The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

This book was bought for me as a present for my birthday, along with another Cormac McCarthy novel. I was familiar with some of the films from this writers novels but this was the first that I had read for myself. I was in the mood for a book that took me to the wild prairies of America and the ranching life.
Book One in The Border Trilogy and set somewhere between the two World Wars (but surprisingly timeless), the story follows John Grady Cole, from Texas, a young and intuitive rancher with a deep love and understanding of horses. He and his friend, Lacey Rawlins set out for Mexico to find ranch work and the life that they love. On the way they pick up a young boy runaway, a decision that changes the course of their adventures and also their future. Encorporating a love story, friendship and stunningly beautiful scenery, this book was called 'One of the Greatest American Novels of this or any time' by The Guardian. So does it live up to this claim?
Coming from a less skillfully written novel before this one it was clear to me within only a few pages that Cormac McCarthy is by far a talent to be celebrated. The first page contained a 'sit up and take notice, in-take of breath' moment, and the writing was deliciously beautiful, in an indulgent, chocolate caramel way. The type of writing that causes involuntary sighs from the reader because of the satisfying beauty of the prose. Some of the passages in this book are some of the most beautifully written paragraphs or sentences that I have ever come across.
This is only four pages in...
'He rode back in the dark. The horse quickened its step.The last of the day's light fanned slowly on the plain behind him and withdrew again down the edges of the world in a cooling blue of shadow and dusk and chill and a few last chitterings of birds sequestered in the dark and wiry brush. He crossed the old trace again and he must turn the pony up onto the plain and homeward but the warriors would ride on in that darkness they'd become, rattling past with their stone-age tools of war in default of all substance and singing softly in blood and longing south across the plains to Mexico.' (p6)
McCarthy's use of repetition also served to validate the prose...
'When the wind was in the north you could hear them, the horses and the breath of horses and the horses' hooves that were shod in rawhide...'
or '...the women and children and women with children at their breasts all of them pledged in blood and redeemable in blood only.'
and I found it provided a rhythm that was comforting. I also liked the maturity of the voice telling the story, an assuring account of human nature that only comes with an experienced eye.
John Grady is the kind of hero we miss from old stories, steadfast, strong, reliable and entirely human. His sense of fairness compliments his passionate nature, for his own life, the woman he loves, his friend and the horses he surrounds himself with. You wouldn't go far wrong with this bloke on your side in an argument. These are men whose senses are heightened and do not spend much time on conversation.
The deceptively girlie title of the book hides the masculine content. This is an often brutal account of life on the land, with very few female characters, and a violent second half that had me holding my breath. Shocking circumstances left me wondering how on earth will they survive, only to lead to more shocking developments.
This is a gorgeous book on so many levels, the descriptions of the landscape and mans relationship with it, working with it and the horses. Also the accounts of friendship, and the determination to survive when others are determined that you will not. It was exciting and moving and a wonderful read.
Highly recommended for anyone wanting to visit a wild west that is about to be lost to machinery and corporate management very soon afterwards. Also for those who love quality writing that enhances sense of place and conveys tangible characters. I can't wait to get my hands on the 2nd novel of The Border Trilogy.
Reading Group Guides have discussion questions on All The Pretty Horses.
To go to Cormac McCarthy's website use the link.


Jeane said...

You've just made me add it to my list. For some reason I've always seen this title floating around, but never paid it much attention or thought I'd be interested. It sounds very good, though!

Leah said...

Hi Jeane, lovely to hear from you and Merry Christmas. I hope you like it as much as I did.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye