Friday, 1 October 2010

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor was an American writer from the southern state of Georgia who wrote mostly short stories but she also wrote two novels including Wise Blood. Quite a lot of her stories are based in the south and contain elements of the grotesque and disturbing and have been described as 'Southern Gothic' but they also deal with moral and ethical issues as a result of her Roman Catholic faith. O’Connor was diagnosed with Lupus at a young age which eventually killed her and she wrote the majority of her work including her novels while battling with this disease.
Wise Blood has all these themes mentioned above and the result is a very strange book indeed.

The story opens with Hazel Motes, a man recently discharged from the Army, on the train to the fictional town of Taulkinham, Tennessee, where he's "...going to do some things I never have done before." Hazel has never been to Taulkinham and once he does get there and has sorted out his lodging, he goes about trying to start ‘the church without Christ’ by street preaching.

Allow me to give you a brief summery of ‘the church without Christ’. Hazel believes that he can be saved from evil by believing in nothing. If he has no soul to save then there is no such thing as sin and therefore he can do whatever the hell he likes. By avoiding sin this way he will get to meet Jesus (or something like that).Of course in doing this, Hazel just proves himself as a believer and other characters are used to argue different aspects of theology.

Other characters in the book include a preacher who may or may not have blinded himself with acid, his daughter who only believes in self-gratification and Hazel’s follower Enoch who is trying to find the new physical Jesus. As I say, it’s a strange strange book which brings in one grotesque character in after another and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it all.

I am glad I read it, the characters were all thought provoking and there was a large amount of black comedy throughout. However I don't think I really connected at all with the story and found the narrative quite strange and out of place in parts.

Would I recommend this? I am really not sure, this author has certainly intrigued me but this book will not leave you with a warm happy feeling at the end so it's up to you.

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess


  1. I didn't really know very much about Flannery O'Connor's life. So thanks for including into your review! I've been kind of intrigued by her and her short stories. I have Everything That Rises Must Converge on my shelf for awhile, but haven't gotten around to it..

  2. I liked Wise Blood quite a bit, but I really think O'Connor shines in the short story form. In fact, she's probably my favorite short story writer! I think her grotesque characters work better when you don't have to spend the length of a novel with them :)

  3. Clover - I'll be interested in what you think of Everything That Rises Must Converge, shes certainly interesting. I did hear that Wise Blood did contain elements of other short stories that she had written which might explain the disjointedness.

    Teresa - I might try her short stories, I didnt dislike it and I certainly wanted to keep reading!

  4. This sounds interesting, but like you said I am not sure if it is the sort of book I could "connect" with. But it is about religion!

  5. I read a few of Flannery Oconnors' stories in college classes but, although I keep meaning to read more by her I haven't yet. Although this book isn't a happy one, and sounds somewhat odd & disturbing, I'm definitely intrigued after reading your review.
    I was raised in a stricy Roman Catholic home & have many extended family members who are dysfunctional yet staunch church goers! And the reason why this book interests me!

    Thanks for an interesting review!
    ~ Amy

  6. irisonbooks - there are certainly religious aspects in there but they are not shown in a particulary good light (or maybe I missed the point completely) I suppose its about internal religious conflict maybe?

    Amy - because of your background you might find more meaning in the book than I did (I do have a religious backgound but not a Catholic one)Theres a whole bit in it for example where the daughter (who was born out of wedlock) of the preacher writes to a magazine agony aunt asking that since she is a bastard and is doomed stright to hell anyway, is it ok if she could neck boys since shes doomed anyway.