Andrew Cattanach on Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian. 

What does a book do if not evoke feelings you didn’t know you had, bring them to the surface and make you examine them like an errant jigsaw piece?

Before the brilliance of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Road, Cormac McCarthy shook the literature world with the stark, violent genius of Blood Meridian.

With his characteristically expansive prose and each page riddled with symbolism, McCarthy uses his protagonist The Kid, a teenage runaway in the mid 1800’s, as a canvas upon which we can splash our own feelings. Thoughts on the age old struggle of right and wrong in extraordinary circumstances and in a world where there is so much grey. His questions of the necessity of violence and force in times of need and want will have you talking long after you’ve put this remarkable work down.

The Kid is loosely based on the real life of Samuel Chamberlain who wrote a journal detailing his experiences riding with a company of Indian scalp hunters around the same time the novel is set. McCarthy researched the settings meticulously and many of the townships, houses and huts described in the novel still remain, dotting the US-Mexico border.

Blood Meridian also gave birth to one of the most infamous characters in literature in the 20th century, Judge Holden. Holden is described as being seven feet tall, and bereft of any innately human emotions other than joy at the sheer unadulterated anarchy he is able to conjure. Showing no remorse for many of the atrocities that The Kid witnesses day to day, Holden revels in much of the death and destruction that the border saw during the era of expansion. Tellingly, in 2002 Book magazine rated Holden as one of the 50 greatest characters in fiction since 1900.

Above all, the most memorable character in Blood Meridian is the epic, at times apocalyptic, landscape. McCarthy’s descriptions of the shimmering plains, the rugged sandy ranges and the bright night skies will simply take your breath away. Much of your time reading this novel will be spent with your eyes to the heavens, the book clutched to your chest as you slowly let the evocative majesty of his writing take shape in your mind before you can move on to the next passage. While McCarthy is a storyteller of the highest order, his rich prose is today virtually peerless and provides the vivid backdrop for this tense, harrowing story to unfold and ask questions of yourself that you never thought to ask, and perhaps didn’t want to.

With news upon us that McCarthy is currently well into his next novel, there is no better time to check out any of his collection.  And with Blood Meridian’, widely considered his opus, there’s no better place to start.

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BLURB:

Blood Meridian is an epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion, brilliantly subverting the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the Wild West.

Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who stumbles into a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.

‘McCarthy’s achievement is to establish a new mythology which is as potent and vivid as that of the movies, yet one which has absolutely the opposite effect …He is a great writer’ – “Independent”.

‘I have rarely encountered anything as powerful, as unsettling, or as memorable as Blood Meridian …A nightmare odyssey’ – “Evening Standard”.

‘His masterpiece …The book reads like a conflation of the “Inferno”, “The Iliad” and “Moby Dick”. I can only declare that “Blood Meridian” is unlike anything I have read in recent years, and seems to me an extraordinary, breathtaking achievement’ – John Banville.

Click here to buy a copy of Blood Meridian

Caroline Overington : Five Fiction Favourites for 2011

Caroline Overington

author of Matilda is Missing,
I Came To Say Goodbye

and Ghost Child

reveals…

The 5 best novels I read this year are…



The Spare Room

by Helen Garner

Blurb: Helen lovingly prepares her spare room for her friend Nicola. She is coming to visit for three weeks, to receive treatment she believes will cure her cancer.

From the moment Nicola staggers off the plane, gaunt and hoarse but still somehow grand, Helen becomes her nurse, her guardian angel and her stony judge.

The Spare Room tells a story of compassion, humour and rage. The two women—one sceptical, one stubbornly serene—negotiate an unmapped path through Nicola’s bizarre therapy, stumbling towards the novel’s terrible and transcendent finale.

