Clock Without Hands by Carson McCullers, 1961

Like I told you last time, I have been very lazy with my reviewing lately so today, double treat.

First, Carson McCullers. I stumbled on this small novel at the library and remembered my last year in High School when my Advanced English teacher made us read The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe (all in English, I still have it, in its greenish blue Penguin edition, incredibly difficult to find in France, 20 something years ago). I don’t remember the story very well (which is my cue for an urgent rereading) but I remembered how much I loved it. It might have to do with my English teacher too, she was awesome.

This short novel has been written between 1951 and 1961 by the talented Carson McCullers. She was afflicted by a very painful and disabling disease, she had a very short and dramatic life (involving a suicide attempt, a husband who tried to make her follow him in a suicide  pact and who killed himself in a Paris hotel room after she refused. ). She also was Tennessee Williams’s friend and worked with him on the adaptation of one of her novels for theatre.

The Clock Without Hands starts with this powerful sentence : “Death is always the same, but each man dies in his own way. For J.T. Malone it began in such a simple ordinary way that for a time he confused the end of his life with the beginning of a new season” J.T. Malone is a 40 years old pharmacist who is suddenly diagnosed with leukaemia. At first, the reader thinks that the novel is about Malone’s death and his attempts to redeem his sins until the character of the Old Judge appears. He’s an 80 years old segregationist, nostalgic of the pre Secession War time, who thinks he’ll be able to turn back History. The Judge also has his personal tragedies to deal with. His own son  killed himself 17 years old ago and he’s now taking care of his grandson Jester. Jester soon takes some importance in the story, especially in his relationship with Sherman, a black man with blue eyes that the Judge hired as his assistant.

The plot thickens around those four men until the final catastrophe. In few pages, Carson McCullers deals with racism, death, family bounds, intergeneration relationships. For those character, who all have a very close bound with death the issue is how to interact with the living. Malone is trapped  in a loveless, humdrum marriage. The Old Judge has to deal with his son’s death guilt while watching his grandson growing up against every values he ever believed in. Jester is in search of his own identity, both his parents died and he knows very little about them, he’s also confused about his own sexuality until he meets Sherman. Sherman is something altogether, he’s also an orphan but he doesn’t even know the name of his parents, he’s a pathological liar who doesn’t trust or like anyone.

This is a MUST read.



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