Writer: Cormac McCarthy
How exactly do you review a literary classic? Why would you is another question. Well, because Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is a novel that I finished last week and haven’t stopped thinking about. The fact that I can’t stop thinking about it justifies, to me, writing this review 32 years late.
Blood Meridian is not an easy novel. You couldn’t simply sit and relax by the sun reading it. At least I hope you couldn’t. Throughout the text, the almost virtuosic depiction of intensely graphic violence can be very unsettling. At times I had become so numb to said violence that I read through entire paragraphs without it fully setting in that I was reading about children being hacked to pieces.
But it’s not just violence alone that makes the book so difficult. McCarthy’s style itself is not for everyone (if anyone). As a western novel it effectively contrasts the genre by allowing the reader absolutely no insight into any character’s thoughts or feelings. All through the novel it’s like there’s this veil over everyone. The reader can only observe, unable to do anything. Much like the kid, the novel’s protagonist.
Despite the kid being the protagonist, don’t expect to feel any sense of proximity to him. He’s simply another person that inhabits McCarthy’s cold world. The theme of innocence that usually accompanies a child protagonist is as absent as morality in the text.
What there is, in the place of feeling, is vivid description of land. Complete pages are dedicated to describing the surroundings. This is where the novel both shines and bores. If you like this kind of thing then the novel is a must read. Unfortunately, despite the description being so good, it’s all there is for a majority of the text. I can’t pretend I enjoyed this book. There’s very little plot for about two thirds of the novel. It’s all external description.
That said, the final third of the text picks up in a way I won’t forget. I almost feel traumatised. The character of Judge Holden is burned into my brain. He is the main reason that, even a week after finishing a book I thought was dull and boring, I can’t get it out of my mind. I won’t delve into spoilers as it’s something that has to be experienced.
It’s a tricky review. On one hand I really didn’t enjoy reading this. It took me longer than usual to complete with frequent breaks to recover from the violence and repetition. But on the other hand it has stimulated me like nothing else. Since finishing the text I’ve watched 90 minutes worth of YouTube videos on the novel in the form of Yale University lectures. These come highly recommended.
I’d conclude by saying this is a book for someone who loves reading. You need to be committed to literature to truly get something from this text. Otherwise, you’ll hate it and put it away forever without giving it a second thought.
Recommendation: read the book – if – you’re serious about literature and enjoy conversing with other readers about their reactions.