Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
I read this novel slowly and finished it this week. I must say, I’m glad it’s over. I read it more as a challenge to myself after watching some YouTube reviews that claimed most people give up on it on first attempt. Apparently the late, great Harold Bloom had two failed attempts before finishing it. This is mainly due to one of two reasons -
They are repelled by the uncompromising violence
They are repelled by the density of the prose.
Some parallel reading is suggested to help access the prose style, including King James Bible, especially first chapters of Old Testament (McCarthy makes much use of ‘and’ to grow interminably long sentences, although the mesmeric effect is undeniable — repeated use of conjunctions known as polysyndeton) and William Faulkner’s As I lay Dying. I bought copies of both but, to be honest, haven’t spent much time with either though I’m still hoping that will change.
Although the novel is brutal I wasn’t put off by the violence, which I refuse to be concerned about. However the bleak nihilism is difficult and unremitting, and I’m not sure how I would have coped if it had been much longer than the published 350 pages.
The novel is certainly dense. I often had to reread pages to gain their full meaning often with a dictionary to hand. Much of the dialogue (minus any use of punctuation as McCarthy has an aversion to apostrophes and speech marks) is in Spanish. McCarthy sees no need to offer a translation, that’s the reader’s job apparently. The ‘translate’ app on my iPad was also close to hand. So with the need for a dictionary and translate app, ever ready at my elbow, reading the novel was a very stop-start affair. An erratic pace that is normally reserved for tackling books on a course syllabus rather than idle recreation.
Never mind. There was much to gained from a slow and close reading. The writing is exquisite and lyrical. The descriptions of the Old West and the unforgiving desert are so intensely detailed it becomes a character in itself. The imagery is richly layered and the use metaphor turns the surroundings into something surreal and hallucinatory.