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on 17 June 2009
McCarthy's first novel addresses themes returned to in later works. Man's relation to nature is a key theme in this work, in which hunting (of animals and of men) is a recurring image, as is the weather. There is also a constant struggle between choice and chance in shaping the lives of the characters in this novel.

The dialogue, humour, beauty, and brutality usually displayed in McCarthy's work is evident here. Not as dense or horrific as something like Blood Meridian but not the best McCarthy novel to start with either, I'd suggest All the Pretty Horses or No Country for Old Men.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 December 2010
This first novel by Cormac McCarthy hooked me with its striking, poetical prose - reminding me of Dylan Thomas but much darker and more uncompromising. Although I have never visited Tennessee, the author conjures it in vivid images of the remote, mountainous landscape, the weather, wildlife and local people living close to the breadline but capable of unexpected acts of kindness. He also captures the rhythm and wry humour of their dialect.

The mainly short scenes shift backwards and forwards in time so that it is often hard to work out who the subjects are, what is happening and why. McCarthy has a gift for creating tension: when the bootlegger Sylder is driving an unwelcome hitch-hiker back to Knoxville you know that it will end in violence. But for the most part the plot is thin, and the author seems mainly interested in describing in minute detail incidents of daily life which he must have observed - the sensation of driving along roads "ferruling through dark forests of owl trees, bat caverns, witch covens"; a boy laying his first traps; an old man's relationship with his dog. On a more dramatic note are the memorable descriptions of the balcony of the Green Fly Inn cracking under the weight of drinkers to crash into the canyon below, or later the old man under gun attack in his shack, for reasons yet to be revealed to the rearder.

The story is very male-dominated - focus on sleazy bars, hunting, seeking vengeance through violence, plus the at times corny rapport between tough men and the young boys they teach to track coons with dogs, and seek to guide with homely wisdom.

Some initial scenes of the sex-or-is-it-rape-in-a-church variety were so distasteful to me that I nearly gave up, but I am glad that I persevered. This book requires the investment of time, the rereading of some of the more original poetic passages, the suspension of any expectations. I came to understand that what happens to the petty criminal Sylder, the boy, John Wesley, who unbeknown to both of them is the son of the man he was forced to kill, and the ancient recluse Alan Ownby who happens to observe some of Sylder's activities, matters less than the power of nature around them.

In short, I would recommend this not for the plot, but as an exercise in astonishing writing.
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on 8 June 2012
I have now read all of Cormac Mccarthy's novels coming to this one last. I enjoyed every single one of his books for the reasons that other reviewers give but found this less enjoyable to read. It darts about in time and place in a disjointed way so that the reader never knows quite where you are with the story and which character is featuring in the short sections that he uses. Since this was his first novel, maybe he was trying to impress with literary techniques? I would recommend any other of his books but those new to his writing should maybe start with one of the others.
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I would like to start by commending E, Weech's review above and only write to more or less concur. This is not a good starting point if you are uninitiated to Cormac McCarthy as being his first novel he was still mastering his craft, which is why I am only giving 4 stars as his later work is increasingly brilliant. He writes evocatively of a time in America that although harsh he clearly views with admiration and affection. He is almost poetic in the way he describes places, people and events. He also encompasses the full range of feelings and emotions from love to hate and warmth to utter dejection.

This book reminded me slightly of 'Sutree'(which is allegedly autobiographical)in that it is a sort of conglomerate of tales that are interwoven more by location than any clever or contrived plot twists. I found it utterly absorbing, moving and wonderfully written but one to read after you have been converted. It is fairly short too and I devoured it in a few sittings.
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on 23 February 2014
McCarthy’s first novel, first published in 1965, is a slice of Southern gothic set in an Appalachian Mountain community in east Tennessee during the mid 1930s and early 1940s. It follows three main characters – a bootleg-whiskey runner, a teenage boy turned trapper, and an old man – whose lives, unbeknownst to themselves, are linked through another character, a lying and thieving former soldier. The novel follows these characters and their intersecting lives through various episodes, one of which leads to the revealing of a mystery of sorts.

There are themes and traits here that are found in McCarthy’s other work: vivid descriptions of the natural world (landscape, fauna, flora); a focus on the socially marginal; laconic and stoic men and their rural life-ways (hunting, trapping) and a corresponding absence of well-developed female characters; unconventional punctuation (though there’s more here than you’ll find in his later works, even a few semi-colons); and the realization of a world that has gone, depicted in a matter-of-fact manner.

The guiding spirit of the novel is undoubtedly William Faulkner, whose style and methods McCarthy has adopted unsparingly, from the structuring of the narrative (multiple points of view, jumps in time, pronoun usage that doesn’t always make clear who the narrative focus is) through a number of stylistic quirks to the use of one of Faulkner’s trademark words (‘effluvium’). Like Faulkner, McCarthy’s unfolding drama goes beyond plot and character to give the reader a sense of socio-economic context, here a society and way of life on the cusp of change during New Deal-era America. And as with Faulkner’s work, the novel repays an immediate re-reading. Rather than follow Faulkner in all areas, however, McCarthy employs shorter, sometimes honed and declarative sentences rather than Faulkner’s labyrinthine structures, a feature that McCarthy has developed in later writings. The end result is neither pastiche nor pale copy: this is a fully realized work in its own terms, and a very fine novel indeed.
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on 7 April 2016
I am currently trying to read all of Cormac McCarthy's books. This was the hardest read so far.
Set in Tennessee, post Prohibition 20th Century.
Some beautiful passages but often uses overly complex or archaic word choices making it a slow read until you are used to the style.
Not as good as The Road or Blood Meridian.
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on 1 November 2011
as with all Cormac books i have also enjoyed reading this book. Being the first novel you see flickers of his future novels within it, its amazing to see where the later books are expanded from an ember of a sentence in this book.
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on 28 February 2014
What superlatives can you add to all the other reviews of this man's work.He is simply the best at what he does.
No-one else gets into the head of his depicted characters quite like he does.
I discovered this man late in life but I don't care - now I have discovered him it was worth the wait.
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on 3 October 2013
Same great emotion evoked with beautifully written prose from McCarthy, bleak, cold, stark but always gripping. Great value on the kindle
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on 30 August 2016
Not as good as some of his other work but still an enjoyable book.
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