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The Moviegoer

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When "The Moviegoer" was first published in 1961, it won the National Book Award and established Walker Percy as one of the supplest and most deftly modulated new voices in Southern literature. In his portrait of a boyish New Orleans stockbroker wavering between ennui and the longing for redemption, Percy managed to combine Bourbon Street elegance with the spiritual urgency of a Russian novel.

On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is adrift. 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 quest - a harebrained search for authenticity that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the gaudy chaos of the French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, "The Moviegoer" is a genuine American classic.

242 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1960

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About the author

Walker Percy

71 books687 followers
The European existentialists influenced American novelistWalker Percy, whose works, including The Moviegoer (1961), explore human alienation.

This most prominent writers of the twentieth century began as the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained hero of Civil War and a United States senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the modern culture, Percy authored six bestselling fiction titles, including the aforementioned classic winner of the National Book Award, and fifteen works of nonfiction. In 2005, Time magazine named this novel among the best English-language books published since 1923.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
August 21, 2019
“The fact is I am quite happy in a movie,even a bad movie...What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Wells in the doorway in the Third Man.”


Binx Bolling is floating through life. He survived the Korean War and was fortunate enough to come back with a good wound, a shoulder wound, that allowed him to leave the conflict with honor. He lives in Gentilly, a middle class suburb of New Orleans. He has a boring job as a stock broker (I forgive him.) which he is reasonably successful at. He comes from old money. He spends most of his spare time going to movies. The problem is he is about to turn 30 and his family, in particular his aunt, feels he needs to start making something more of his life. Binx struggles with the BIG SEARCH that mythical concept that he will stumble across sometime in the triangle of travel between work, movie theater, and home. He is much more comfortable with the little things, those moments of bliss not earned, but just experienced.

“It is not a bad thing to settle for the Little Way, not the big search for the big happiness but the sad little happiness of drinks and kisses, a good little car and a warm deep thigh.”


Binx hires secretaries, takes them to movies, makes love to them, and eventually they want something more. When that moment happens he knows he will be needing a new secretary soon. The latest woman to fall into his nest of need is Sharon Kincaid and he is showing great restraint in working with her for two weeks without asking her out.

"I have not asked her for a date nor spoken of anything other than business. Yet the fact is that for two weeks I have thought of little else. She seems quite indifferent so far; and she is not really beautiful. She is a good-sized girl, at least five feet six and a hundred and thirty-five pounds--as big as a majorette--and her face is a little too short and pert, like one of those Renoir girls, and her eyes a little too yellow. Yet she has the most fearful soap-clean good looks. Her bottom is so beautiful that once as she crossed the room to the cooler I felt my eyes smart with tears of gratitude."


The fact is Binx can have his dalliances, but his mate, the girl that is like a split half of him, is Kate Cutrer his cousin by marriage. She has lost one fiance in a car accident and her mind, though sharp, has fractured, and her fears are all consuming. Her family is afraid she is destined for suicide, but she reassures them that the thought of suicide is what allows her to enjoy life.

"As if to emphasize her sallowness and thinness, she has changed into shirt and jeans. She is as frail as a ten year old, except in her thighs. Sometimes she speaks of her derrière, sticks it out Beale Street style and gives it a slap and this makes me blush because it is a very good one, marvelously ample and mysterious and nothing to joke about."


Binx has no set ideas of his own except for his constant desire to see movies. He takes the suggestions of family and friends in stride, and tries to please everyone. When he gets offered a promotion his first thought is that he will lose his carefully cultivated life, but it never occurs to him to turn it down. When his aunt suggests he go to medical school again he agrees because he does not have a better idea of what he should be doing.


Now Walker Percy was heavily influenced by the writings of the Existentialist movement as he was composing this novel. Even though he infuses an almost dream like quality and a passivity in the face of grinding monotony in the character Binx, I did not come away with the gloomy feelings that other reviewers have felt from reading this book. We only get to be with Binx for a week, but I really feel that he will do what he has to do, and he will be just fine as long as he continues to enjoy the movies, have time for his books, and occasional catch a glimpse of a nice pair of rounded calves.

I have always had huge expectations for myself and the war might have done this for Binx, but for me it has just been pounding away at life. I don't want to "live large". I don't seek big promotions or accolades anymore. I want to read my books, spend time with my family; and yes, watch movies. In no way, shape, or form have I given up on life, but I have realized what is most important to me. Happiness is the little things and the BIG SEARCH is over for me. This is the second time I've read this novel and the second time was as good as the first with twenty plus years between readings. Highly recommended!!


P.S. This is the book that I took with me to read for jury selection. I ended up being selected as the 12th juror. I had one foot out the door when they called me back. I decided to leave my juror paperwork tucked in the back of this book so someday when some shady book dealer like Dean Corso (The Ninth Gate)is pawing through my books it will flutter out and have to be read because book dealers are infinitely curious.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Chuck Lowry.
61 reviews22 followers
July 6, 2007
This is my favorite novel of all time. It is the story of Binx Bolling, a successful, socially prominent New Orleans stockbroker from an old and wealthy family, and how he faces his life in the week of Carnival leading up to his thirtieth birthday on Ash Wednesday. Binx is an avid and successful skirtchaser, but he really loves his stepcousin Kate, a manic depressive. The book tells us that a life spent seeking happiness is almost doomed to failure, that happiness, both as a concept and as a reality, is difficult to grasp and difficult to retain. Instead we might strive for a life of alert, intelligent engagement with those around us. It will involve pain as well as pleasure, but it is an approach that gives us the possibility of authenticity. "Joy and sadness come by turns, I know now. Beauty and bravery make you sad, and victory breaks your heart, but life goes on, and on we go..." The six or seven major characters (just about the right number) show us how many ways there are of dealing with the world and with one another. We are not sure how the lives of Binx and Kate and the others "end up," but we see how the world affects them and they affect the world. This is, in a sense, a very modern novel. To give an example, there is a scene in which Kate comes to Binx at 3:00 in the morning. Binx has been warned by his aunt that this is a possibility, so he is sitting in the bus stop in front of his house when Kate's taxi pulls up. They discuss their lives and their possible marriage, and, as dawn approaches, the disease comes upon Kate again.

"Ohhhh," Kate groans, Kate herself now, "I'm so afraid."

"I know."

"What am I going to do?

"You mean right now?"


"First we'll go to my car. Then we'll drive to the French Market and get some coffee. Then we'll go home."

"Is everything going to be all right?"


"Tell me. Say it."

"Everything is going to be all right."

In an older, more classical literature, "Everything is going to be all right" would mean just that: I'll see to it that the bills are paid and your power-seeking brother won't kill your sons and the crops will come in every year. Binx knows that he is unable to give this kind of assurance, because life is not like that. I think that what his "Everything is going to be all right" means is that things may go well, things may not go well, but Binx will face it all with Kate, no matter the difficulties of standing with her. In this case, I am convinced, "Everything is going to be all right" is the functional equivalent of "I love you." And in the contemporary world, maybe that is the best we can do, and maybe it is enough.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,462 reviews3,611 followers
October 13, 2022
He surely knows the art of living a typical life…
It is a pleasure to carry out the duties of a citizen and to receive in return a receipt or a neat styrene card with one’s name on it certifying, so to speak, one’s right to exist. What satisfaction I take in appearing the first day to get my auto tag and brake sticker! I subscribe to Consumer Reports and as a consequence I own a first-class television set, an all but silent air conditioner and a very long lasting deodorant. My armpits never stink.

He is an advanced consumer… He knows how to consume… He thinks in movie clichés… Once he attempted to follow a beat generation path but quite listlessly…
We were all pretty good drinkers and talkers and we could spiel about women and poetry and Eastern religion in pretty good style. It seemed like a fine idea, sleeping in shelters or under the stars in the cool evergreens, and later hopping freights. In fact this was what I was sure I wanted to do. But in no time at all I became depressed.

