An absolutely harrowing novel that makes you feel like you yourself have spent months tramping around the arid wastelands of what is now the US-Mexican borderland. It’s the kind of novel that leaves you feeling you need a good scour in the shower even though something tells you no amount of scrubbing will get you clean.
Leaving a miserable childhood, “the kid” wanders away from home to fall in with the infamous (and actual) Glanton Gang of mercenaries. Ostensibly hired by the Mexican government to combat the threat of marauding indigenous Apaches, the gang slaughter pretty much everything in their path knowing that those paying them bounty will not be able to identify the individual scalps.
This is not a tale of lost innocence, for there is no innocence to lose. Each and every character lives a life moulded by suffering, pain and immense cruelty. McCarthy writes scenes of what should be unutterable violence, painted with prose that is at once brutal but also, strangely, beautiful.
…the riders were beginning to appear far out on the lake bed, a thin frieze of mounted archers that trembled and vanished in the rising heat. They crossed before the sun and vanished one by one and reappeared again and they were black in the sun and they rode out of that vanished sea like burnt phantoms with the legs of the animals kicking up the spume that was not real and they were lost in the sun and lost in the lake and they shimmered and slurred together and separated again and they augmented by planes in lurid avatars and began to coalesce and there began to appear above them in the dawn-broached sky a hellish likeness of their ranks riding huge and inverted and the horses’ legs incredibly elongate trampling down the high thin cirrus and the howling antiwarriors pendant from their mounts immense and chimeric and the high wild cries carrying that flat and barren pan like cries of souls broke through some misweave in the weft of things into the world below.
No one reading this can fail to see what should be so obvious from all westerns that go before it: there is no romance in violence, and no heroism in the worlds the white man imposed on the inhabitants of the Americas. There is only fear kept at bay by the barrel of a gun and the novel speaks not only of the birth pangs of nations, but moreover their maintenance.
And the landscape watches on, imposing its own brutality on humanity with its salt flats, snow-strewn mountains and every imaginable type of desert. I was somewhat relieved to find that the landscape that McCarthy describes, despite the atrocities wreaked upon its surface and the blood that seeps into its cracks, remains inviolable and retains its purity.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings