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.


deji said...

Ore,that was quite succinct as reviews go.WE ALL HAVE OUR predilections/biases as far as authors are concerned.But then most books are about masculine themes.To be truthful,am always drawn towards male writers...Hate the so called romantic novels,especially the kind of nonsense like waiting to exhale.Maybe am from the school of what Nigel Hawthorne infamously called"damned scribbling women".
Actually,am not as piggish as that.One of my favourite books was the Shipping News by Annie Prouix. Close range and accordion crimes were fantastic as well.
Joyce carol Oates is another great writer.She writes beautifully.A master of prose.Her essay on boxing was one of the greatest writing on that brutal sport.
A widow's story: a tribute to her husband was quite moving.One can literally feel her pain and grief.
Can I recommend 'Lonesome Dove' by Larry is unashamedly male...a western.(cowboys and indians)hence violent.It is also very funny full of great characters.It is unputdownable!!!
It was a best seller.
Anyway,do take care of sure all will be revealed in time!

Ore said...

Hi Deji,

You're right about most books having masculine themes, which is what makes writing by women for women such a wonderful and comfortable thing. I think that people tend to be drawn to writing by authors of their sex, as their subjects are familiar. However, I also am not a big fan of the romantic and chick-lit genre, though I do indulge from time to time.

I love Westerns (films), so will check out Lonesome Dove. But first, I'm going to read Blood Meridian, which is another new McCarthy acquisition.

You should have a blog, if you don't already.

Efioanwan said...

Hi Amy,

You have a nice blog and your reviews seem simple and quite honest and I applaud you. Would you be interested in reading Literary Fiction, which I have written?

I am a Nigerian and this would be my first book. The theme is loneliness. It is written in the first person and my narrator is a male Nigerian student in a fictitious South African University College, though I am a woman.

Following Deji's and your own comments on
All the Pretty Horses, I would love to know what you guys think about my work and especially, if I have handled a man's viewpoint and emotions well in this book.

Here is a link to a chapter, which I have put up for preview at CS

If you would like to read more, I'd be happy to send you a PDF (I am still going through the process of ordering a proof copy/getting a US account for my royalties so it's not quite ready for print, else I'd send you the book). Please let me know if you are interested.

Thank you for your time,


Efioanwan said...

Oh, what a blunder! Very sorry, Ore, as you may have guessed, I'm a new author shopping for badly-needed reviews.


Ore said...

LOL, Fifi! I guessed as much. I've downloaded the chapter and will read it and share my thoughts.

Kudos to you! Writing is not a day's job!