His passions are lukewarm… His delights are tepid… He decides that he must search for something… But he doesn’t know for what…
…it comes over me that in the past few days my own life has gone to seed. I no longer eat and sleep regularly or write philosophical notes in my notebook and my fingernails are dirty. The search has spoiled the pleasure of my tidy and ingenious life in Gentilly.

If there is no fire then nothing will burn down.
Profile Image for Guille.
782 reviews1,740 followers
September 7, 2023

Unos días atrás leí en el prólogo que Vázquez Montalbán escribió para la novela de George Arnaud, El salario del miedo (prólogo con el que mantengo importantes discrepancias, pero ese es otro tema) que el profesor Joan Petit planteaba a sus alumnos lo siguiente: «Un hombre está aquejado de angustia metafísica. De pronto alguien llama a su puerta. Es el cobrador del alquiler. No tiene dinero para pagarle. ¿En qué se convierte su angustia metafísica?: En angustia concreta».

Puede ser el caso de John B. Bolling, protagonista y narrador de esta historia. Empecemos por saber quién es John Bolling, también conocido como Binx.

Binx es un tipo atractivo, procedente de una familia de rancio abolengo y caballerosos principios de Nueva Orleans. Trabaja de bróker y se considera a sí mismo un ciudadano modelo que disfruta haciendo todo lo que se espera de él. Sin amigos, afirma que es feliz viendo una película, y debe ser verdad pues entre sus más memorables experiencias vitales está “la vez que John Wayne se cargó a tres tíos con una carabina cayendo contra el suelo polvoriento, en La diligencia”.
“El dinero es mucho mejor que la belleza…la búsqueda de la belleza por sí sola es una forma de prostitución. Hace dos años yo perseguía la belleza y pasaba del dinero. Escuchaba las hermosas melodías de Mahler y sentía una dolencia en el alma. Ahora persigo el dinero y en el fondo me siento mejor.”
No se fíen, Binx puede ser tremendamente irónico y hasta cínico. De hecho, Binx proyecta su angustia sobre toda esa gente que, hundida en su rutina, parece no advertir el vacío de su existencia, de su desesperación inconsciente (“… la condición específica de la desesperación es exactamente esta: no tener conciencia de estar desesperado, la cita es de Kierkegaard y abre la novela)”; “tan parecidos como los guisantes de una vaina”, solo le parecen reales cuando padecen, cuando odian, cuando mueren. Este es el contexto en el que Binx siente su “malestar”, la sensación de ser un extranjero lejos del hogar cuyo paradero ha olvidado.
“El malestar es el dolor que conlleva la pérdida. Se te ha perdido el mundo, el mundo y la gente que lo habita, y solo quedáis tú y el mundo, y ya no eres más capaz de estar en el mundo que el fantasma de Banquo.”
Para contrarrestar el “malestar”, Binx recurre al dinero, que gana con suma facilidad, a las conquistas femeninas, que no le duran mucho, y al cine. Las películas y el comportamiento de los actores parecen más reales que el mundo que está delante de la pantalla, es más, dota a este de la realidad que parece faltarle. En último caso, consigue distraerle temporalmente de su desazón.
“He aquí un fenómeno producido por el cine, al que denomino certificación. Hoy en día, una persona que vive en un barrio cualquiera, no suele sentir ese sitio como lugar certificado. Es probable que lleve en él una vida triste, y que el vacío que siente sea algo que se expande y que afecta al barrio entero. Pero si esa persona ve una película en la que sale su barrio, se le abre la posibilidad de vivir, al menos por un tiempo, como alguien que vive en Algún Lugar, y no en Cualquier Parte…”
Pero no es suficiente. Binx lo sabe, por lo que emprende lo que él llama “la búsqueda”: hallar una individualidad que le dote de peso, dé razón de ser. No se trata de una búsqueda del sentido de la vida. Aunque Dios se le apareciera, nos dice Binx, nada cambiaría; descubrir el remedio del cáncer o componer la más hermosa de las sinfonías no es lo bastante bueno para él. Su problema es dotarse de una presencia real e independiente del resto, no ser uno Cualquiera en Cualquier parte.
“¿Estoy, con mi búsqueda, cien millas por delante de mis compatriotas o cien millas por detrás?”
Binx no va a estar solo en esta búsqueda, a su lado estará su prima Kate, también sufriente, pero por causas y con modos muy distintos. Si en Binx impera la apatía y la frialdad, Kate es depresiva y con tendencias suicidas (“El suicidio es lo único que me mantiene viva”); si Binx busca la individualidad, Kate, que no se siente a la altura de lo que de ella se espera, anhela ser “una persona cualquier en cualquier parte”, creer completamente en alguien y obedecer.
“Una noche me resbalé en la chimenea y me caí al fuego. ¿Te puede creer que fue un alivio sentir un dolor físico tan intenso? El infierno no puede ser de fuego, hay cosas peores que el fuego.”
Cuántas veces he pensado en Holden Caulfield leyendo la novela. Binx experimenta una transición que me recordó bastante el conflicto adolescente del joven protagonista de “El guardián entre el centeno”. También Binx odia el artificio y la afectación, por lo que su lenguaje es directo, espontáneo y hasta pueril en alguna ocasión. Es muy crítico con esos hipócritas adultos que hay por todas partes tan faltos de la autenticidad y de la individualidad que dicen cultivar. Y quizás Kate pueda ocupar al lado de Binx el lugar que Phoebe tenía junto a Holden.
“La gente me pregunta a menudo qué es lo que no funciona en este mundo… es una pregunta interesante. Sin embargo, he observado que en realidad nadie quiere escuchar una respuesta”

P.S. Novela ganadora del National Book Award, seleccionada por la revista Time como una de las cien mejores novelas del siglo XX e incluida en el famoso canon de Harold Bloom, no se merecía la poco cuidada edición de Alfabia.
Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews427 followers
February 26, 2018
**This review contains spoilers**

New Orleans, 1960's. Jack "Binx" Bolling is 30, comes from a well off background, makes his money as a stock broker, and likes girls, and oh yes, he likes going to movies....a lot. But Binx is not happy, he is stuck, going without direction, without purpose; problem is, he doesn't know where to go, what to do next. His distant cousin, Kate Cutrer, he can relate to. She is also stuck, mainly because she suffers severe psychological issues. There is a connection with them, they understand one another, and their destinies are seemingly meant to be entwined.

I loved this book, I loved these characters, not because they were perfect, but because they were not. I could relate to them, I think most people can. And I think that is why this book is loved by so many. It makes you think about why you are where you are, why you are doing what you are doing, and what you ultimately want out of life. And, by the way, the writing is simply outstanding. The Moviegoer is deserving of being called an American Classic. It’s on both Time Magazine's and Modern Library's top 100 novels of the 20th century.

1962 National Book Award winner.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,191 reviews1,816 followers
November 13, 2022

Tra le cosiddette “passioni d’autore” mi sono annotato la seguente: Richard Ford include questo The Moviegoer di Walker Percy tra i libri che ama molto. E dice: In un certo senso, è il romanzo definitivo su New Orleans, molto di più di quanto lo sia “Una banda di idioti” [di John Kennedy Toole, uscito postumo nel 1980]. È brillante, divertente, sagace e caustico e immensamente leggibile. E uno di quei rari romanzi che ti fa pensare quanto il Sud sia veramente parte dell’America.
Colpisce che il sud degli Stati Uniti, da cui provengono sia Percy che Ford, possa non essere considerato parte integrante del paese, che ci possano essere dubbi su una simile asserzione.
E comunque, guidato dal pensiero di Ford, in effetti, non posso negare che ci sia tanta New Orleans tra queste pagine, che venga fuori un’anima della città forte senza i soliti strascichi gotici, neri, vudù, religiosi. Una città senza senso di colpa, finalmente. Una città con l’animo affaristico più che produttivo, che privilegia la socialità ed è in pace con la minoranza nera serenamente e affettuosamente accettata nella veste di servitori. Una città dove buona educazione e gentilezza e differenza di classe sono tradizione.

