Book Review: Blood Meridian by Cormack McCarthy

Centred on a scalping gang in the wider California region in 1850, Blood Meridian is a brutal portrayal of violence.

The most striking component of the book is McCarthy’s choice of focus. The characters are peripheral. The reader gets a faint handle on a few of them, and only after reading half of the book. The landscape, journey, clothing, animals and conflict are preferred focal points. McCarthy has an incredible descriptive ability, yet he leaves you guessing and grasping for the real thrust of the novel. This allows the mind to wander into a quite bizarre reading experience.

There’s no sense of good in the characters. And when any hope emerges of a hero figure, it’s quickly dashed by some morbid act. Violence is the key theme, but even the conflicts themselves are partially glossed over. This approach provides a disheartening sense of the lack of value in human life. Events that would be heart-wrenching in any other context become mundane.  Once the characters die, they are rarely mentioned again. Reflection, commemoration or emotion are redundant. Rather the focus shifts towards the treacherous journey across unforgiving but varied countryside, and I guess there’s a metaphor in that.

I think the book is a statement on the depths to which humanity can sink. I guess we’re largely aware of this darkness, but rarely will we spend hours dwelling on it. There were a few philosophical reflections dotted across the pages, but they are pretty cryptic and hardly upbeat. Stoics would probably use the sober content as an opportunity to be grateful. I am grateful, but you aren’t led in this direction. You must make the leap yourself.

I doubt that many people would desire to stick this one out. I bought a copy of the book impulsively a few years ago after a podcast recommendation of what is lauded as “Great American Novel”. I can see why it receive critical acclaim, but I also wonder if its widely read, as its not everyone’s cup of tea. I tried to read it a few times before but couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. Despite the depressive nature, I found it strangely satisfying to stick with it over a long weekend, daydreaming with a subtle gratuity that we live in a different time.

Read it if you must.

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