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on 10 March 2016
McCarthy’s fourth novel, published in 1979, is largely set in Knoxville, Tennessee, during the early 1950s, following a few years in the life of its eponymous character. Living on society’s margins, Suttree is part of a circle of low-lifes and outcasts, surviving poverty and destitution as best they can, spending money when they have it, and doing what is needed to get by when they don’t. Yet even among his circle of friends and fellow drinkers Suttree is marginal, unusual in having a college education. McCarthy eschews adopting a guiding authorial voice; the reader is not given insights into character from back stories or interior monologues – people’s pasts and opinions only become apparent to us (and often only partially) through what they or others say and do. There is also little that could be called a plot: there are a number of lengthy sections that tell of Suttree’s life as a fisherman, prison inmate, hooker’s boyfriend – but these don't really amount to the kind of narrative arc that one finds in McCarthy’s more famous works, in which plot is more significant. What we have instead is a novel that, like the river on which Suttree lives, meanders. The delight, however, lies in the language. There are sentences and passages here that I read and re-read several times simply for the pleasure of the words. Certainly there are echoes of those to whom McCarthy is an heir – Faulkner, Hemingway – but what it most reminded me of, in its cadences, its imagery, and its humour, is Tom Waits. Or rather, there are times when reading “Suttree” that one feels one has stepped into a song from “Swordfishtrombones” or “Rain Dogs”. This is a version of America that one does not encounter that often; to do so through the eyes and words of McCarthy make the experience even more memorable and enjoyable.
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on 16 December 2014
Aa a McCarthy fan I had to read this but found it a little tedious. The usual excellent observations, tone and pace allied to his supremely crafted language. That said, at the end of it I wasn't particularly satisfied. It reminded me of going out for a Michelin starred meal and then stopping off on the way home for a bag of chips.

If you are a fan then you have to read it. However, if you are a McCarthy newbie I would plump for Blood Meridian.
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on 7 February 2017
Book came with a generic replacement hard cover that had the paperback cover badly cut out and stuck to the front.

Made me question the authenticity of the whole text. No publisher, copywrite pages etc.

When I complained to say that there was no mention of this replacement cover in the product description, they replied saying that they'd also never said that the cover would be original. Nonsense. Have bought hundreds of used books off Amazon and never encountered anything like it. Not good enough for a £35 book.

They offered me a refund, but I needed this book as a present so unfortunately had no option but to keep it.

Would treat these guys with a pinch of caution in future.
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on 11 December 2009
Let me start by saying that I love this book. I just finished reading it about a month ago and can safely say that it is one of the best books I have read. However it wasn't always this way.
I initially bought the book on the strength of the reviews on Amazon. I was already a fan of McCarthy after having read The Road, Outer Dark, and No Country for Old Men, however on first reading of this book I found it impossibly verbose and over the top with its florid prose. I promptly left the book for about 6 months only to pick it back up during a dry period when I had nothing else to read. It was then that I actually gave the book a chance.

I do not think that any Cormac McCarthy book can be reviewed properly by most anyone. A reviewer will always pick up on the parts that make it up - so for instance the language used and the structure etc - however all attempts to focus on these individual bit loses sight of the overall effect, feeling and sentiment that McCarthy always succesfully conveys through his work. Suttree is a book that I feel doesn't dffer here.
On the surface its about the eponymous characters life on the side of the river in Knoxville and to be fair not a lot happens. He goes to town, meets people, fishes etc. However this once again, as mentioned earlier, fails to capture the dark and mythic way in which McCarthy can describe the most mundane things. In fact it is these innocuous and ostensibly boring things that make this book magic.

If you have readanything else by McCarthy I would certainly suggest reading this. You get a sense that this is a more personal book than others by him andthat there is something special about it. I think if you have already read McCarthy then you will know how he is and therefore not be too supprised by what you find in this book, however newcomers may find that it laack pace at points and may be generally shocked by his weird style of writting (no "speech marks" etc)

All in all I dont think I have read a book about moulding decaying driftwood, scum filled water and life at the bottom of the ladder that I could enjoy more.

Entropy is the lord of all
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 September 2007
'Suttree' is the not the first book by Cormac McCarthy that I have read and it will not be the last.

As with his other earlier novels 'Suttree' is essentially a story about the hurdles that have to be negotiated by the portrayed characters as their lives progress; in this case the main character is Cornelius Suttree, a vagrant living alone in poverty on a houseboat on the Tennessee River who survives mainly on the income he derives from selling the fish he catches.

The writing of McCarthy rarely involves a complicated plot and 'Suttree' is no exception; we do nothing more (and that is not meant to be a criticism) than follow the struggles and situations that befall this character and meet people that he crosses paths with (which include long-term 'friends', the occasional relative, people he trades or works with and those he attempts to have a deeper relationship with....).

For me to reveal any more detail of the story would be unfair to a first-time reader. However, to help people decide on whether this story might be to their taste I would say the main themes are friendship, domestic survival and family relationships (in that order), with the odd dash of drunken violence thrown-in. There is occasionally some bad language but the violence is not extreme...

Whilst this overall premise may seem unattractive as the basis of a novel, it is the poetic and emotional nature of McCarthys writing which compels you to follow the journey. Quite how one can read, for example, page after page of apparently benign conversation between characters without getting bored or feeling uninterested I cannot easily explain, but McCarthy manages to achieve it. For my part, the attraction is more often than not because I grow to feel an affection for the characters and an interest in their lives and fate.

