I am a Cormac MacCarthy fan but had not read his books in chronologic order, Blood Meridian is the most impressive, memorable book I have ever read. It is truly unputdownable (if that really is a word). He writes about the most disturbing and brutal things in such a beautiful and poetic way, that he paints vivid pictures in your mind which stay long after you have finished the book.
All of his books seem to have something sinister or evil in them (with the exception of the slightly autobiographical 'Sutree')but in this one the character of 'The Judge' creates his own league. This character was voted the second most evil creation of all time behind 'Hanibal Lechter'and had he been made life like on film the Judge would have pissed it.
This tells the story of what really was the wild west but set in Mexico, the kid (we never get his real name) takes up with a band of Apache scalp hunters who are basically maniachal murderers. So much happens that a synopsis would either not do justice or act as a plot spoiler. This is not a read for the faint hearted and it is not life affirming, but it is a work of genius and art.
on 8 November 2001
"Blood Meridian", based on real events, charts the bloody adventures of a group of scalp-hunters in the west a century and a half ago.
The extreme (and random) violence of the novel's many gore-infested passages is too much for many stomachs, but then again life in all its raw honesty often is. Ironically for a novel dealing mainly with death and desolation, the finely-honed prose cascades and sparks off the page like a Catherine wheel, literally taking this reader's breath away.
Throughout, the novel is bestrode by the looming figure of Judge Holden, awesome and terrible, all-knowing yet uncaring, omnipotent and omnipresent, an 1850s reworking of the devil.
Read this novel for the stark beauty of its prose, read it for the terror created by the graphic descriptions of the violence man can - and does - commit on man, read it for the surprising amount of dry, laconic humour in the dialogue, read it to discover the Judge, one of literature's great creations. But read it.
on 8 December 2007
My book jacket says BLOOD MERIDIAN "...chronicles the extraordinary violence of the Glanton Gang, a murderous cadre on an official mission to scalp Indians." Wikipedia adds that John Glanton "led a gang of scalp hunters. Nominally a mercenary operation hired by Mexican authorities to track down and kill dangerous bands of Apaches, the gang began murdering and scalping non-Apaches and massacring citizens..." and were eventually "declared outlaws."
McCarthy's entry to the Glanton gang comes through two characters. The first is the Kid, who joins up in his mid-teens and participates in its gruesome crimes. The second is Judge Holden, who dominates the gang and has a philosophical view of its random violence.
In McCarthy's hands, the story of the Glanton gang is like a psychopathic road novel, which is held together with genius-quality poetic writing. Read BM and be captured by McCarthy's immense talent as the gang traverses the Southwest and northern Mexico. I open BM at random (the start of Chapter 14) and find:
"All to the north the rain had dragged black tendrils down from the thunderclouds like tracings of lampblack fallen in a beaker and in the night they could hear the drum of rain miles away on the prairie. They ascended through a rocky pass and lightning shaped out the distant shivering mountains and lightning rang the stones about and tufts of blue fire clung to the horses like incandescent elementals that would not be driven off. Soft smelterlights advanced upon the metal of the harness, lights ran blue and liquid on the barrels of the guns. Mad jackhares started and checked in the blue glare and high among those clanging crags jokin roehawks crouched in their feathers or cracked a yellow eye at the thunder underfoot."
The writing is truly amazing.
At the same time, McCarthy uses the Judge to move his narrative beyond gruesome and episodic adventure. Here, the Judge seems to create and sustain a mission of violence for the gang. And when a character temporarily operates outside the gang and the Judge's influence? Then society quickly challenges and usually contains him. (In fact, only the kid is able to avoid self-destruction outside the gang, which provokes a final act of viciousness by the judge.)
Anyway, BM makes terrible (not just aesthetic) sense after the Judge emerges as a force that makes greater violence possible. And in the final chapter, McCarthy's treatment of the slaughter of the American buffalo reminds us that the violence of the Glanton gang and its willingness to massacre lurks in the nature of many men, simply awaiting sanction and leadership.
Two quick final points:
First, I encourage readers who enjoyed BM to try Pynchon's Against the Day. This shares a character (Sloat) and also has traverse motion in the Southwest and Mexico, albeit in family form. But in AtD, the violence is personal and capitalistic, not epic, while the narrative, in its Western thread, is sweet and magical parody.
