Sunday, March 23, 2014

A review of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian is set in North America in the 1850’s. Most of the action takes place in Mexico. The book follows a 19 year-old boy who after a few misadventures, joins a band of men lead by the real life John Glanton, an ex-Texas Ranger. They head to Mexico to hunt down marauding Apache Indians and get paid for their scalps. They kill a lot of Indians, but then start killing Mexicans.

Similar to McCarthy’s The Road, Blood Meridian reads like watching a film, with no interior monologues from the characters and very little dialogue. So a reader’s only real clue to a character’s motivations is by observing what they do. All the men in the gang appear to be amoral killers totally devoid of empathy for anyone. There are no heroes in this novel. It shows the west as an ugly violent place where only the strong and the uncompromising survive.

According to Wikipedia “Academics and critics have variously suggested that Blood Meridian is nihilistic or strongly moral; a satire of the western genre, a savage indictment of Manifest Destiny “(In the 19th century, Manifest Destiny was the widely held belief in the United States that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent). “Harold Bloom called it "the ultimate western;" J. Douglas Canfield described it as "a grotesque Bildungsroman in which we are denied access to the protagonist's consciousness almost entirely."

Blood Meridian is not an easy book to read. It’s written in a style that will challenge many readers and have most reaching for a dictionary. Some of the limited dialogue is even in Spanish, but a careful reader should figure out what the conversation is about. Much of the book involves long descriptions of the surrounding countryside as the gang rides from one slaughter to the next. It’s left to the reader to decide what the characters are thinking while they ride.

This is a novel for those who enjoy a challenging read.

My next post will be about the ebook promotional site Bookbub.


Tom Flood said...

Hi, Graham.
I read 'Blood Meridian' in the 90s when it came out. It had a salutary effect on my thinking on writing. I rate it among the five best novels I've ever read. The reason is the language (a geological language akin to the power of 'Moby Dick'), the intensity (that language somehow internalises the landscape ie. the landscape is the principal character). I would argue the book does have a hero and that hero is landscape. It is so powerfully presented that we know it outranks the pestilent humans that scuttle across it. It's a long bow, but perhaps this is one of the great environmental novels.

Graham Clements said...

Hi Tom,

Your thoughts on the landscape being the principal character are interesting. McCarthy certainly spends a lot of time describing it. Don't know about it being a hero though. Perhaps a mentor, that shapes the behaviour of the gang.