All The Pretty Horses

Wednesday July 18, 2007 in books | cormac mccarthy

All my life I had the feelin that trouble was close at hand. Not that I was about to get into it. Just that it was always there.

All The Pretty Horses is the first part of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. After recently reading The Road and No Country For Old Men I found it a much quieter piece and harder to get in to; there’s no fantastic hook to seize you (a post apocalyptic world or a dangerous psychopath) – All The Pretty Horses takes time with character and setting but is no less satisfying a read.

McCarthy is the master of the simple story told well. All The Pretty Horses is ostensibly a great western story, set sometime in the middle of the 20th Century and follows John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins, two young men who decide to leave their native Texas for Mexico. They are soon joined by a third, the strangely enigmatic Jimmy Blevins and the three travel together by horse across the landscape. As the above quote suggests, trouble is at hand, and the three find themselves in mortal danger thanks to the reckless behaviour of Blevins … trouble that will leave one of them dead and the others experiencing a darker side of life …

What is apparent from the very beginning of this novel is McCarthy’s distinctive style of writing. He’s methodical and deliberate, describing in great detail his characters seemingly trivial movements; two young men ordering their breakfast in a diner, the setting up of a camp at nightfall or morning ablutions. Some of this detail at first appears unnecessary, but what McCarthy does is establish tremendous atmosphere and his descriptions of everyday tedium act as building blocks for the bigger picture. Imagine a huge canvas with a painting of an enormous landscape; McCarthy paints every blade of grass for you, every leaf, every figure on the horizon. Before you know it, you are immersed in the story and characters.

All The Pretty Horses is a compelling and at times disturbing read. I won’t give away spoilers, but the passage where one of the characters meets his untimely end is simply brilliant writing: concise and moving, and I found the prison scenes some of the most gripping literature I’ve read in years. What does let the novel down, and No Country For Old Men effected me in the same way, was that McCarthy reaches such heights of intensity and tension that it is impossible to sustain them. I found that I’d stopped holding my breath way before the end, and the novel gradually ground to a slow and thoughtful halt.

Nevertheless, Cormac McCarthy continues to prove to me that he is a master of suspenseful plot and naturalistic dialogue. His novels are always resonant, leaving me to think about them long after I’ve finished the last page. I can’t wait to move onto the rest of The Border Trilogy. Watch this space…

Wonderful review. I have also read The Road, and just finished No Country For Old Men. I would agree with you that it is difficult for McCarthy to sustain the intensity and tension through the end…nevertheless, I have become a McCarthy fan. This one is on my wish list to read :)

Wendy    Saturday July 21, 2007   

My only encounter with this was the movie version which I can’t say I very much enjoyed. I remember thinking it had a slow and unsustained plot as well.

I appreciated your review of it because I had wondered about the book!

Carrie (Reading to Know)    Saturday July 21, 2007   

The book . . . maybe. The movie was just odd.

Sherry    Saturday July 21, 2007   

Wendy: Thanks! Yes I’m certainly a fan now too.

Carrie and Sherry: Interesting as I rented the DVD of the film the other night because I was curious to see what they'd done. I enjoyed it because the book was so fresh in my mind but it had no real substance of its own. What I mean is if I hadn’t had come to it after just finishing the book then, yes, I would have found it rather weak and inconsequential.

Having said that, I thought the three actors were superb; I just don’t think that McCarthy’s books – although ostensibly cinematic – necessarily make great cinema. I’m still looking forward to seeing what the Coen brothers have done to No Country For Old Men though…

The Book Tower    Saturday July 21, 2007   

I have this book down for a couple of challenges. I’ve heard so much about McCarthy that I am anxious to read it.

Framed    Tuesday July 24, 2007   

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