Second: Have your dictionary ready. McCarthy is the master of the short and obscure word. Heading my long list: affray, swale, sprent, sutler, farrier, vadose, kivas, spalls...
on 10 January 2016
First of all: wow. I didn't have high expectations having read 'The Road' (which I didn't particularly enjoy) and some of the less favourable reviews but I found myself very quickly immersed into this book.
I can understand some of the complaints; the narrative is meandering; we never really get to know any character in depth, not even the monstrous judge who is the most often described. I'm not sure if the lack of punctuation is an affectation, laziness or intended as a literary device but I like speech marks, I could have done with a few more well placed commas and what's wrong with semi colons?
That said, my positive and very personal reflections on completing it are: that the prose was stunning; poetic in parts. I was dragged through an unforgiving landscape from one atrocity to another during this violent period of American history, always a spectator, never part of the mercenaries band, often uncomfortable but still, anxious to keep following wherever I was led and tapping the next page. The beautiful, evocative prose carried it.
At the end, I am still not sure what I read. I can guess what happened to the boy turned man during the course of events at the conclusion but I can't claim to understand the motives or his strange relationship with the Judge. Who is the Judge? Is he a metaphor or the devil incarnate? I am still asking myself these and other questions and will continue to do so for a while I suspect. So, for me, both a disconcerting and a truly memorable read and one I would cautiously recommend. It depends what you want to get out of a novel.
Good kindle copy.
on 10 May 2007
I had never read McCarthy but picked up this book along with "The Road" due to all the Hype from the Oprah book club selection. While the "The Road" is a very good book it is not the masterpiece of "Blood Meridian." This is the most powerful books I have ever read. McCarthy's style is highlighted here: sharp, dry, brittle, and panoramic. I was enraptured by how McCarthy was able to capture the imagery of the southwest landscape with his words. The story itself is horrific, epic, and yet commonplace, the conquering of the west and its people by the whiteman has been better illustrated. On top of all this McCarthy is a grand story teller, who can stretch the limits of imagination without losing the common touch-in other words he keeps it REAL. This is a challenge, but worthy one!
on 26 March 2007
Those with weak stomachs need not open the pages of this book. From beginning to end, this is one long travail of unadulterated gore and brutality. It's major mythic character, the Judge, states that war is divine, that nothing on the earth is beyond his notice or does not require his permission to die. And brutal, violent death occurs with great regularity within this book, every couple of pages or so.
The setting is the West and Mexico around the period of 1847, and the license to kill without discrimination is enabled by the Judge's charter of killing and scalping renegade Indians for bounty. If that was all that this group did, perhaps the reader could make some allowance for the portrayed actions, but it quickly becomes apparent that anyone is a target, regardless of guilt, innocence, age, occupation, race, gender, or prior actions. The book becomes a dark celebration of violence for violence's sake.
The Kid, fourteen years old at the start of this book, is the nominal protagonist, drawn into the Judge's group mainly because he had nothing better to do, without other skills or any ambitions. And he is practically the only ray of light within this whole concoction, as he (once or twice) actually shows a little feeling for persons besides himself.
The Judge is an enigmatic super-something, ageless, multilingual, educated, interested in ecology, and much larger than life. Who (or what) the Judge is is clearly central to this book's theme, but he certainly can stand as an avatar of an element of human nature that most people would rather not think about.
McCarthy's prose is very distinct, with odd syntax, unquoted dialogue, and considerable use of some rather rare words. His descriptions of the country are, in some places, nearly prose poems. But this style also leads to what I think is the major flaw with this book, as he never gets inside the heads of any of his characters, remains distant, such that none of his people ever came `alive' to me. Some descriptions of the privations the group experiences while crossing a desert, while quite accurate, remained something happening to a group of stick figures, rather than recognizable humans. Perhaps this is exactly what he wanted, written more as an allegory or parable than any conventional type of story. Certainly there isn't any real plot, as the story careens from one brutal incident to the next.
Perhaps this book can best be described as an archetypal anti-Western, the antithesis of the standard Western, which, amid all the violence, has its focus on heroes. There are no heroes here.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
on 11 February 2011
Fortunately though, it wasn't. I know he can be brilliant, and indeed, when I saw gushings of "His Masterpiece", "Epic", "Turns American fairytale of discovery of the West on its head", etc splashed all over the cover, I thought, "Great!" I love his idiosyncratic style, his eye for detail, his interesting turns of phrase, and I must say, whatever its shortcomings, this is a beautifully written book. This rating is based entirely on my emotional response to the novel. I can see that it is a great work, but I'm not going to give it 4 or 5 stars because I think I ought to.
