Shop now Shop now Shop now  Up to 50% Off Fashion  Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn more Shop now Shop now
Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the Pretty Horses, 20 Jun. 2010
By 
This review is from: All the Pretty Horses (Border Trilogy 1) (Paperback)
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
  [Cancel]


Review Details