L’io narrante si chiama Jack, ma perlopiù diventa affettuosamente Binx per parenti e amici: al punto che quando la sua ultima ragazza (le sue ragazze sono anche le sue segretarie, prima Marcia, poi Linda, infine Sharon) lo chiama Jack, lui rimane sorpreso e le chiede come faccia a sapere che quello è proprio il suo nome.
Jack, che sta per compiere trent’anni, va spesso al cinema. Ma non perché preferisca la realtà della celluloide a quella delle strade. Il suo ideale è così racchiuso:
Sono colto da tristezza. Se solo… Se solo, cosa? Se solo potessi mandare via Sharon e salire direttamente di sopra a guardare Joyce, un’estranea totale? Sì. Ma non proprio. Se solo potessi stare con tutte e due, una casa piena di ragazze come loro, una vecchia pensione sull’Esplanade strapiena di sane ragazze americane con le loro facce banali e i loro magnifici culi tondi.
Non ha bisogno di sognare sullo schermo, Jack/Binx, sa come godersi la vita, lui.
Il cinema è probabilmente la sintesi del suo rapporto con la vita: spettatore, alla giusta distanza.

Tuttavia, forse neppure troppo sottotraccia, Jack/Binx è inquieto, non appagato, si pone domande, che spesso rimangono senza risposta. Le prime raramente, e forse mai, sono maiuscole: le seconde sembrano non essere mai definitive.
Lui chiama questo aspetto dell’esistenza la Ricerca e così la definisce:
quella cosa che ognuno intraprenderebbe se non venisse soffocato dal trantran della propria vita quotidiana.
È come se fosse alla ricerca di indizi per porre basi (o confini) alla sua percezione del mondo.

Opera sfuggente, di difficile definizione, perfino riassumere la trama è un’impresa – ho letto una cosa e il suo opposto, a cominciare dal titolo e dal rapporto del protagonista io-narrante con la realtà del cinema – anche perché m’è parsa priva di impalcatura, m’è parsa vivere soprattutto di micro eventi, momenti, episodi.
Forse, considerato che la frase in epigrafe appartiene a Kierkegaard si potrebbe usare l’espressione di romanzo esistenzialista ma con leggerezza.

L’anno dopo l’uscita, nel 1962, questo libro vinse il National Book Award sbaragliando la concorrenza di Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Revolutionary Road, Franny and Zooey e Catch 22.
Terence Malick aveva preso i diritti del libro, ma poi abbandonò il progetto dopo l’uragano Kathrina dicendo che dubitava la New Orleans del libro esistesse ancora.

Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,215 reviews9,882 followers
May 14, 2021
NO. 32

15th May 1962 : it is decision day for the National Book Award Committee. They have been pondering a shortlist of eleven books. 1961 was a strong year for the American novel and the shortlist includes Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates and Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. But towering over all eleven was a furious masterpiece of vicious satire that later became one of the most famous books on the planet, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. So after some debate they gave the award for 1961 to The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.

Here’s a timesaving tip : if you ever thought of reading The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, instead try playing U2’s melancholy classic “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” while watching a National Geographic documentary of Louisiana and some old photos of New Orleans.

This is a novel of elegant maundering and orotund description. Here he is describing his new secretary :

Her back is turned to me, but obliquely, so that I can see the line of her cheek with its whorl of down and the Slavic prominence under the notch of her eye and the quick tender incurve, shortening her face like a little mignon.

Here he is talking about evening in New Orleans :

Bullbats hawk the insects in the warm air next to the pavement. They dive and utter their thrumming skonk-skonk and go sculling up into the bright upper air.

And there is a whole lot of Nature Writing in this novel

The world is milk : sky, water, savannah. The thin etherlike water vaporizes, tendrils of fog gather like smoke, a white shaft lies straight as a ruler over the marsh.

Very pretty. And he says stuff like

She has the voluptuous look of roommates left alone.

Like he is the world authority on roommates, and knows when left alone they all look voluptuous. I don’t know how anybody would know that.

So, this 29 year old rich guy who has a nice car drifts around having vague but knowing conversations with his cantankerous aunt or his tedious colleagues or his perky secretary who he wants to shag because he is a serial secretary-shagger. There are like 400 minor offscreen characters in this book but they all get an elaborate paragraph full of stultifyingly exact phraseology like this which is about some old geezer

There is a flattening of the nosebridge and a softening of the forehead and a giddy light blue amiability about the eyes

Then there is some stuff that is frankly a bit head-scratching :

There comes to me in the ascent a brief annunciatory syllable in the throat stopped in the scrape of a chair as if, having signaled me and repenting of it, it had then to pass itself off as but one of the small day noises of the house.

You know, you could be forgiven for thinking I did not care much for this novel. It is true that just because somebody happens to be tall, white, handsome, heterosexual, wealthy and male doesn’t of course stop them being miserable. But unreasonable that I am, it does mostly stop me from having that much sympathy to spare for them. Really and truly I didn’t care if Binx Bolling shagged his secretary or married his step-cousin or axed his aunt or ate his uncle or discovered his real purpose in life was to make an exact scale model of the Palace of Versailles using only the skeletons of black-bellied whistling ducks found in the Atchafalaya Swamp.

Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
June 13, 2019
Shitty, shitty book. With no plot & worse, no climax, whatsoever. Just...pretty megabaffling!
Profile Image for Rachel.
118 reviews5 followers
February 4, 2008
I couldn't get through this book. Percy writes a detailed and interesting setting, and a meandering narrator/main character.

But really, I think the same way about this as I do books like Emma-- As in, why do I care if rich idiots are sad about their affluent lifestyle that is free of any socio-economic or actual danger?

Oh, poor rich white middle-aged depressed man, who makes a lot of money, is breathlessly racist and sexist, and spends all his time manuvering to get his secretaries into bed.

Get a life.
Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews841 followers
August 26, 2012
The Moviegoer: Walker Percy's Novel of "If That's All There Is"

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is--Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller


If Walker Percy's The Moviegoer ever hits the screen, I'm sure Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is" will be on the soundtrack. And, if Binx Bolling is there to see it, I wonder if he'll recognize himself.

Not in the mood for a little Camus? No Jean Paul Sartre? Well, "The Moviegoer" probably won't be your cup of tea either. It's existentialism Southern style, starring Binx Bolling a member of the well bred Bolling clan from Felicianas Parish, you know, Audobon's Happy Land, where America's best known ornithologist killed his specimens in order to paint them, and for some reason was dismissed more than once by well bred families whose daughters he was tutoring, or something or other.

It's not that Binx hasn't had significant events occur in his life that made him wonder what's it all about. After all, his father, committed suicide. Then there was that nasty little police action in Korea, during which he and his squad got caught in a tangle of barbed wire while being surrounded by Red Chinese troops blowing those bugles. It's all a bit disturbing.


After his excursion to the Orient, Binx heads home to New Orleans, where the family has now settled. Strong willed Aunt Emily who has served as his guardian sends Binx off to college, sure that he has a purpose filled life ahead of him. However, Binx, the classic fraternity man, drifts through college without obtaining a single honor.

Binx settles into professional life as a small time stockbroker in New Orleans. Although he is welcome to live in the family home in The Garden District, he kicks over the old family traces and rents an apartment in the Gentilly district, filled with Arts and Crafts bungalows and raised cottages.


Our anti-hero is much happier sitting in a darkened theater, content to while away his time watching the flickering images on the screen. He studies the movements and gestures of Gregory Peck and has Akim Tamaroff down to a tee. Catching William Holden strolling through the French Quarter is a highlight of one particular day in his life.

Binx tells us,

“The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.”

In addition to movies, Binx finds brief moments of solace in sex. Being a stockbroker requires a secretary. He has a string of them all named either Linda or Marcia. Acting Gregory Peckerish, Binx is quite adept at bedding his secretaries who have the essential interchangeable body parts along with their interchangeable names. However, brief moments of happiness only turn into a general malaise.