What really turned me off was that there was no single character that I could empathise with and get to know. I don't demand a likeable protagnonist - far from it. I've read and enjoyed plenty of novels in which we learn the thoughts and deeds of a thoroughly despicable character. In fact, the story starts out as if it will follow the trials and fortunes of the Kid: a violent, disaffected youth who joins a band of ne'er do-wells on their horrifically gruesome journey across the States in the late 1840s. We get to know a little about him at the beginning, and while he is a malevolent and repugnant character, it seems like we will see things from his point of view, maybe with some insight into the psychology of being a ruthless bandit, his reflections on what is going on, however graphic and unsavoury. However, as soon as he teams up with a group of like-minded others, he melds in with all them and we practically don't hear much of him again until near the end. There are a couple of characters who are given the tiniest of fleshings-out (notably the Judge, Glanton, the ex-priest, Toadvine - although these last 3 hardly at all). But it is very rare that we get anything more than the shallowest of descriptions of any characters. Often, the first time we hear a character's name is when he is dropping down dead, never to be spoken of again.
Most of the book is just a tiresome but beautiful portrait of the desert landscape, with the group riding through it, raping, murdering and pillaging, riding on, raping, murdering and pillaging, ad infinitum. There is absolutely no sense of drive or momentum in the narrative, of building up tension to any kind of satisfying conclusion (although I suppose there is one, of sorts. It just doesn't feel like there will be for most of the book). The plot is aimless and frankly boring. There is lots of violence and sadness, but there is no human aspect to it, no reflection on what is happening. I know we are supposed to do this ourselves as readers, but it is hard to when there is absolutely nothing to empathise with. I must admit the last 60 or so pages perk up a little, which is a relief, but all in all, reading was a chore, not a pleasure.
I am one of those people who cannot abandon a book once they have started it. This is the only reason I got to the end. I certainly admire what McCarthy has done in this book, but there really isn't much to like.
on 14 February 2013
Only one review?
How can this be?
Please don't anyone be put off by one guy who didn't like this. It was epic. Awesomely beautiful and vivid. Hard going,sometimes, I agree. But also enigmatic and puzzling, and with an ending that threw everything into a new light, for me. Read it for the desert alone, or for the attack on Captain White's partisans? Or for the Judge. (One of my favourite ever characters.)
I will read this again no doubt, with great pleasure.
on 20 January 1999
Blood Meridian will lead you to all the other Cormac McCarthy books, for that same clear power and beauty; but you will not find it.It is here only that McCarthy has taken the language and forged a novel of such individual intensity that it will strike you like the single clear tone from one huge bell. It is an exploration of an archaic vocabulary and a lost culture using a storytellers skill that was last used by Homer. The story and plot are irrelevant other than McCarthy has fashioned a group of crudely chiseled characters on a wide wide horizon of fine resolution; and he moves the characters across a blasted panorama in a pounding and relentless drama. There are portions of the prose that are so perfect in assembly and content that, like the Bible and just a half dozen other documents in English, they should be read aloud.
In the thousands of books that I will read in the second half of my life I hope to find one more to equal this Blood Meridian.Put this book up on a shelf next to Homer, Cervantes, Melville, and Joyce.
on 2 December 2015
Blood Meridian is a unique novel, which paints a picture of the Wild West that is harsh and brutal and far different from the impression of the Wild West that most have based on myths, legends and popular culture. The story is told in a biblical style and is loaded with symbolism, and the language is poetic and evocative, particularly the descriptions of the landscapes in which the action takes place. The violence in the story is continuous and graphic, but this is a central part of the artistic expression and themes of the story. Despite appreciating Blood Meridian as a literary work, I found it to be a difficult read, mainly because there is no clear plot or suspense to keep the story moving along. In addition, there is a lack of any character development; whilst this is done by the author intentionally, in order to develop the themes of man’s inherently evil and violent nature and the relationship between man and nature, it makes it difficult for the reader to empathise with the characters and get drawn into the story.