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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 1999
This is an astonishing and spellbinding book, a triumph of writing and storytelling. The first sentence is sufficient to draw the reader into a journey from a father's deathbed to the wild plains of the American West. But the time could be the present with its drab towns, unemployment and men either too intelligent or too stupid for the lives they are trapped in. The author can describe the American landscape with an honesty and lyricism that echoes the finest ancient literature. He does this in a unique style that sounds like the voice of a hardened cowboy who understands deeply his horses and his land. This book leaves Hollywood versions of the west behind in the dust. For McCarthy's world is tragic and poetic, blackened with brutality and rotten justice as much as it sparkles with the beauty of nature. Its heroes are tough, battered and compelling to the last page.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2001
In the first instalment of his border trilogy, Cormac McCarthy has distanced himself somewhat from the bleak and dark themes and characters he created in his first novels, such as The Orchard Keeper and Outer Dark, and reset his prose in western America, in the border country that divides America from Mexico. Into this landscape of harsh beauty, he puts John Grady Cole, our protagonist, and his friend Lacey Rawlins, two old school cowboys who see the western life that they love changing, and decide to leave for Mexico in search of work as 'Vaqeuros', ranchers. On their way they encounter Blevins, a dangerous young boy with a keen shot riding a stolen horse. Their experiences shape the story into what i believe to be one of the finest books written by an American author in decades. McCarthy's prose is a joy to read, and the dialogue is often poignant and hilarious. And he also delivers what is probably the greatest fight scene in contemporary literature. Poetic, beautiful, funny, and at times almost unbearingly sad, read this.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 6 April 2006
I'd never been greatly compelled to read a book in such a typically cinematic genre, but this is incredible. It combines the bloodthirsty epic sweep of the great Sergio Leone spagetti westerns with the harsh realism of later revisionist works such as Unforgiven. All this described in a language born of the genre - McCarthy has developed a kind of pure-Western prose seeped in the rugged, open country, the tough men trapped in their interior worlds, their bleak fatalism and capacity for violence. Its envisioning of Mexico as the new frontier for a dying breed of ranch men (ie., cowboys) is realised with unromanticised poeticism. The writing - like the cowboy dialogue - is economic yet vast in its capacity to evoke the landscape and its protagonists deep respect for it. McCarthy also has a great ear for dialogue that enriches what might otherwise be perceived to be rather clichéd characterisations, such as the ruthless Mexican captain. The first in McCarthy's Border Trilogy - this has also been adapted into a movie by Billy Bob Thornton that I haven't yet seen.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 1999
Strange title - I only found it by chance because it is read by Brad Pitt. The first of a trilogy, this first book concerns one of the characters, the second another, and the two are brought together in the third. John Grady Cole, the hero, and his friends leave home at an early age and seek work on the ranches of Mexico. Here he finds love and also suffers much injustice and lawlessness, growing in character and stature the while. Many authors make the mistake of going into too much description, or expatiate about their characters emotions. McCarthy never does this; his prose is spare and basic, and only what you would have seen had you been there is described, never the thoughts or feelings of the characters. Nevertheless the landscape comes vividly before you and you do come to understand and care about the characters. Brad Pitt has just the right voice for it, sort of soft and smokey, with an accent you can imagine the characters using. Occasionally his intonation made me wonder if he completely understood what he was reading, but generally a good impression. I have gone on to listen to the other two books in the trilogy, so it must have been good!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2008
There is a power in the words of Cormac McCarthy, a power that can take a reader up to the high ground and show him the land around and the people in it and make that reader know those people as he knows the scars on his body and the old ache in his limbs and the cold and lonely feeling that comes upon him in the middle of the night.

McCarthy ropes and ties his powerful words with the skill of a man born to the task, dancing nimbly through the herd, spying out his chosen phrases with an easy and accustomed eye and bringing them down with one swift movement, all the while whispering to them of the place he will give them in his great work and of all the things he and they will do together and of the wonders they will create.