Binx is on some indefinable Search for some indefinable purpose. After all, if one is not on to something, one is in despair. Kierkegaard had a few things to say about that.

The action in "The Moviegoer" takes place during one week of Mardi Gras, when the entire city takes on an identity of its own, giving the novel a background of the absurd.


During that week, Aunt Emily will attempt to persuade Binx, about to turn thirty, to consider going to medical school. She will pay all expenses. He will have the studio behind the house with total privacy to pursue what she offers as a purpose filled life.

Is this the end of Binx's Search? There is the complication of cousin Kate, Binx's female counterpart to whom he proposes marriage. She, too, is on her own Search, having lost her college love in a car wreck years ago, lost in despair and depression with a predilection for a hand full of Nembutal. While half-heartedly wooing Kate, Binx is pursuing his latest secretary, Sharon. All in all, Binx is a bit of a cad, seeking the momentary pleasure as opposed to a lasting pleasure filled life.

"The Moviegoer" is a bitter pill to swallow. However, it is a masterpiece of loneliness that each of us has experienced at some point in our lives. Brilliantly written, this is a novel that deserved the National Book Award given in 1962. Percy has earned his slots on The Modern Library List of 100 Novels and Time Magazine's Greatest 100.

Now, that's done. Ah, yes. Peggy Lee. I think I'll break out the booze and have a ball. It's rather early. Perhaps I should make that a Bloody Mary. One for me. One for you.


Save this one for a rainy day Monday. Don't they always get you down?

Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews553 followers
August 20, 2018
EDIT: today, this statue of Walker was placed near the river where we kayak. It is also the annual weekend of his memorial literary fest in St Francisville. I feel lucky to live where we do.

Novelist Walker Percy appears in Covington's Bogue Falaya Park

Beautiful sentiments by the sculptor - he was actually friends with Percy...


Walker Percy lived about six miles from my house, so it was obviously a joy to have read this book set in our neck of the woods. It's been too many years since I read this to comment on details but I've got a warning and a betcha-never-knew-this piece of trivia.

First, I would warn new readers that the book is a time capsule. In order to truly appreciate it, one has to consider how women and minorities were treated half a century ago (well, or in Hollywood like last year..). Patting a woman's rump isn't going to win any admiration from today's society, but as far as historical accuracy goes, you'll get a taste of it here. Roll with it. The book is existential and a serious read but I imagine that at the time it was published, the main character’s propensity to hire and fall in love with a series of beautiful secretaries may have been some ‘light’ relief to all the serious introspection.

Now, there are scads of reviews of this terrific book out there and all of them penned by readers far more eloquent than me. But here's the tidbit you may not see anywhere else!

For those who have sampled the outstanding books written by Ron Rash, you will recall that small little actions of his characters speak volumes of unspoken or unwritten words. In one of my favorite novels by Rash, a character walks into the 1920s board room of a timber camp office. It is luxurious as only a space can be amidst mud caked shanties and a decimated forest, now razed for its timber. There is serious money - a fortune in these virgin trees. As one feline predator of a woman strides in - her name is Serena - she spies the massive meeting table in the center of the room. It is a solid slab of one single behemoth tree. Serena leans over and slowly glides her hand over this conquered wood and practically purrs.

I was doing an author chat with Ron Rash regarding this dark masterpiece of his and noted something really unusual to him. By sheer coincidence, I'd been reading The Movie Goer the week prior to our author dial-in, and holy slabbed trees, Batman! When The Movie Goer's Binx walks into an uptown Garden District home, of all the gorgeous and ornate furnishings, he singles out only a beautiful table to admire. Its top is made of one solitary slab of a massive tree. He slides his hand along it, reveling in the luxury. My question to Rash was - did slabbed tables at one time define affluence?

Ron Rash was thrilled to hear my little parallel discovery! It turns out that he did his doctoral dissertation on Walker Percy. That fawning hand-slide in Serena was an homage - an Easter Egg! - to The Movie Goer. Nobody had ever noticed it before!

Now you too are in on the secret. Enjoy the book!
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews533 followers
August 24, 2020
Existentialism Down South, Ma'am

New Orleans is both intimately related to the South and yet in a real sense cut adrift not only from the South but the rest of Louisiana.... A proper enough American city and yet within a... few hours the tourist is apt to see more nuns and naked women than he ever saw before. Walker Percy

In this Percy quote, he so aptly captures the essence of this city below sea level, affectionately known as The Big Easy.

Walker Percy was awarded the National Book Award for this 1961 novel--his first novel--centered on Binx Bolling, a detached and depressive thirty-year-old stockbroker in 1960 New Orleans, and his quest for purpose and redemption, through movies and literature until, finally, he makes life-altering discoveries in life during the week of Mardi Gras. In it, Percy explores ideas of cultural and spiritual alienation with a light lyrical tone while drawing on elements of Dante by paralleling his life to that of the Divine Comedy's narrator.

Binx's aunt asks him to watch over his suicidal female cousin during the Mardi Gras season. Binx describes his life in terms of the aesthetic, religious and ethical, in his search for meaning and spiritual redemption. He constantly daydreams, cannot maintain sexual relationships and finds more meaning and urgency in movies and books than in his own humdrum life. He reflects on race and class as he wanders the streets of the French Quarter and travels along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, reflecting on the people and things he encounters, as he provides numerous elegant descriptions of Southern landscapes and an enlightened Southerner's perspective on escaping, for the most part, the legacy of the Old South.
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 easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life."

Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews900 followers
December 19, 2013
All hail the Biblioracle, for his powers are immense. I realize that many of you will not be acquainted with this prophet of proper book choices. He writes a column for the Chicago Tribune’s weekly book review supplement. Aside from short essays on book-related topics (think pithier versions of chapters in Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris), he invites readers to submit their own five most recent selections from which he divines the next one that should go on the list. It’s a fun exercise for someone like the Biblioracle (a.k.a. author John Warner) whose mother ran a bookstore in his youth, always ready with suggestions. Anyway, I submitted my own list, cheating just a little by including only the ones I really liked, and waited to see what the man with the oracular gift would suggest. Turns out his recommendation, Skippy Dies, was one I’d already read and loved, confirming his wisdom and reach. When I explained this in a mail, he graciously conjured up another one for me. To give him a little more to go on, I mentioned that I'd recently been smitten by Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. This rather long-winded introduction explains how his choice for me, Walker Percy’s classic, The Moviegoer, now shows up on your screen.

I can see why he chose it after I mentioned Stegner. The writing is very good, there’s an enticing complexity to the characters, and it has a strong sense of place. John Bickerson “Binx” Bolling is on the cusp of 30. He returned home as a wounded war vet and settled into a relatively successful job as a stockbroker in New Orleans. His passions in life are movies (had you guessed?), sporty cars, quirky family members, and the nicely curved back sides of his young secretaries. But is it enough? His personal “Search” for more suggests that it’s not.

From other reviews I’ve read, it’s clear I’m not the only one to have picked up on a certain existential uneasiness here. In fact, I’d say the best thing about the book is trying to get a read on what exactly Binx is seeking out with his search. Percy was vague. He must have wanted us to speculate. Though there were tangible elements to it (a possible change in career in line with his aptitude for medical research, for one, or a good mate to share his life with, for another), the bulk of his searching was more abstract. Lines like this hint at a moral or spiritual dimension:
My mother's family think I have lost my faith and they pray for me to recover it. [...] My father's family think that the world makes sense without God and that anyone but an idiot knows what the good life is and anyone but a scoundrel can lead it.

But it seems to go deeper still into a psyche that’s in conflict with the escapist movies that he enjoys, the carnal pleasures that temporarily soothe his soul, and the easy charm he plies for surface connections. On the other side of the ledger lies a pretty profound Weltschmerz. When he says, “all the friendly and likeable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive,” his crisis seems real. In common shorthand, I guess you could say it’s a search for meaning – a way to reconcile his world-weary thoughts with what well-functioning folks intuit to be the good life.

