The Moviegoer

( 35 )

Overview

Winner of the 1961 National Book Award

The dazzling novel that established Walker Percy as one of the major voices in Southern literature is now available for the first time in Vintage paperback.

The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth ...

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Overview

Winner of the 1961 National Book Award

The dazzling novel that established Walker Percy as one of the major voices in Southern literature is now available for the first time in Vintage paperback.

The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a hare-brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans' French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Search

Rereading Walker Percy at age 30 is a bit unnerving.

When I first read The Moviegoer, at age 18, it was a mesmerizing, eye-opening experience. I entered an entirely new world, and fell in love with the protagonist, Binx Bolling. I saw him as revolutionary, uniquely perceptive, a sighted man in a world of the blind. Here was a true romantic, a man -- however fictional -- who had figured out society's ugly secrets and had formulated a way to separate himself from them: He took his ideals from the movies. I aspired to be more like him, to consider my life philosophically, to feel myself on a search.

It's astonishing now to discover just how much I misread the book.

Originally published in 1961, The Moviegoer won the National Book Award in 1962, and is generally considered Percy's masterpiece. Percy trained as a doctor, with a specialization in pathology and psychiatry, but when he was 26, in the early 1940s, he contracted tuberculosis and was confined to a sanitorium. Percy began reading philosophy during his convalescence, particularly the writings of the existentialists. Not long after, he made the radical decision to become a writer.

Percy's biographer, Jay Tolson, has described this change as the central mystery of Percy's life: "An intelligent, attractive man in his early thirties, a man with a promising medical career ahead of him, decides not only to abandon his profession and become a writer but also to embrace a religion, Catholicism, upon which he, an ardent believer in science, had previously looked with respectful but thoroughgoing skepticism. He also decides at roughly the same time to give up the ways of a minor Lothario and marry a young woman he had met a few years before and with whom he had since conducted a fitful on-again off-again relationship." This is also the central idea of The Moviegoer, and the heart of most of Percy's novels: the hero as knight-errant, the search as spiritual odyssey, the solution as a most improbable return to religious feeling in the midst of modern civilization.

In fact, this religious sense permeates the novel, though it is perhaps less overt in The Moviegoer than it is in Percy's later works, particularly The Second Coming. But the spirituality is definitely there; Binx is hesitant to speak about the object of his search in The Moviegoer, though he alludes to its location:

What do you seek -- God? you ask with a smile.

I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached -- and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics -- which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker. For myself, I enjoy answering polls as much as anyone and take pleasure in giving intelligent replies to all questions.

Truthfully, it is the fear of exposing my own ignorance which constrains me from mentioning the object of my search. For, to begin with, I cannot even answer this, the simplest and most basic of all questions: Am I, in my search, a hundred miles ahead of my fellow Americans or a hundred miles behind them? That is to say: Have 98% of Americans already found what I seek or are they so sunk in everydayness that not even the possibility of a search has occurred to them?

On my honor, I do not know the answer.

This passage is notable, not only for the lyrical flow of Percy's writing, the way one sentence loops you inexorably into the next, but also for its focus on the idea of "everydayness." Everydayness, malaise, despair -- these, for Percy, are the bane of modern existence, foggy states of mind that must be fought against. Unfortunately, the whole of modern culture, from its technologies to its relationships, works to maintain exactly that sense of the everyday. This is the origin of Binx's attachment to the movies, and his conviction -- which one can see played out in an entire range of contemporary novels -- that movies have become more "real" than reality, that nothing can be "certified" as real until it has been seen in a film:

Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.

This notion of certification is one of Binx's numerous philosophical inventions throughout the novel, the frames by which he attempts to control and explain his life. This philosophizing, and this attachment to the movies as creators rather than reflectors of reality, were what first drew me to The Moviegoer. At 18, doing the first serious reading of my life, I passionately believed in Plato's dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living; Binx's search, and his determined rejection of the "deadness" he sees in everyone around him, were precisely the kind of self-consciousness by which I hoped to live.

Years later, I find myself agreeing with Binx's aunt when she accuses him of being incapable of truly caring for anyone. Binx has philosophized himself into a moral and emotional deadness of his own, living at an altogether irresponsible remove from his own life. I see in Percy's narrative a shockingly late coming-of-age story, in which a 30-year-old man comes to terms with his adulthood by locating the object of his spiritual quest in his connections to those around him.

What I wonder, however, is what I made of the novel's ending 12 years ago. I honestly don't remember my reaction. This time I found the ending -- am I giving too much away by revealing that Binx gets married? -- distinctly unsettling. I don't think I was supposed to; Binx's reconciliation with the world around him seems only positive, bound up in love for his family. But what of the dangers of the entry into everydayness? Can Binx live in the world without being of it?

I'll have to spend more time with Percy, rereading his other novels before I attempt an answer -- perhaps to see if they've changed in the last 12 years, too.

—Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Harper's
A brilliant novel. . . . . Percy touches the rim of so many human mysteries" --Harper's
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375701962
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 83,934
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 35 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(14)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    The beginning of an existential career

    The Moviegoer is a must-read for anyone interested in existentialism, or who also enjoys Camus or Hesse. However, like just about any existential story, you cannot sit and wait for a plot twist to keep you interested: the real enjoyment of such novels comes through the interpretation of the author's message. Each character in Percy's novels represents a subtle point he wants to make about society, and it is that interpretation or unlocking of his meaning that makes the whole story worthwhile. <BR/><BR/>Sometimes it requires multiple readings in order for it to be clear, but I can guarantee that if you really pay attention to this book and others by Percy and those mentioned above, you will not look at people or society exactly the same way again (Which is really the point, as opposed to just a thrilling plot or romantic affair). So if you want to learn something, both about yourself and the community you fit into, this is an excellent book to start out with.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The Wild Palms with a happy ending

    Faulkner's influence upon Walker Percy is easily seen in The Moviegoer. Conciously, or not, Percy has retold the tale of self-abnegation for love, only it leads to a salvation of sorts - undoubtedly due to Percy's deep and abiding Catholic sensibilities. A young man adrift finds love in an unlikely place, earns a bit of social stigma and rebuke, only in the Percy telling, the two seem to work out and all is forgiven. Even most of the scenery is the same, New Orleans, Chicago, and the Gulf Coast.

    There is a suffocating, languid sense of time in the story as well. But it works superbly in showing the forces which the protagonist must over come. The slow pace of life in New Orleans, coupled with the city's entire social and economic scenes tied so inimately to Mardi Gras/Krewe traditions leads to a certain inertia. To escape, at least mentally, Binx must spend most evenings at the theater, leading a voyeuristic and escapist life in his head. It is only when he breaks out of the cycle and routine, does his life make some progress, although with great risk to relations with his family.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2002

    The Moviegoer

    I found myself putting this book down over and over and forgetting to pick it back up again for weeks at a time. I did finally complete the novel and felt that it was a worthy expedition, however flawed and dry it was at times.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2013

    Still very relevant

    I was not familiar with Walker Percys work or "The Moviegoer" and read this as a nook recommendation.
    Although written over fifty years ago, the theme of lost values and searching for a place is maybe even more relevant today.
    A book worth reading.






    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    BORED ME TO DEATH!

    i had to read this for a college course I was taking and quite frankly I could not finish it. I was bored to tears. This is supposed to be a "classic" but I honestly could not see why. I am English major and I would never wish a reading of this book on anyone.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2008

    A reviewer

    I wanted to read this book for over forty years, since a friend raved about it (in 1994). I finally found a copy, but was so disappointed. Fortunately, it was very short, so I finished in in a day and a half, but I can't understand what all the excitement was about. Winner of the National Book Award? There couldn't have been much competition! It was very boring, and I really couldn't follow the plot -- what there was of it. The characters weren't particularly interesting, either.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2007

    The American Dostoevsky

    This book is amazing. It's humorous and philosophical. Kate is the perfect Dostoevsky female.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2013

    Ought to be required reading, and not just because it's a shinin

    Ought to be required reading, and not just because it's a shining example of the so- called &quot;existential&quot; novel. &quot;The Moviegoer&quot; has all of the southern style you would expect form a Louisiana native, but what really makes it shine is Percy's intimacy with the modern American soul. Percy's novels, of which &quot;The Moviegoer&quot; was the first, peer into the psyche much like Dr. Thomas More's Ontological Lapsometer, which Percy wrote about in &quot;Love in The Ruins.&quot; This nearly unparalleled depth of understanding of the human condition matched with a unique sense of humor and the novelists' ability to put a face on difficult ideas is what makes Percy's work worth reading, and all these things are present in abundance in &quot;The Moviegoer.&quot;

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2013

    A Unique Book

    I suspect that many Walker Percy fans ( I am one of them) are somewhat outside of the mainstream of the average novel reader. So if you are new to Percy's writing it might be a good idea to checkout a few book reviews before you begin. For me there is no one like Percy. This is my second go around with "The Moviegoer," but with several of his other works it has been three re-reads! The plot and characters he has created are quite unique. The story is always intriguing and provides lots to think about. That is not to say that there aren't comic moments along the way. All in all, the book was a great pleasure for me to read (again). I hope the same will be true for you if you decide to look into "The Moviegoer."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2013

    Tay

    I love movie star planet!!!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    The Moviegoer, Walker Percy’s first novel, is, truly, a tr

    The Moviegoer, Walker Percy&rsquo;s first novel, is, truly, a tragicomic tour de force. For, herein, Percy presents an interesting cast of characters, a truly moving, and often terribly amusing, plot and, most importantly, a philosophical exploration of one man&rsquo;s search for meaning in a meaningless world.
    Percy&rsquo;s masterpiece is a must-read for those who are interested in existential, or even absurdist, philosophy; it presents existential lessons in an entirely new and entertaining light.


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  • Posted October 24, 2011

    Its great

    Its the best

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2011

    Awful

    Read this in college.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    College Sophomore Intellectualism / Existentialism

    Many of us lived the Existential Life while in college. Walker Percy's protagonist, Binx, has never left this lifestyle. Come on, Binx, grow up and live your life. Engage yourself in this world and the people around you. Stop measuring every action and relationship against the most recent Hollywood production you have seen.
    "An unexamined life is not worth living." It seems that the main character has examined his life through the lens of the silver screen. He has not come to the realization that a life of self imposed alienation is not worth living.
    The Movie Goer is a rare book: the only novel I have chosen not to finish.

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2000

    I read it in 4 hours.

    I started to read this and couldn't put it down. It wasn't the best book I ever read but it was the most Uncle Jules-ish. Binx's little invalidic cousin Lonnie provides a good counterpoint to his fantail car and the waves of Lake Ponchatrain. The review above is not quite correct--the climactic ending takes place in Chicago and on the train thereunto.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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