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.
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 1 February 1999
The border in question is the Mexico/USA border in the first half of this century, but don't let any impression that these books are westerns put you off! There are indeed horse thefts, ranchers and gunfights, as you might expect, but the atmosphere is far from Shane, or indeed Blazing Saddles. I've already reviewed the first book under its own name. The second book, The Crossing, concerns 16 year old Billy Parham, who leaves home and crosses into Mexico with a wolf he has captured alive, intending to release it into the wild, only to return to find his parents murdered. He and his brother spend the rest of the book attempting to regain possession of their father's stolen horses, and meet with both friendship and brutality on the way. The third book brings Billy Parham together with the main character of the first book, John Grady Cole. All three are written in a spare prose style entirely devoid of emotion or overblown description. McCarthy does not attempt to enter his characters heads or make us empathise with them, yet by the end you do. The style is just right for the material, and for the reader. Brad Pitt reads well, in a soft smokey emotionless drawl just right for the characters.
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.)
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 6 July 2010
I found it quite difficult to resolve these three books in my mind. They don't neatly fit into any pre-existing pigeon holes and as such they have to be assessed alone without reference to other similar books in similar genres. The chief characters are engaged by so many random events and meetings, some of which are relevant to the overall story, some of which are not. This can be a little confusing until you get used to it - just like real life in fact. Likewise McCarthy's style of writing is unlike anything I've come across. To some extent he makes up his own rules about grammar,syntax and punctuation but the end result is well worth it. If there is a message from McCarthy's books it is that life for people at the bottom of the pile is unrelentingly hard and is there to be endured to its conclusion which will be sad and inglorious.
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.
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 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.
on 6 March 2010
To get the most from this book you really need a knowledge of Spanish because whole sections of dialogue are left untranslated. The description of the border lands is rich and atmospheric but as a UK reader I was a little lost on the geography. The middle book of the trilogy (The Crossing) I found to be a little rambling but the first and third books were much more succinct with a doomed romance as a common theme.