It was a theme with heft to spare. Had that been all there was, it might have seemed a tad ponderous. Percy may have sensed that, knowing to provide lighter fare as sides. Occasional humor helped the cause. And like many from the South, his language was rich and entertaining. Consider, too, that while it’s a cliché to refer to a place as another character, has it ever not applied to NOLA? Speaking of characters, there was a wealth of good ones beyond Binx and New Orleans. One was his aunt, a woman of rare insight and suasion. Another was his aunt’s step-daughter, Kate, who was Binx’s kindred spirit, and maybe even a love interest. She’d had some bad luck, though, and the thread she was hanging from was looking pretty thin. Such plot as there was had Binx and Kate driving.

If you’re at all curious about well-written, character-driven, Southern existentialism, you should give this compact little prize winner a try. The Biblioracle knew to recommend it to me, and I’m grateful that he did. Four very solid stars.
Profile Image for Katie.
107 reviews3 followers
November 12, 2008
Nothing like a boring book to put a damper on reading. I can't remember the exact day that I started this book, but it feels like forever ago. For a 200-some page book, it felt like a 1000 page book, and just dragged on for a long time. The main character Binx Bolling (who names their kid Binx?), is a well-to-do business man, who enjoys chasing women, seeing movies, and can't seem to find a purpose to his life. In the book, there's about five interesting events, six entertaining converstations, three unique ideas, and the rest, just boring ramble inside Binx's head. The title of the book, implies that Binx sees a lot of movies, but really I think he sees maybe three or four. I think that I'd recommend skipping the book, and going to see a movie instead.
Profile Image for Daniel.
203 reviews
June 1, 2009
I come away from "The Moviegoer" with very mixed feelings. Walker Percy was a beautiful writer, and I found myself reading several passages more than once just to enjoy the language, but I think I may be too old, even at 35, to truly appreciate and connect with a novel driven almost completely by existential feelings. It's not that I never personally feel existential dread -- I do, far more often than I'd like -- but, for the most part, I got the reading of these types of novels out of my system as a teenager. (That's when I read Camus's "The Stranger," for instance.) I probably should have read about Binx Bolling's search for meaning in the modern world back then.

What's weird about that is that I'm now far closer to both Binx's age and place in life than I was as a teenager. And maybe that's the problem. Perhaps these kinds of books are meant to prepare us for where we will be later in life -- or even allow us to say to ourselves, full of self-righteousness, "I'll never be like that!" -- rather than reflect our lives as they are today. Maybe it's just too much to take, hitting us too close to where we live now.

That all being said, I want to go back to my first point: "The Moviegoer" really does have some wonderful writing. This passage, from after Binx tries unsuccessfully to consummate an affair -- the mind was willing, but the flesh wasn't -- is just one example:
I never worked so hard in my life, Rory. I had no choice: the alternative was unspeakable. Christians talk about the horror of sin, but they have overlooked something. They keep talking as if everyone were a sinner, when the truth is that nowadays one is hardly up to it. There is very little sin in the depths of the malaise. The highest moment of a malaisian's life can be that moment when he manages to sin like a proper human (Look at us, Binx -- my vagabond friends as good as cried out to me -- we're sinning! We're succeeding! We're human after all!).

It'd be hard to argue with Binx on that point.
Profile Image for Mike.
50 reviews4 followers
August 17, 2007
In the running for the 1962 National Book Award -

Joseph Heller for Catch 22
Richard Yates for Revolutionary Road
J.D. Salinger for Franny & Zooey

Somehow, Walker Percy's The Moviegoer won. So, I read it.

I guess it kind of redeems itself towards the end, but for much of the first 100 pages or so, it was filled with sickening Southern witticisms and references to by-gone nonsense. Too much about the "malaise" and the "genie-soul" - which means what exactly?

And, what kind of grandiose shit is this? -
"This very evening, no doubt, he has had an excellent meal at Galatoire's, and the blood of his portal vein bears away a golden harvest of nutrient globules"? No. No. No.

Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews664 followers
May 19, 2014
Let me preface this by saying that I'm quite sure that nothing in this review will come close to equalling the great one Jeffrey Keeten did, which I am purposely not rereading until after I write this, as it will intimidate the heck out of me.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
102 reviews287 followers
March 18, 2009
I'm a sucker for books that employ existential musings in a way that feels genuine and unforced; thus, I greatly enjoyed The Moviegoer. It's an ambitious novel for one so slim--it skims many weighty topics, from hedonism (and his better-dressed twin, capitalism), to religion's place in America, to the nature of responsibility (and that of her incubus, apathy), to mental health and paranoia. There is even a nice riff on Salinger where Percy replaces Holden's "phonies" with those who are "dead" in their hollow interpersonal interactions. While I was occasionally disappointed at Percy's hesitation to explore some issues more fully, it is this deft reticence that ultimately provides the book with such poignant and unique flair. In the same way that Bolaño's unconsummated digressions ultimately enhance 2666's wild power, Percy's major flaw may in fact be a great asset.

Just as Nick's reliability as a narrator in The Great Gatsby is at times questionable, Binx's own truthfulness (or at least his self-perception) is occasionally suspect. He professes to be apathetic and lazy despite great success with his financial work, and the only thing that motivates him more urgently than his day-job is his (highly successful) womanizing career. He goes on and on about his metaphysical "search" and listens faithfully to religious broadcasts while concurrently claiming an inability to consider questions about God, existence, or the relevance of such questions even if the answers are in favor of belief. And while maintaining that his actions come only from selfish impulse, Binx is exceptionally generous with those whose needs he can, at least temporarily, fulfill (i.e. Kate, Lonnie, and even Aunt Emily). In the end these contradictions serve primarily to accentuate Binx's Dostoevskyan duality--and, therefore, his humanity.

