Saturday, 18 August 2012

BOOK: Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (9/10)

After enjoying the adaptations of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men and The Road I decided I would give some of the source material a try. Blood Meridian is considered one of the Great American contemporary novels and tells the story of an anonymous teenager referred to only as 'the kid'.

Set in the mid 19th century on the US-Mexican border, the story really begins after the kid joins a gang of undesirable bounty hunters as they sweep through Mexico hunting Native American Indians, paid by Mexican officials per scalp they take. The story is unflinchingly violent throughout as the gang of scalp hunters begin to stray from their objective and commit terrible atrocities in the pursuit of money or pleasure. This includes killing peaceful Indians and Mexicans alike, scalping children, drowning dogs, running a cattle train off a cliff and culminating in the violent commandeering of a ferry crossing at Yuma for financial gain. Wanted by officials on both side of the border, their behaviour eventually catches up with them.

Although part of the gang, the kid is one of the more likeable members, he never appears to scalp anyone and seems to be part of the gang not through choice but simply because that's where he ended up. This is more obvious when you consider the motivations of the gangs leaders, Glanton and Judge Holden. Out for profit or the lust of war, these two are responsible for the gangs moral compass completely falling apart.

Judge Holden is one of the most fascinating characters I have come across in literature. He is described as a giant, almost seven feet tall, with not a hair on his body. He is clearly the most intelligent character in the story and carries around a book in which he documents all manner of wildlife and nature encountered on travels stating to one man that 'that which exists without my knowledge exists without my consent'. Despite being an educated man, the judge has extremely violent beliefs, something he tries to explain to his lesser gang members on several occasions. This confliction of size, science and violence captured my intrigue from the offset. The judge's relationship with the kid is a key theme of the story. The judge appears to almost want to make the kid a protege, however late on realises that the kid is not of the same mindset as him, stating that 'some bears dance and some bears don't'. The book's ending is ambiguous and allows the reader some imagination in considering the judges actions in the final act.

McCarthy's illustration of the great lawless American west is fantastic. He provides vivid depictions of the barren landscape, types of vegetation and ghost towns. Overall I think I enjoyed the story and characters more than the actual reading of the book, if that makes sense, largely due to McCarthy's writing style.

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