There is a rhythm about All the Pretty Horses that belongs to mighty rivers and the slow, dignified dances that old men make in far-off lands. It pulls the reader along through a tale such as they say isn't told any more, a tale of friendship and of love and of honour and of death. As the wild horses move out upon the plains and sierras of Mexico, so young John Cole roves from his mother's fading Texas ranch to the strange, sad land to the south. In that land he finds fear and friendship and a large capacity for loyalty to his friends, his beliefs and the young woman he believes he loves more even than the horses, whose hoofbeats match the pulsing of the blood in his veins.

All the pretty horses is a rare and magnificent book, a genuine modern masterpiece.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Adventure, full-hearted love, revenge, the majestic wilderness, and of course horses: the western-movie staples are what moves this novel. Yet if All The Pretty Horses is a classic cowboy story, it is also that of a dying world, and all the more accessible to us that it is set in the post-war era.

John Grady Cole, a young man of 16 years, leaves the country for Mexico together with his friend Lacey Rawlins, both on horseback, in search of a life that has become inaccessible to them in Texas. A cruel but romantic saga of tests and tribulations awaits them - which I won't spoil by giving too much of it.

The dialogues are suitably laconic. The characters are frank and unambiguous, except for one key exception. Nature is reserved the richer, more complex, and admiring language. While the novel begins at a slow pace, making the reader wonder whether this is really a back-to-the-wild story, the action later quickens to a satisfyingly gripping climax. One warning: a good part of the dialogue is in Spanish, untranslated; though this won't throw you off the plot, if you don't understand Spanish, it may get annoying.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I've read 'The Road' and 'No Country' but this is better - much better.
On the face of it its a road movie (on horses) but this is also about love, friendship and a strength of character that you just don't seem to see these days. This was an absolute pleasure to read, just taking you there and making you part of the story. I read this is almost one sitting I was so taken with the story. Its not action packed but its a compelling story about a boy growing up. He leaves his family ranch as its sold off and rides down to Mexico with his best friend to find another life.
There are shootings, a picture of Mexico that has long gone, injustice , being falsely imprisoned and surviving an attempted knife attack, and a love affair with the daughter of the ranch he ends up working on that has heartbreak written all over it
But its written so well that you just get sucked in and the conversation with the judge at the end of the story is just spellbinding
I've got all three in the Border Trilogy in one volume but I had to write a review of the first part at once - its that good
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2012
JonDoe has commented on the lack of quotation marks in this book and it isn't just the Kindle version. I read the border trilogy in print form some time ago and had exactly the same problems in following passages of dialogue. Even more baffling for me though, were the passages of untranslated Spanish. I could cope like most people with simple greetings and everyday remarks but some of these passages in Spanish were quite complex. For example in the second book The Crossing a Mexican trapper explains to Billy Parham how to set a trap for a wolf and to cover his own scent around the area so as not to deter the wolf. All of this is in Spanish with some colloquial expressions and all of it untranslated. I was able to find and download translations of all the passages in all three books but I found the constant switching between book and printouts quite distracting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2013
For me CM's (hell I used an apostrophe and only 3 words in) work is just about perfect. You cannot be a passenger. You have to work too. The reader is a participant in the mechanics of the narration If you loose concentration you will need to retrace. The use of Spanish works well. I do not speak Spanish nor am I familiar with the dialect used but it is usually obvious within the English text what they are on about. Same goes for the omission of quotation marks. The reader needs to work a little. It is not gifted to you on a plate. I found that I was stimulated by the book on many different levels. This book is the first in the Border Trilogy: All The Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain. They work best read in that order. I made the mistake of reading in the order of 1,3 & 2. And regret it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 20 June 2010
As I approached the half-way point of `All the Pretty Horses', I started to think about how I would review this book. I decided to begin by describing Cormac McCarthy as a `punctuation minimalist' but, in hind-sight, I don't think this term goes far enough. Perhaps `punctuation denier' or `comma tease' would be more appropriate labels (...I admit that neologism isn't my strong point). `All the Pretty Horses' contains no speech marks, semi-colons, ellipses, dashes or parenthesis; very few apostrophes and even fewer commas. The full-stop is the only standard unit of punctuation employed here, and often comes at the end of very long, complex sentences.