Despite the absence of any inner resolutions for the lead characters, Percy still manages to provide a modestly uplifting message via his unrelenting focus on the malaise associated with "everydayness". It is this heightened perception of the malaise that ultimately allows one to at least recognize the road that can lead to despair--to emotional and moral flaccidity. As the novel's epigraph, quoting Kierkegaard, explains: "the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair." Awareness, then, is the first step toward the possibility of joy and freedom.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
812 reviews875 followers
November 5, 2021
Six stars for passages early on and random phrases throughout. At times it's as good as it gets, like a Denis Johnson precursor or Proust with PTSD after returning from the Korean War as a perceptive philosophical New Orleans broker. Have known about this for about 25 years but only recently was it recommended as adjacent to my recent writing. The search, the struggle against stagnation/routine, the appreciation of human form, the natural looseness of life, the Euro-informed yet nevertheless totally American aesthetic. Loved this until just after the narrator and his secretary (who calls him “son” — loved that) make out on a Gulf Coast beach and then head in his sweet little MG to a house they find occupied by his extended family. From then on, despite intermittent extraordinary passages and phrases, I felt like my enthusiasm and engagement bogged down with too many characters and fewer streaks of pitch-perfect essayistic abstraction. Wish I read it in the mid-‘90s, and absolutely a writer who I will read more of in the next 25 years.
Profile Image for George K..
2,432 reviews318 followers
June 27, 2022
Το "Ο σινεφίλ" ήταν ένα από τα αρκετά μυθιστορήματα που είχα σε μια λίστα με βιβλία που θα ήθελα κάποια στιγμή να μεταφραστούν στα ελληνικά, έχοντας αρκετές ελπίδες ότι αυτό θα γινόταν κάποτε, μιας και πρόκειται για ένα πολυδιαβασμένο έργο που συν τοις άλλοις έχει βραβευτεί και με το Εθνικό Βραβείο Βιβλίου ΗΠΑ. Και να που οι εκδόσεις Καστανιώτη το έφεραν στην Ελλάδα, σε μια πολύ ωραία και προσεγμένη έκδοση. Λοιπόν, δεν ήταν ακριβώς όπως το περίμενα, το βρήκα λίγο πιο υπαρξιακό και "εσωτερικό" απ' όσο νόμιζα ότι θα ήταν, όμως μου άρεσε, με κράτησε δέσμιό του μέχρι το τέλος, χάρη στην υπέροχη γραφή, την καταπληκτική ατμόσφαιρα και τον πρωταγωνιστή και αφηγητή της ιστορίας, με τον οποίο δέθηκα σε μεγάλο βαθμό (άλλωστε, έχω και την ίδια ηλικία με αυτόν, αλλά και κάποιες κοινές ανησυχίες). Η αλήθεια είναι ότι όσον αφορά την πλοκή και τη δράση του βιβλίου, δεν ακολουθείται μια κλασική δραματουργική πορεία, δεν υπάρχουν ιδιαίτερα συνταρακτικά συμβάντα, κορυφώσεις ή εντάσεις (αν και κάποιες εξάρσεις υπάρχουν εδώ κι εκεί), παρά έχουμε μια σειρά γεγονότων με χαλαρή συνοχή, μέσω των οποίων προσπαθούμε να καταλάβουμε τι απασχολεί και τι προβληματίζει τον πρωταγωνιστή μας, Μπινξ Μπόλινγκ, ο οποίος είναι σε αναζήτηση ενός νοήματος, μιας αυθεντικής εμπειρίας, ενός "κάτι" που αξίζει να συγκρατήσει. Ένα από τα δυνατά χαρτιά του βιβλίου είναι σίγουρα η γραφή, την οποία βρήκα εξαιρετική, ιδιαίτερα οξυδερκή και με λεπτή αίσθηση του χιούμορ, γενικά λιτή και περιεκτική αλλά και με κάποιες μικρές λυρικές εξάρσεις σε διάφορα σημεία. Γενικά, το βιβλίο δεν είναι για όλα τα γούστα, ούτε για όλες τις ώρες, προσωπικά όμως το βρήκα πολύ καλό και ενδιαφέρον, και μάλιστα είναι από τα βιβλία που κάποια στιγμή θα ξαναδιαβάσω στο μέλλον, για να "πιάσω" ίσως ακόμα περισσότερα πράγματα που μπορεί να μου ξέφυγαν στην πρώτη ανάγνωση. Υ.Γ. Κρίμα που ο Τέρενς Μάλικ (ένας από τους αγαπημένους μου σκηνοθέτες) δεν κατάφερε ποτέ να κάνει την ταινία.
Profile Image for Rayroy.
212 reviews77 followers
July 28, 2013
Binx Bolling.

He's the most boring man alive
He finds all he needs in a movie theater.
Driving cars gives him a feeling of malaise.
He carries war scars, he doesn't share.
He awakes 'in the grip of everydayness' it's the enemy, with no escape.
He doesn't always go to the movies, but when does he goes as a moviegoer.
He is the most boring man alive.

Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books815 followers
January 2, 2017
When I was a junior in high school, my favorite English teacher told us about Walker Percy. He lived across Lake Pontchartrain, she said, and she made him sound like a reclusive eccentric. He had a new book out, she told us, called Lancelot and highly recommended his Love in the Ruins. We didn't read him in class, but I heard enough about him to be intrigued and I read him on my own. Though my teacher had introduced me to him, I felt like he was my own discovery.

I don't remember the first time I read this, his first novel, but I think the second time was with a group at a local bookstore in the mid-80s. I remember the group's moderator, the owner of the store, saying that all through her reading, she wondered why she was bothering, until she got to the end. I believe I read it next with a small Yahoo group of women I had been online friends with for awhile (early-2000s) and I remember their strong reaction to Aunt Emily's speech near the end. I read it this time because my daughter had been wanting to read it with me for years, ever since she didn't get a chance to take a New Orleans Lit class at the local university before graduating, and we finally found the opportunity.

Every time I reread a Percy novel, I am struck by his prescience (I especially felt that way after rereading Love in the Ruins after Hurricane Katrina), or maybe it's just that nothing much has changed in the world from then to now and, like Binx, Percy was an astute observer. I also appreciated this novel's humor more this time around, especially its depiction of the exclusive echelon inhabiting the Garden District of uptown New Orleans.

Perhaps this book should be rated 4 stars, but I'm in agreement with the bookstore owner about the ending and I'm on record elsewhere saying an ending can make a novel for me. There was so much I'd forgotten in between this read and the one before, but not the ending--that I remembered. And then there's that power of discovery ...

November 17, 2014
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,525 reviews979 followers
February 14, 2013

I don't know what I was expecting, a nostalgic trip through the golden hours of cinema history, something along the lines of Truffaut or of the more recent Oscar laureate The Artist ? I didn't even pay attention to the year of publication (1961) or the setting (New Orleans). Mostly the impulse to pick it up came from a goodreads review full of great movie posters, and I was looking for something to validate my own obsession with the silver screen magic ( I had periods when I watched 2-3 movies per day). The actual novel surprised me in many ways, mostly in good ways, but turned out to be completely different from what I imagined and from what the opening chapter promises. John Bickerson Bolling, aka Binx, is indeed a kindred spirit, a loner with a passion for the larger than life dramas produced in Holywood's dream factories:

Our neighborhood theater in Gentilly has permanent lettering on the front of the marquee reading: Where Happiness Costs So Little.

Going to the movies is as natural and as necessary to him as eating or breathing:

The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.

Joining Binx on his leisurely walks through a sleepy neighborhood in the hour before dawn, or strolling down Bourbon Street trying to spot a famous actor (William Holden) mixing with the public, maintaining his cool, detached demeanour with friends and family, I was too quick in judging him a more amiable, laid back version of Ignatius J Reilly: the outsider, the commentator observing the folly of his compatriots from the sidelines. Binx is an entirely different kind of character. His eyes are wide open instead of turned inward, his mind sharp and focused instead of delusional, his business flair excellent, his social skills almost flawlessly those of a classic Southern gentilhomme, his heart is in the right place, always ready to lend an attentive ear or a helping hand to siblings or casual acquaintances:

I have discovered that most people have no one to talk to, no one, that is, who really wants to listen. When it does at last dawn on a man that you really want to hear about his business, the look that comes over his face is something to see.

or There is only one thing I can do: listen to people, see how they stick themselves into the world, hand them along a ways in their dark journey and be handed along, and for good and selfish reasons.

I wouldn't want to give the impression Binx is an innocent, an angel of grace and understanding. He's a self confessed womanizer, and some of the funniest moments in the book detail his slick technique for serially seducing his secretaries, relying on his two-seater MG sportcar and the romantic appeal of a secluded Gulf Coast beach.

Since I mentioned the novel's heady mix of humor, despair and acurate social observations, here's a passage that I think remains as relevant today as in the day it was written:

Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one bears the other. In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world. This is another thing about the world which is upside-down: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive.

Behind all the women and the sparkling movie idols Binx carries a deep seated despair, a malaise worthy of the pen of Baudelaire or Emil Cioran. He is a man in the middle of an existential crisis, exasperated by the waste of precious moments in trivial pursuits and by the insufficiency of words to capture the essence of life. In his own words, he is a searcher, always looking for answers to ellusive questions.

What is the malaise? you ask. The malaise is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo’s ghost.

After experiencing a personal moment of transcendent illumination while lying wounded in a foreign war, Binx can no longer be satisfied to be 'anyone, anywhere' , lost in the tedious 'everydayness' of common survival. He finds the big cities of the North particularly repulsive in their dehumanizing industriousness and soul crushing agglomeration:

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. [...] 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?

