder if that's not what Blount was hearing? I have in my younger days (allegedly) been known to wax lyrical on profound subjects after taking a drink or two. Except, it didn't sound too lyrical, or even sensible, to those listening...but in my head, what oratory! ;-)

 

language simple and deadly monotonous
Reflects the deadly monotonous nature of life perhaps?

 

I cannot remember who suggested this book, but would like to say a big thank you. I would never have picked this book up.
Agreed!
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  • 1 month later...
  • 3 years later...

I've just finished reading this and thorougly enjoyed it.  I made a conscious decision not to rush through it so that I could savour it. What an accomplished novel for a 23 year old!

 

The prose was amazing and the characters, I felt, were well drawn and how unusual to use a deaf/mute as a central figure. Life in the deep south during, I got the impression, the depression.

 

Fantastic!

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  • 1 month later...

A superb exploration of loneliness and the roles we are forced to play.

The book revolves around a deaf/mute named John Singer. After his friend (also a deaf/mute) is put into an institution, Singer moves into a new room where, slowly but surely, four characters come to view him as a kind of spiritual leader. They go to him to tell of their woes, their frustrations, their dreams. Because he can't speak, he is forced into the role of listener (whether her wants to be or not) and they quickly transform him into a blank canvas for their worldview. Unbeknownst to them, however, Singer also has a life. He too requires a figure in his life whom can give meaning to his loneliness (this being his deaf/mute friend). That Singer has his own life never occurs to them. He has been unpersoned by them in their desire for him to have the answers.

The four of them begin to visit him on a regular basis. First, there is Biff the café owner who represents the middle-class view. Then Jake Blount, the working-class alcoholic. Then Dr. Copeland, the African American idealist. And finally, Mick, a young girl who dreams of being a musician but who is inevitably forced into conforming towards a more conventional role as a woman.

Each of these people are oppressed by the role they must play in life. Blount and Copeland seek answers in a simplistic and utopian form of Marxism. Mick in romantic ideals and Biff, the most important character in my opinion, in hoping for a better tomorrow.

The writing is wonderful, full of fluid and detached prose which works perfectly (despite often not being my cup of tea). McCullers has a great gift for telling a character's story whilst simultaneously placing you in another moment. She can switch between the two with ease. The narrative flows nicely and slowly builds a realistic world. At no point does she throw in an affair or a murder. The book essentially has no plot (my preferred type) and simply tells a self-contained story of lonely people looking to escape the chains that life has put them in.

I interpreted the ending as ultimately pessimistic though. It ends with Mick showing signs of slowly conforming to her role as a socially acceptable female. She now wears earrings, has embraced the 9 to 5, and is moving away from her tomboy persona. Some may view this as a positive (that she is blossoming) but I saw it as Mick succumbing to the social norms, to the daily grind.

Because, eventually, we all do.

A fantastic debut novel. Highly recommended.

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