What's more is that McCarthy's syntax is frequently polysyndetic - long chains of conjunctions separate short noun groups, with multiple actions being described in single sentences; a style reminiscent of William Faulkner or Ernest Hemmingway.

All of this would be incidental, however, were it not coupled with highly accomplished writing. The prose is alive with metaphor, evocative imagery and unusual philosophical asides. This linguistic and grammatical aesthetic is highly stylized; here metaphors don't merely comment on what is being described, but actively create it -for both the reader and the characters. The identity of the American landscape is inextricably entwined with the language used to forge it.

A good example of what I'm trying to describe can be found at the very beginning of the novel, as a train travels through the Texan country before dawn and lights up a wooden fence, causing shadows to move as it passes:

"It came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging[...]"

I admit that I found this style of writing difficult to begin with, but after the first ten or fifteen pages I became familiar with it, and the rest of the novel posed no significant difficulties. In fact, I was so immersed in the narrative that I began to wonder why writers bother using speech marks at all...

So, what's it all about? I would describe `All the Pretty Horses' as a bildungsroman; a coming of age story. Set in 1949, John Grady Cole is sixteen when his mother sells the Texan ranch he has grown up on; he simultaneously loses his inheritance, his way of life and his tight-knit family community. Bewildered and cut-off, Cole sets out for Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins, searching for work as a ranch hand or `Vaquero'. On the Mexican border the pair meets a third boy - Jimmy Blevins - a mysterious character reluctant to open up, but dangerous and hot-headed. As they travel through the barren but beautiful rocky deserts of northern Mexico, it becomes apparent that the only way of life they've ever known or ever wanted is slowly fading away.

As Cole's childhood passes, so do his dreams of a simple, innocent life as a farmer. In Mexico he falls in love with the daughter of a rich Hacendado; a relationship doomed to tragedy as the actions of Jimmy Blevins catch up with all three boys and their journey turns into a violent struggle for survival. McCarthy's America is desperate, cruel and rugged; `All the Pretty Horses' becomes a parable of responsibility, retribution and the doomed search for redemption.

Much of the novel occurs in the mountainous border country of northern Mexico - vivid and enormous; the harsh desert offers an echo of the brutal and hand-to-mouth life of its inhabitants. I can't stand reviewers who describe the landscape of any given novel as a `character' (I don't believe it's possible to psychologise a landscape), but much like in `Wuthering Heights', the environment and geography metaphorically sympathise with the protagonists and their plight in a significant way. My enduring mental image of this novel is the barren country: unforgiving and unbiased.

`All the Pretty Horses' is a novel of discovery - the great theme that dominates American literature. For McCarthy, America is very much a frontier country, a wilderness still to be explored and tested, as it will explore and test you. What dialogue the novel contains is simple, short and sharp - actions, not words, form the true currency of exchange and value. Violence and death permeate.

I was exhilarated as I read this book - it is violent, but not in a glamorous or stylized way; the violence is desperate and savage, a brutal deconstruction of the peace and happiness that John Grady Cole enjoyed in his childhood. He engages in it out of necessity - violent action becoming an unwanted right-of-passage to his adult life.

Cole is a likable protagonist - his morals and dreams are tested to the limit and paid for in blood and heartache. You want, want him to find his way and to recapture the ideal of his lost innocence, but you know it won't or can't ever happen the way he (or you) wants it to.

`All the Pretty Horses' is a unique example of the `Southern Gothic' genre. I cannot praise this book enough - it's a justifiably much-loved American masterpiece. I've never encountered a work in which narrative style and content converge so meaningfully or so successfully. Cormac McCarthy's language doesn't just tell the story; it's an integral part of it, as the short, wistful dialogue imbues pathos and nostalgia, so it reflects the empty, desolate country in which it takes place.
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