A significant additional attraction are the frequent exchanges, comments and discussions between the characters which, for the most part, are of a nature that the reader will not have been exposed to before with other authors. At first the language might seem bizarre or coarse, but it is (in my opinion) often unique, hilarious and fascinating. McCarthy makes no effort to simplify what characters say; you get the text as they would say it, truncated, slang, foreign language - warts and all !

Regarding the style of writing: His trait of describing an environment with what appear to be bizarre comparison techniques entices you to try and visualise the scene and makes reading the text even more addictive. It is surprising how brief his descriptions of people and surroundings can be, yet he has the ability to convince the reader that they have achieved an accurate 'vision', because he employs an extremely wide vocabulary and those blunt comparative phrases. The trademark absence of punctuation and speech marks, and regular use of extremely long sentences, may well deter some from committing themselves to reading the novel - but that is their loss.

A noteworthy feature of this novel is the 3-page introduction, which is a stunning compilation of descriptive paragraphs with no explanation as to their significance with what is to follow....

'Suttree' is a rich and vivid tale, which is regularly traumatic but just as often entertaining and wryly funny. Like his other novels, it has the ability to invoke deep emotions and long-lasting memories which will make your skin tingle.
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on 1 November 2014
Simply a fantastic novel. This is the fourth Cormac McCarthy book I have read (the others being the Road, Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men) and differs quite significantly from the others. Previously my experience of McCarthy has been the use of quite concise, matter of fact descriptions of events and people whereas this novel is incredibly wordy and uses such a rich and obscure range of language you have to just let it wash over you and not worry about what it all necessarily means. The novel has no particular plot and charts the seemingly random events in the life of the protagonist Suttree and his various friends and acquaintances on the dark, shambolic edge of town. To me this was an homage to the fringes of society and the richness of life there. It records the alternately hilarious, moving and incredible events that befall people but which ultimately are lost in time. By the end of the novel I found myself feeling a sense of nostalgia for this place and it's people and was entertained throughout. Simply a must read for McCarthy fans, but as I've said, quite unlike his other works so probably one to come to with an open mind.
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on 3 April 2012
As it was the only one of McCarthy's I had yet to read, I saved this book for months on my Kindle as a special treat; it turned out to be more of a punishment than a pleasurable experience.

The main protagonist is Cornelius 'Buddy' Suttree, an intelligent, well-educated, and good-looking young man, who has decided to become a directionless bum living on a houseboat on the river at Knoxville, Tennessee. I am afraid I really struggled with it, and by halfway through was tempted to slit my wrists. There is no doubt that it is very cleverly written: the density and texture of the prose always match the environment being described, and there are great touches of black humour. Suttree is kind and loyal to his friends (the exception being his female lovers), but it was impossible to know what that pretty head was thinking as he drifted from one drunken brawl to another.

I would love to know why Suttree is estranged from his family, to the extent that he can't meet his mother face-to-face or read her letters. Is this book semi-autobiographical? Perhaps that was why McCarthy was unwilling to throw light on this area. However, without proper insights into Buddy's character, the book is merely a series of well-written anecdotes about the rough side of life in Knoxville.

Conclusion: if you can't find a hair shirt, try this instead.
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on 19 May 2011
I really liked The Road and No Country For Old Men. I loathed this though. Its as though the book has been put through a thesaurus and every other word has been substituted with the most obscure equivalent he can find. It makes for horrible reading. It struck me as arrogant writing deliberately setting out to alienate his audience.
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on 27 March 2010
I have waited nearly a year to write this review. I have felt totally inadequate when trying to express an opinion of this book that potential readers might find useful. Previous reviewers have pretty much said it all. There was one particularly useful comment. It said, 'this book inhabits you'. It absolutely does.
The book isn't an easy holiday type read, I made extensive use of my new electronic dictonary. There were pages I read three times to try and better understand what I was reading. There is no real plot and it is not possibe to predict where things are going. The writing style takes getting used to as the author seems to make no consession to the reader. Sink or swim.
But, but, but do not let any of these things get in your way of purhasing this book now. Every ounce of effort you pour into this book will be rewarded in spades. It seeps down deep and touches your soul, it leaves its essence in your mind and heart and you will never, ever be released from its spell. There will be times when you will suddenly start and awake from your reading and wonder what magic was that, I was just there, I could see, smell, hear the sounds...
The book haunts my dreams, it stalks my daytime reveries. But oh, I do go on. Buy the book now, I do not doubt that you too will rage about the genius of this work.
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on 18 December 2011
I failed in my first attempt at reading Suttree, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was my own state of mind at the time - I found it depressing. But I'd read all of McCarthy's other work and I picked up Suttree again after a two-year break.

In this novel, more than any of his others, McCarthy seems to work in the way a music composer does. McCarthy's hook, his chorus, is the Tennessee River. Again and again he describes it in all its seasons and moods to the extent I found it to be the main character - bewitching Suttree too, I think. He seems always drawn back to the river's indiscriminate flow as though it is the thread of life itself. Sometimes it provides him with a living, other times it threatens, impersonally, to freeze him to death or suck him under. The river delivers him friends and enemies then moves remorselessly on.

Suttree prefers the daily uncertainty of not knowing whether he will eat, freeze, fry, sink, be attacked, seduced, befriended or bereaved to the standard 'security' most of us recognise. We call it our life though, ironically, Suttree, who never existed, knows better than any what it means to live.
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