I don’t often reread novels, but I was in the middle of the slow, sad procession of CANADA, by Richard Ford. It begins by saying he's going to tell us about his parents committing a bank robbery, and for a hundred pages or so I thought, OK, creeping sense of inevitablity, good, but for the next hundred I was thinking for God’s sake, rob the bank! I suddenly felt a desire to read BLOOD MERIDIAN again. I bought it in the Eighties, it was recommended by a friend, Adrian Curry, who worked on a bookshop on the Charing Cross Road. It blew me away, and I’ve read a lot of Cormac McCarthy since. SUTTREE, a Faulknerian rush of a book, its prose glittering and lush; ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, a wonderful start to a disappointing trilogy; THE ROAD, his masterpiece. You can get a little impatient sometimes, with his relentless examination of masculinity. There are more ways of being masculine than being either noble and taciturn or savage and taciturn. And there’s another gender out there Cormac, 51% of the world. On the other hand, this is what he's chosen as his subject. He's like a solemn witness to things most people prefer to look away from.
And what a pleasure it is to read him. You just have to take a step back and admire the sheer relentless power of BLOOD MERIDIAN. You sense him, over his career, struggling to hold despair and misanthropy at bay, that’s what makes THE ROAD so wonderful, that attempt to hold up the relationship between the father and his son as the last hope in the darkness. But the darkness pretty much conquers everything in BLOOD MERIDIAN. Even the epigraphs are ominous and admonitory. Your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. And the writing seems to come from some ancient hermit, crafting strange sentences that have never been written before. It has the rhythmic cadence of the Bible, idiosyncratic syntax, very little punctuation, and a muscly prose, lumpy with flowery, unfamiliar vocabulary.
Try this – The night sky lies so sprent with stars that there is scarcely a space of black at all and they fall all night in bitter arcs and it is so that their numbers are no less. Sprent? That sentence is very nearly ridiculous, and perhaps wrenched out of context it seems silly. (What’s going on with that last clause?) But it carries itself with a dark, confident strut, and it smells of doom. Black and bitter doom. Cormac McCarthy – greatest living American writer?