‘A perfect novel, imbued with all Garner’s usual clear-eyed grace but with some other magnificent dimension that hides between the lines of her simple conversational voice. How is it that she can enter this heart-breaking territory—the dying friend who comes to stay—and make it not only bearable, but glorious, and funny? There is no answer except: Helen Garner is a great writer; The Spare Room is a great book.’ Peter Carey

BUY



Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

by John Berendt

Blurb: Genteel society ladies who compare notes on their husbands’ suicides. A hilariously foul-mouthed black drag queen. A voodoo priestess who works her roots in the graveyard at midnight. A morose inventor who owns a bottle of poison powerful enough to kill everyone in town. A prominent antiques dealer who hangs a Nazi flag from his window to disrupt the shooting of a movie. And a redneck gigolo whose conquests describe him as a ‘walking streak of sex’.

These are some of the real residents of Savannah, Georgia, a city whose eccentric mores are unerringly observed – and whose dirty linen is gleefully aired – in this utterly irresistible book. At once a true-crime murder story and a hugely entertaining and deliciously perverse travelogue, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is as bracing and intoxicating as half-a-dozen mint juleps.

BUY



The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Blurb: ‘Mary is a tough feisty character, who manages to turn a whole household, and the lives of those in it, completely upside down… The book is brim full of magic and joy’  – Sunday Telegraph.

Mary Lennox is an orphan who is sent to live with her uncle at gloomy Misselthwaite Manor. Neglected and lonely, she begins to explore her new home and learns of a secret garden that her uncle has forbidden anyone to enter.

A friendly robin shows Mary the key to the garden and she discovers a world she could never have imagined…

The Secret Garden has enchanted generations of children and adults alike.

BUY



Blood Meridian

by Cormac McCarthy

Blurb: Blood Meridian is an epic novel of the violence and depravity that attended America’s westward expansion, brilliantly subverting the conventions of the Western novel and the mythology of the Wild West.

Based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, it traces the fortunes of the Kid, a fourteen-year-old Tennessean who stumbles into a nightmarish world where Indians are being murdered and the market for their scalps is thriving.

‘McCarthy’s achievement is to establish a new mythology which is as potent and vivid as that of the movies, yet one which has absolutely the opposite effect …He is a great writer’ – “Independent”.

‘I have rarely encountered anything as powerful, as unsettling, or as memorable as Blood Meridian …A nightmare odyssey’ – “Evening Standard”.

‘His masterpiece …The book reads like a conflation of the “Inferno”, “The Iliad” and “Moby Dick”. I can only declare that “Blood Meridian” is unlike anything I have read in recent years, and seems to me an extraordinary, breathtaking achievement’ – John Banville.

BUY



The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

A magical love story set to be the publishing sensation of 2011

Blurb: In 1886 a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, the Cirque des Rêves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. There are contortionists, performing cats, carousels and illusionists – all the trappings of an ordinary circus. But this is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the rêveurs – the dreamers. And who is the sinister man in the grey suit who watches over it all? Behind the scenes a dangerous game is being played out by two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who, at the behest of their masters, are forced to test the very limits of the imagination – and of love.

A feast for the senses, a fin-de-siècle fantasia of magic and mischief, and the most original love story since The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Night Circus is an extraordinary blend of fantasy and reality. It will dazzle readers young and old with its virtuoso performance, and who knows, they might not want to leave the world it creates.

BUY


I reviewed Caroline’s new novel Matilda is Missing recently – here is a taste of that review:

I read Matilda is Missing in a few days. I was hooked within pages and found myself reading well into the night. I would pick it up in between times, too, snatching bite sized portions of the story while I was rushing to get ready in the morning – while the kettle boiled, before the toaster popped and while the kids printed off last night’s homework.

What surprised me most about my reading of Matilda is Missing was that I was reading it at all. If I were flicking through a newspaper or reading a magazine and I came across a story about the family court, or a grandparent’s right to access their grandchildren, or equal rights for fathers in divorce cases, I wouldn’t read beyond the headlines.

But I read Matilda is Missing.

I picked it up on a whim, curious to see what all the fuss was about (The success of Overington’s last novel, I Came to Say Goodbye, has the book world salivating over the sales potential of Matilda is Missing). I do that a lot. I pick up review copies here in the office and flick through a few pages, read a bit and then generally drop the book back on the pile. We have so many books to review. You can’t read them all. Read the full review…

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