To try and do justice to these wonderfully original works in a few lines is an impossibility. The three books together make up what turns out to be a magnificent odyssey. It is a strange but ultimately rewarding journey you make with these characters. You get to know the characters well and enjoy their dry laconic wit. But the most striking feature is the main characters are so likeable. They are the best of American manhood. They stand up for all that is good in the star spangled banner. In fact they simply stand up for all that is good. If I could ride, which I can't worth a damn, then these are the young cowboys I would be happy to ride with if they'd have me.
In "All the pretty horses" we meet young John Grady Cole who with his companero set off South of the border on a whim. They meet a character called Blevins who seems like trouble and sure enough turns out to be trouble with a capital T. A mexican ranch and a pretty senorita are involved but the spectre of young Blevins comes back to haunt the good old boys. They end up suffering under Mexican justice. The rest I will not spoil other than to say it is a rollicking good read.
In "The Crossing" we meet the equally likeable Billy Parham and his younger brother. This is my personal favourite of the three books. The material is unpromising but McCarthy weaves magic with it. The boy Parham captures a wolf and decides to return it across the border to old Mexico where he stays for a bit longer than intended. On his eventual return he finds his parents have been murdered. He pauses briefly to pick up his brother and they head back over the border to hunt for the murderers. The book takes up an epic feeling as the journey takes on a never ending quest. Parham becomes a strange Quixotic figure in an alien landscape. Although he speaks perfect Spanish he and his brother seem like " Strangers in a strange land". The finale is a heart rending affair.
In the final book "Cities of the plain" Billy Parham and John Grady Cole are brought together in a magnificent story of tragic doomed love and friendships that run deep. Again much of the story takes place South of the border. It is a fitting finale to the trilogy.
All three books are breathtaking in their scope and ambition. One reviewer I read compares McCarthy with Hemingway. I will commit heresy here by saying that McCarthy is far better. His examinations of friendship, family ties and a love that crosses boundaries of state and the human heart simply amaze. All the characters are heart rendingly real. They are all too human. McCarthy will one day be recognised in the pantheon of the Worlds great writers. I love these three books as I grew to love the characters in them. That is the effect they have on you. This is a remarkable trilogy.
Be warned that Spanish is used liberally in all the books. My only knowledege of the language is through watching too many Westerns, so it would not get me far in old Mexico. Personally I found this only enhanced the feel of the book. I would also add that some knowledge of the American West is an aid, although not essential. The ghosts of the past loom quite large in his books. This is 'manna from heaven' for an old western buff like me, but more than this it is writing that far transcends its own genre. This is a series, that like Pat Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy, will undoubtedly in the not too distant future be heralded as literary classics.
If I'd known then what I do now... I'd have bought the first book in this trilogy and probably the third. I can see what all the fuss was about: McCarthy's prose is beautiful. I didn't notice the lack of punctuation commented on by other reviewers, but I was aware of the repetitive use of the word 'and' to stitch phrases together. This device, it seems, serves as his punctuation and I think it suits his style.
I found 'All The Pretty Horses' awesomely good. McCarthy's characters tend not to say what they mean, which makes for a deep subtext and a fearsome tension. The teenage John Grady has his future pulled out from under him at the start and his every word and action thereafter is loaded with meaning. I don't understand Spanish, but I understood the gist of the dialogue by what followed these exchanges.
'The Crossing', however, did nothing for me. It came across as a novel in search of a plot, little more than a dull travelogue. I didn't believe in Billy Parham; he didn't seem to have Grady's presence or motivation. I found his decision-making bizarre. As a consequence, the dialogue and technical detail wasn't as charged as it was in the first novel. This is also one of those novels that contains dozens of woolly, philosophical one-liners that don't add up to much. The best philosophical moments in the trilogy tend to arise from simple interaction between the characters. 'The Crossing' is the longest book of the three and felt twice as as long as it really is.
'Cities Of The Plain', in which Grady and Parham appear together (the first two books are set mostly during WW2, this one a few years after it's ended), is more than passable and builds up to a wonderful climax (though I have reservations about the epilogue). It also confirmed for me that Grady is a much more powerful character than Parham, who didn't particularly resemble the youth of 'The Crossing'.
McCarthy for me proves that simpler, well-worn subjects such as love and fortune still have the most potential. My recommendation would be only to buy the single-volume trilogy if it costs less than the first and third combined.
on 13 May 2012
I am a bit sold on Cormac McCarthy. "The Crossing" is my favourite from this bunch and then, I think, Blood Meridian overall. Everything by this guy is worth reading simply for the grandeur and beauty of the prose if for naught else. I am sticking this review in primarily to mention the Spanish included in the novels. There is not that much of it despite what other reviewers say. It is beautiful when it is there. And.... I don't speak a lick of Spanish but as Mickey Rourke said, "I understood every word". (You can work it out from context with little effort.)
on 6 November 2013
The first two novels relate, separately, the adventures of two young American cowboys, each with a mission, journeying through Mexico before, during and after the Civil War. They suffer hardships and set-backs, resourcefully overcome; encounter generous help and hospitality, as well as great danger, violence and tragedy. The third book unites the two in what I think is the best of the three.
The trilogy is a saga of courage, despair and triumph against adversity, interrupted by several excessively lengthy yarns by various strangers they meet, which the author uses as a vehicle for expounding various philosophies on life, but which are irrelevant to the story and don’t appear to progress it in any way. Dialogue is laconic, none too articulate, often humorous (and punctuated with much spitting and tooth-picking), while the narrative is often long-winded to the point of being boring. His descriptions are graphic and often poetic, the story strangely compelling, but some long tracts make heavy reading.