The only person to understand him and his torment, is his cousin Katie, an extraordinary character in the great tradition of Southern literature. In her emotional instability, highstrung / artistic temperament and fragile beauty, she reminds me of the sister-poet living in New York from The Prince of Tides , of Sophie from Sophie's Choice , of other heroines from the works of Tennessee Williams or William Faulkner. Katie may also hold the key to Binx redemption and reintegration into the human race that he no longer feels a part of, by giving him a sense of purpose and by sharing the burden between them.

Other memorable characters in the novel can be presented wholesale in the form of the two extended families that Binx is part of: the upper class, pretentious, traditional and mock liberal crowd led by Aunt Emily and the white trash, down to earth, religious and mostly selfish clan led by his mother and his six brothers and sisters. His little brother Lenny is another memorable Southern staple, (reminding me, among other things, of Forest Gump or Deliverance ). Lenny is another key to the unlocking of Binx loneliness, bringing out the best in him and probably inserting some Christian teachings about the happiness to be found in the heart and not in the mind.

The prose of Walker Percy is instantly recognizable in themes and style as Southern Novel, dense and often indirect, allegorical, oblique. I needed from time to time to get back and re-read a particular passage, but the extra effort was worth the trouble, allowing me to discover and savour a particular turn of phrase, cinematic scenery or emotional twist. The pacing is slow, almost sleepy under the Louisiana sun, yet the restrained passions could become explosive at any moment - witness a memorable rant of aunt Emily about modern American 'nobility'. Personally, I would have liked more movie references, but the tribulations of Binx held my interest to the final page.

I tried to read more on the net about the author and the novel, and I have come across the controversy of the literary prize it received. While I admire Joseph Heller and his Catch 22 , for me the quality of the Moviegoer is not in dispute, and I consider it well worth the time I spent with it, even a good candidate for a re-read. Having finished the novel, there are few clear conclusions to be drawn, other than the fact that life is worth living (probably), and that 'moviegoer' can be translated either as a 'searcher' or as a 'romantic' , someone still believing in the goodness of the people around him.

people are much the same the world over, even New Yorkers, the article concluded, and given the opportunity, will find more to like than to dislike about each other
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
November 30, 2019
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1961. Time Magazine also put the novel on its list of 100 best English language novels from 1923-2005.

Today is my thirtieth birthday and I sit on the ocean wave in the schoolyard and wait for Kate and think of nothing. Now in the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on this earth and knowing less than I ever knew before, having only to recognize merde when I see it, having inherited no more from my father than a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies — my only talent.

The Moviegoer is about an aimless, unmarried twenty-nine year old stockbroker from New Orleans named Binx Bollinger. Binx has a lot of spare time and spends much of it at the movie theater. He even makes trips to his favorite theaters along the Gulf Coast and on his trip to Chicago.

Binx is not a terribly sympathetic protagonist. He’s not a menace to society per se but is a misogynist and quite fond of dating his secretaries. I couldn’t tell if this sexism was common for the time period and part of the author’s world view or if he tried to make Binx less likable. Binx is good looking and doesn’t have to work too hard. But he has this odd mixture of both being superficial and deeply introspective and equally observant of his surroundings. His experiences from serving in the Battle of Cochin in the Korean War don’t seem to haunt him in the same way it does his “best” friend who lives in Chicago. His cousin Kate suffers from depression and he seems both supportive of her and oddly detached. Perhaps he is so sympathetic because of his own depression.

There are some problems with this book. There is not much action to be found in it, nor is there much of a plot beyond capturing a few weeks in the life of this lost soul. Writing about stockbrokers is not typically bestseller material.

Now the kudos. Percy does an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere in New Orleans. He writes eloquently about the surroundings and can clearly turn a phrase. He touches on mental illness in this novel — probably not a surprise since the author lost both parents to suicide, in separate incidents, while a teenager. The protagonist is the lens that allows Percy to convey a rich milieu of New Orleans and its eclectic set of characters — Binx’s friends and relatives.

There is something about Percy’s Southern style of writing and his acumen that made me feel that this novel could have been better. Perhaps this novel could have been a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Homeward Bound or a Summons to Memphis. Instead it lacked the required drama and fell a little flat, despite the writing being of superior quality.

3.5 stars. I don’t normally write reviews of books that aren’t four or five stars — but did so here because this one had a lot of potential.
Profile Image for T.D. Whittle.
Author 3 books190 followers
May 12, 2023
"As for me, I stay home with Mrs Schexnaydre and turn on TV. Not that I like TV so much, but it doesn’t distract me from the wonder. That is why I can’t go to the trouble they go to. It is distracting, and not for five minutes will I be distracted from the wonder."

I loved this book when I first read it, back in my twenties, and I love it even more now that I am older and wiser... well, definitely older anyway. So, what is it about? The final line in the book probably answers this question best: "It is impossible to say." And yet, if you, as reader, understand yourself to be a "wayfarer and a pilgrim" (Percy's terms) it is easy to slip into this novel and travel along with Binx in the everydayness of his life in New Orleans which he both revels in and resists.

I keep reflecting upon the underlying philosophy (summed up as two simple questions here) that guided Percy's Uncle Will as he reared his three nephews following the tragic deaths of both parents: “What do you love? What do you live by?” I think those queries haunt The Moviegoer but only to outline the nature of the quest, not to provide answers. They are good questions and can delineate True North for anyone who knows how to answer them (aye, there's the rub).

I am providing a link below to a 2019 New Yorker article which discusses the enduring relevance of Percy's 1961 publication, written by the author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.

We Still Live In The Mediated, Alienated World of The Moviegoer
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book557 followers
March 5, 2018
Binx Bolling is a man in search of meaning. His life doesn’t seem to have much meaning; he goes to movies and engages in sex with a string of vacuous young women who occupy the front office secretarial position in his office. He doesn’t seem to belong to anything or anyone, but then we find he has a family and that his life is not unentangled, it is possibly too deeply entangled. There is no shortage of persons to tell him who he is, or at least who he ought to be, only a shortage of people who actually know who he is or want to see him for himself. But then, there is his cousin (not really because his aunt is only her stepmother), Kate, and Kate, like him, is a searcher who cannot find her way.

I loved the way this story developed, particularly the psychological unveiling of the characters as the plot unfolds. Binx has reasons for his state of confusion, he has survived the trauma of the Korean War and he has failed to pick up his life and sink back into the oblivion of the everyday. Kate, likewise, has endured a traumatic event and been left running from the loss of her planned future and the pointlessness of the life that has been spared to her. Aunt Emily is their foil: she is sure she knows what life is about and that she has all the answers, and she seems unable to grasp why these kids don’t just follow instructions and join the dance in-step.

Percy has woven very believable characters into a very realistic world. It is a world of class distinction, pre-determined futures, and family expectations. And, his South seems very real as well. That he understands his subject is obvious. He captures the world of New Orleans and the pressures of a Southern identity.

Nobody but a Southerner knows the wrenching rinsing sadness of the cities of the North. Knowing all about genie-souls and living in haunted places like Shiloh and the Wilderness and Vicksburg and Atlanta where the ghosts of heroes walk abroad by day and are more real than people, he knows a ghost when he sees one, and no sooner does he stop off the train in New York or Chicago or San Francisco than he feels the genie-soul perched on his shoulder.

Percy won the National Book Award for this, his first, novel, and I can see why. It has a lot going on beneath the surface. I imagine many of us have hoped to escape into the safety of a movie screen, where at least a happily-ever-after is a possibility. The problem: any such escape is temporary, when you exit the theater, you find life waiting to chew you up again. What Binx Bolling discovers is that there are no ordinary lives, there are just lives in which all the meaning we need, or get, might rest in the most ordinary of things and days, and the people who are able to see beyond our surface and glimpse into our soul.
Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books375 followers
August 22, 2021
"Even among the greatest writers, single-mindedness weakens the effect of a work and can be a disservice, not only from an artistic point of view, but also in consideration of the very ideas that the writer had wanted to serve."

