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Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian; Or The Evening Redness in the West Legolas Send a noteboard - 18/04/2011 06:53:02 PM
Of all the categories we mentioned in our Challenges for this year, the Western one was probably the one giving me the most trouble thinking of a book that I wanted to read and review, but when somebody suggested Cormac McCarthy, I figured I had to read him at some point, considering his high profile these days (helped by the high-profile movie versions of his books The Road and No Country for Old Men), so it might as well be now. Having read somewhere that Blood Meridian was perhaps his best work, I decided to give that one a go, though with some doubts as I wasn't sure I liked what I'd heard about McCarthy's style.

And sure enough, I did find the style off-putting, and the story less than interesting at first, pushing on more because I'm trying to break my long habit of giving up on books, than because I really enjoyed it. Somewhere along the way, though, McCarthy grew on me somehow, and my opinion of the book started to improve significantly.

Blood Meridian is an extremely violent book by any standard, massacre upon massacre and one pointless gory killing after another. The book follows a band of American outlaws in the late 1840s on their travels through Mexico, making money by collecting Native American scalps for Mexican governors - or, when they can get away with it, selling the governors their own population's scalps. The protagonist is only marginally less amoral and blood-thirsty than his peers, so not only is this definitely not a book for sensitive readers, it also isn't a book for readers who require a sympathetic protagonist they can identify with.

McCarthy criticizes the romanticizing of the Wild West - depicting not only the American gunmen and hunters as blood-thirsty monsters, but most Native Americans as well - but at the same time, on purpose no doubt, writes excellent, hauntingly beautiful descriptions of the nature his human monsters travel through (many of them involving the red setting sun referred to in the sub-title). The contrast between the simple, coarse language of his characters, written down without quote marks to enhance the effect, and his lyrical descriptions, with sometimes rather erudite references to things most people don't associate with the Wild West (such as djinns or Devonian creatures), and with some extremely obscure vocabulary, is very striking as well.

And then there's the character of "the judge", an extremely intelligent and cultured man with a penchant for amateur archaeology and geology - and for casual, horrific violence. In truth most of the other characters are not developed all that much, but the judge is certainly an iconic and memorable antagonist.

I read this book largely because of the "Western" challenge, but I suppose as far as westerns go this isn't exactly the most typical choice, to put it mildly, so maybe I should've picked something else. All the same, I cannot regret my choice, as this is an excellent novel, if a very disturbing one. If McCarthy's other books are half as good as this one, I really should read them - though if they are half as violent as this one, I may want to space them out a bit.
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Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian; Or The Evening Redness in the West - 18/04/2011 06:53:02 PM 7656 Views
I had been considering this one - 18/04/2011 07:10:06 PM 1338 Views
You could read Winnetou and critique Karl May? - 18/04/2011 07:25:47 PM 1428 Views
Re: You could read Winnetou and critique Karl May? - 19/04/2011 08:08:49 AM 1422 Views
And especially for Tom: McCarthy using repetition and polysyndeta to great effect. - 18/04/2011 07:32:43 PM 1525 Views
I kind of want to read this now. *NM* - 20/04/2011 05:54:54 AM 720 Views

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