McCarthy’s writing style is varied, ranging from acute brevity to excessive detail, in which he will never settle for two words if he can manage to squeeze in twenty. I was intensely irritated by his discourtesy to the reader by omitting apostrophes, hyphens and quotation marks (although one does get used to it), and am nonplussed by his consistent use of lower case initials for ‘ italian’,’jew’, ‘english’ and ‘french’, while honouring Spanish, American and Mexican with capital letters. Most irksome is the fact that a lot of the dialogue is in Spanish, for which only occasionally does he employ any of the usual devices for assisting understanding. Much of this I could fathom from a passing knowledge of other European languages, but the precise meanings of some long conversations were obscure, and required constant recourse to a Spanish dictionary, which was time-consuming and frustrating.
Nevertheless, the saga is very moving, and leaves a strong impression.
on 4 March 2016
The trilogy is an immaculately woven tapestry of a story. It is often touching and often troubling. It is mesmerising in its slowly unfurling grandeur. Somewhere in the telling, there is love and admiration of a people's generosity in the face of abject poverty and strife. The ongoing endeavour of the protagonists-in-chief, hopeless in the face of futility, is intoxicating.
The prose, unembellished, archaic and stunted (all by thoughtful design) is food for my mind. The paucity of punctuation, the dearth of attribution in conversation, the stripping back of grammar - in my opinion achieves what is perhaps the desired affect of mirroring civilisation stripped back to the bones.
The magnitude of this saga feels immeasurable to me; I just know as time passes since I read it, I appreciate more and more, how privileged I was to stumble across it.
I believe McCarthy's Blood Meridian lives in this company, for that is another breathtaking work; more alarming than the Border Trilogy and certainly as affecting.
For me one needs not look too much further than this trilogy and McMurtry's Lonesome Dove books, for the very best in tales of frontiers and the often tragic cost of 'civilisation'.
on 10 September 2012
Despite its length, and its attention to repetitive detail, Cormac McCarthy's `Border Trilogy' is a gripping and addictive read. The capabilities of his teenage cowboy heroes, whether trapping a live wolf and leading it back to Mexico, breaking in wild horses, tracking down wild dogs, or taking on well armed bandits in fights, make the fable surreal, as does the graphic appearance of many larger than life almost pantomime characters.
But the struggle to survive the adversities of life, whether the hostility of nature in the wild, or the dysfunctionality of human society, are all too real. The duplicities and horrors of the Mexican revolution, the cynical abuse of women by pimps, the stealing and killing by roaming criminal gangs, are powerfully portrayed as the challenge for the heroic life. The survival of a supportive network of generous household hospitality and virtue to sustain the hero in action is a hope we might all share.
The delicate intricacy of McCarthy's text richly colours the detail of every event, absorbing the reader intimately into the narrative. The length of the book and the inclusion of Spanish in the dialogue, which have been criticised and sent up by some reviewers, most amusingly by J Taylor in a comment on his own review, in fact are effective devices to create and convey atmosphere. The reality is long and arduous, and southern US states are bilingual.
on 18 September 2013
I had already read each of the three books which form the Trilogy and I wanted a version which combined the three.
I think Mc Carthy descriptive powers, his ability to weave a complex story; to create credible characters with whom the reader may empathise or dislike in their happiness, fear or loneliness; to build mood and tension and to create scences of violence, or calm and serenity , whether it is pastoral or landscape, the sky at night, the vastness of the plains or of an interior, are truly compelling.
I have also some of his other works, including Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, The Orchard Keeper, Suttree, The Road.
What I find so interesting about his writing is how Mc Carthy can write in different styles from very terse brief sentences as in No country and the Road , to almost lush descriptive styles as in some of the Trilogy.
I consider Cormac Mc Carthy is one of the finest modern novelists writing today.
Well,better late to review than never...all there really is to say,though,that this is,in my opinion,the greatest living writer in the new world.Imagine a cross between Larry McMurtry,at his best,and William Faulkner,and some indefinable otherness,and you have Cormac McCarthy.Having recommended these books to several people,they have looked askance at me thereafter...so,their loss.They should have stuck with Noddy,my error in thinking them worthy of the great man.And great,he most certainly is.I love all his books,but this trilogy,it is the mythical desert island choice...for me,at least.If you have anything resembling a decent mind,get this,read it.You can then read it again.If you don't love it,then something is wrong.But it isn't Cormac.It's you.No offense meant,I just feel more passionately about these books than ANY i've read in the last 25 years.Fact.
on 27 October 2012
The first novel I read by this author was No Country for Old Men. I was very impressed by the breadth, depth and sheer intensity of the writing, and wanted to read more. I bought a pre-owned copy of the Border Trilogy on Amazon Marketplace, and I have been delighted with it. Here is a depiction of the American West of the 1940s. The old ways are changing or have already gone, but a few miles south, down into Mexico, they are still the norm. The trilogy contains three major works by this author: All the Pretty Horses, the Crossing and Cities of the Plain. They trace the stories of two young Americans who go separately in search of - and find - the older ways down in Mexico. The language is both bleak and beautiful. For me, these are must-read books.
on 10 April 2015
This is probably one of the most enthralling reads I have ever enjoyed. The language is amazing: I could hear the dialogue and the accents, I could see every plant and bush and rock in the landscapes, and every hair of the wolf and the horses. I loved the characters, though some more sketched out than others. Cormac McCarthy manages a very neat trick: he manages to make entire dialogues in Spanish understandable to this here non-Spanish speaker. Having finished the three books only days ago, I feel a little bereft... and the stuff I am reading now feels a bit bubblegummy and pedestrian. I simply can't recommend this trilogy enough.