- Jozef Czapski, Lost Time (New York Review Books Classics)


I read this novel back in the 80's. It was not particularly memorable. This recent article in the New Yorker tries to make the case as to why this book is still relevant. I think, rather, it shows why the novel is no longer relevant. His good friend, Shelby Foote, warned Percy about being preachy. I am reminded that's exactly what Percy did when he concluded this book with what the author calls "the trim certainties of the “Baltimore Catechism," which was the old school pre-Vatican II stuff. It's like ending your book with a religious tract. Also no surprise that Percy is not read any more except by the most devout Catholics.



Have not read any Percy for a long time. He trained as an MD, but developed TB, so had to go to a sanatorium for two years, where he began writing, He never practiced medicine.

When he got married, he converted to Catholicism. Suicide ran in his family (grandfather, father, mother). He was spooked by this his whole life and drank heavily, including his final days when he was dying of prostate cancer.

He seems to have attempted a blend of Catholicism, the South, and existentialism, but could not match Flannery O'Connor. His books definitely feel dated
Profile Image for Tasos.
278 reviews45 followers
August 5, 2022
Όταν κέρδισε το 1962 ο Walker Percy το National Book Award για το Moviegoer, με συνυποψήφιους μεταξύ άλλων τον J.D Salinger, τον μετέπειτα νομπελίστα Isaac Bashevis Singer και τον Joseph Heller (με το φαβορί και κλασικό πλέον Catch-22), ξέσπασε ένα μικρό λογοτεχνικό σκάνδαλο γιατί ο σαραντάχρονος πρώην γιατρός και ερασιτέχνης φιλόσοφος ήταν μέχρι τότε άγνωστος και το βιβλίο του δεν είχε καν εξαντλήσει την πρώτη του έκδοση.

Το διάβασα πρώτη φορά στα αγγλικά στις αρχές της χιλιετίας, όταν υπήρχαν φήμες ότι θα το μετέφερε στη μεγάλη οθόνη ο αγαπημένος μου Terrence Malick κι επειδή με είχε κερδίσει από τον τίτλο.

Εξήντα χρόνια μετά την πρώτη έκδοση και είκοσι από τη δική μου πρώτη ανάγνωση, η ελληνική (εξαιρετική) μετάφραση είναι επιτέλους διαθέσιμη και το βιβλίο παραμένει ένα από τα πιο περίεργα που έχω διαβάσει, ένα πάντρεμα των μυθιστορημάτων του Νότου της Αμερικής με τον υπαρξιακό στοχασμό της άλλης πλευράς του Ατλαντικού, τον Καμί, τον Σαρτρ και τον Κίρκεγκορ, με εμβόλιμες δόσεις ποπ κουλτούρας και αναφορών στο κλασικό Χόλιγουντ, μια καθημερινή γλώσσα που θυμίζει μονόλογο πάνω από ποτά σε μπαρ και ένα πικρό και ειρωνικό χιούμορ να σκεπάζει την "αναζήτηση" του αφηγητή σε κάτι βαθύτερο από την "καθημερινότητα" μιας ζωής που αναλώνεται σε ασήμαντα ως επί το πλείστον γεγονότα.

Προφητικό για τη στροφή που θα έπαιρνε η αμερικάνικη λογοτεχνία σε λίγα μόλις χρόνια, αυτό το χρονικό της υπαρξιακής οδύσσειας του μοντέρνου ανθρώπου έχει κάτι από την παρηκμασμένη γοητεία της Νέας Ορλεάνης και κουβαλάει την αύρα της εποχής του σε πολλά σημεία, αλλά παραμένει τόσο επίκαιρο όσο το να έχεις φτάσει σε μια ηλικία που δεν σου επιτρέπεται να μην ξέρεις τι θέλεις να γίνεις όταν μεγαλώσεις, αλλά εσύ ακόμα να το σκέφτεσαι.

Θα μείνω με την απορία τι αριστουργηματάρα θα έβγαζε από τις σελίδες του ο Malick.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
October 16, 2010
John "Binx" Bolling will soon be turning 30. An ex-Korean war soldier, he is adrift. A lost soul searching for signs where to go, what to do with his life, or even what his existence means. He works in the office as a stockbroker sharing his office with his secretary, Sharon who he is secretly in love with. When he goes home, he busies himself reading his books (Arabia Deserta, Charterhouse of Pharma, The Prophet, etc) and seeing movies (The Ox-Bow Incident, It Happened One Night, Young Philadelphian, Fort Dobbs, All Quiet in Western Front) in a town theater. Since his brother's death when he was 8, his Aunt Emily took care of him. His mother got married and went to another town when his father died before his brother. His Aunt Emily wanted him to be a successful man but Binx does not know what he wants to do in his life. He is suffering from malaise that Percy defines as: pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo's ghost. Note: Banquo is the ghost in Shakespeare's 1606 play, Macbeth.

The plot is simple and Percy's philosophical musings can definitely bore mainstream readers. However, check Percy's life history: the prominent Percy clan in Birmingham, Alabama, his father committing suicide, his mother died in a car crash that Percy also thought to be a suicide, his lawyer-uncle raising his as agnostic, as a tongue-tied young man in front of William Faulkner, medical doctor in 1941, recuperating from tuberculosis in Saranak Lake sanatorium (same place where President Quezon died), marrying and having 2 daughters, receiving his National Book Award (for his first book, this book The Moviegoer) in 1962 and dead of prostate cancer in 1990 eighteen days before his 74th birthday. Six novels to his name with The Moviegoer as the most popular one. TIME even included this among their list of Time 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

A life well lived yet, while reading the novel, you cannot help but empathize with Binx in his loneliness, his Holden-like angst, sense of loss, his confusion. The doldrum of his daily life: reading books, seeing movies. The daily grind in the office working with a series of secretaries whose names happen to be the most popular in the South: Marcia, Linda, Sharon and the possibility of having Stephanie if he continues working there. He has a cousin, Kate who he loves but he does not know - as he is lost - what to do about it. Their dialogs are a joy to read: bittersweet, romantic, funny, witty. My favorite is the closing scene:

"You're sweet," says Kate uneasily. "now tell me..."
"While I am on the streetcar - are you going to be thinking about me?'
"What if I don't make it?"
"Get off and walk home."
"I've got to be sure about one thing."
"I'm going to sit next to the window on the Lake side and put the cape jasmine in my lap?"
"That's right."
"Good by."
"Good by."

Twenty feet away she turns around.
"Mr Klostermann?"
"Mr Klostermann."
I watch her walk toward St Charles, cape jasmine held against her cheek, until my brothers and sisters call out behind me.

And oh the movies. Percy has this theory called certification. It means your life does not exist until you see it or a part of it on the celluloid screen. Once you do, it is certified. Just like being in San Francisco in October 2005 where many popular American movies were shot. A couple months ago, I saw a local tearjerker Sa Yo Lamang and the opening scene is Bea Alonzo driving in front of SM City North EDSA. She is secretly following her mother played by Lorna Tolentino and she is about to find his mother's long-kept secret: of having another child by another man.

Upon finding the secret, Bea, like Binx, experienced a deep sense of loss, confusion and even pain. However, time heals wounds however deep they may be. Bea, like Binx, also spent the rest of the movie confused and bitter. After all, pain is part of our life's journey. Who knows, like Walker Percy, the Beas and Binxes in us may in the end will be leaving this world with well-lived lives despite all of its twists and turns.

Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,731 followers
October 11, 2012
Before I read 'the Moviegoer' my only real exposure to Walker Percy was reading A Confederacy of Dunces (a novel not written by Percy, but one which he discovered, published and wrote the forward to) and through his friendship with Shelby Foote. Anyway, fifty pages into 'the Moviegoer', I was ready to declare my undying love for Walker Percy. 'The Moviegoer' reminded me of a southern Catholic Graham Greene + F. Scott Fitzgerald + William Gaddis. With Greene's Catholic ambiguity and Fitzgerald's sad, romantic tone and Gaddis' playful allusiveness Percy dances with grace, charm and style through the minefield of the modern/postmodern world.

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