Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Book Review: All the Pretty Horses
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Year of First Publication: 1992
I just finished my second book by American writer Cormac McCarthy. From the way in which he is spoken about, McCarthy is one of those authors who appears to be an American treasure. He also represented that a little-explored region for me - the works of the Caucasian male writer.
So, sometime last year I decided to remedy that. I walked into Waterstones in Notting Hill and conveniently for me, there before me were virtually all his books lined up on a shelf. I picked No Country for Old Men because it was smaller and less intimidating than all the others. Plus, of course, I had seen the film, which I figured would make it easier for me to follow the plot.
Well, that was a good choice. It was a fast and suspenseful read. So I was excited to try another. For my second book, I picked All the Pretty Horses, another one of his books, which was made into a film.
In brief, the book chronicles the journey of sixteen-year-old John Cole Grady, who leaves the ranch he has lived in all his life after it is sold by his mother. In search of adventure, Grady and his friend Lacey Rawlins set-off on their horses southwards to Mexico.
The book started off very slowly and I really wasn’t sure what was going on and who was who. So, I kept flipping back to re-read the previous paragraphs to see what I might have missed. After a while, I stopped doing that and decided that I would figure things out as I went along. Despite the very slow and confusing start, the plot gradually picks up.
In their time away, Grady falls in love and embarks on an ill-fated affair. He and Rawlins are arrested and thrown into a Mexican prison, where the rule of the day is Kill or be Killed. Oh wait, am I giving away too much?
From being a book that I had to struggle to get into, it became a book that I couldn’t put down. For a while.
There are many conversations, which take place in Spanish and are written as such. Initially, I attempted to translate every line, before moving on. As the Spanish conversations became more commonplace in the book, I gave this up. In any case, you get enough of an idea what’s happening and this is not too much of a problem unless you are one of those people who absolutely has to understand every line.
When I read No Country, I deduced that McCarthy always writes in lean, spare lines, not using more words than he needs to. That assumption was completely overthrown with Pretty Horses. The prose here is beautifully descriptive and paints vivid pictures of, among other things, the landscape through which Grady and Rawlins are riding. The problem with that, for someone like me, is that my mind tended to wander off on its own journey (totally unrelated to the story) at times.
My interest in the plot ultimately kept me reading, but for someone who is easily distracted, it’s not the easiest book choice.
After the violence and the often heartbreaking sadness that occurs in the book, the ending – particularly Grady’s conversation with the judge – seemed a little too trite in its attempt to make sense of all the events of the book.
I read that Pretty Horses is the most accessible of the three books that makes up the Border Trilogy. If it took such effort for me to read All the Pretty Horses, I wonder what my experience with the other two books will be.
I will find out.