For Christmas this year I was kindly given several exciting new books, including this one by Walker Percy. I originally heard about it via the “TIME Magazine All-Time 100 Novels” list (see the Bookmarks page) and thought it simply sounded too intriguing not to read.

The book follows Binx Bolling (yes, that really is his name!) as he treks around New Orleans just before his thirtieth birthday. Now, it may appear to the uninitiated that on occasions Binx is merely idly cruising around, trying to pick up a girl and doing a spot of philosophising en route, but oh no; Binx is on a very serious “search”.

What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is often overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

And despite my slight mocking above, Binx’s search is of a serious nature, indeed it can be viewed as a kind of spiritual quest. He is just approaching his thirtieth birthday, and like Christ at the same age, he spends time passing through a desert and tries (somewhat less successfully) to avoid all sorts of temptations in order to pursue his quest.

He is a slippery and contradictory character, for sure. He longs to be alone, to be anonymous in the suburb, yet spends his time desperately trying to connect with different people. He shuns frivolity and easy living on the one hand, yet is prone to living in a dream world, populated by characters from the many movies he watches.

In Binx’s horror at the “everydayness” he finds all around him, and in his belief that there must be something more to life than following the usual treadmill, the novel reminded me of Holdon Caulfield’s philosophical and literal meanderings in The Catcher in the Rye, though, if anything, The Moviegoer has an even less structured narrative.

Binx is a funny character in that he is such a mix of different things. He comes from a well-to-do family with very traditional views, and despite his inner unease with much about everyday life and society about him, he is  in many ways a very normal, respectable, even successful member of society. However, Binx is never totally unaware of what possibilities may be lurking beneath the surface, and it is this self awareness coupled with his unease about much in society that make him so baffling (and readable).

Aunt Edna is as nice as can be, but she is one of our kinsfolks I avoid. Her soul is in her eyes and when we meet she shoots me deep theosophical soul-glances, and though I shoot them back and am quite sympathetic on the whole, it is an uneasy business.

Another similarity between Holdon and Binx is their perpetual yearning for some kind of spiritual enlightenment – and at the same time their propensity to give in to more temporal fixes when more meaningful epiphanies remain elusive.

…the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall – on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire. […] I have to find a girl.

There is a touching relationship between Binx and his rather troubled and delicate cousin, Kate. The two of them evidently recognise in each other kindred spirits, and whilst their ability to successfully communicate everything to one another is limited, they still share a greater closeness than either can find elsewhere.

The Moviegoer is a serious work, offering an alternative perspective on the world, greatly influenced by existentialist thought; yet it is also a fairly “light” read in other respects – much more so than a Camus novel, for example. There is fun and romance here as well as youthful banter, all mixed in amongst the angst and the horror. All in all this is an unusual and memorable novel; one which is difficult to describe or fully comprehend. For all these reasons I expect that excerpts will stay with me for quite some time, and I already think I would like to re-read this at some point in the future.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, or Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West, or Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, or On the Road by Jack Kerouac,or The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.