ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
By Cormac McCarthy
He sat in the diner and ate a big plate of huevos rancheros and drank coffee and watched the gray fields pass beyond the wet glass and in his new boots and shirt he began to feel better than he’d felt in a long time and the weight on his heart had begun to lift and he repeated what his father once told him, that scared money cant win and a worried man cant love.
After John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy is my favourite American writer. McCarthy’s best known novels are thrillers, (he wrote No Country For Old Men) but his scope as a writer far outstretches what you might imagine for an author of that genre. No doubt he knows how to tell a good story, but he tackles more profound concepts along the way. In All The Pretty Horses he transforms what is, essentially, the narrative of a Texan cowboy’s gap year, into a thrilling life-or-death love story which confronts the essence of becoming a man in a quickly changing world. We’re taken on a journey where innocence is lost, but what is found is far more valuable (and far more interesting): one man’s relationship with the natural world, from his horse to his home, his forbidden love to his foreboding adulthood.
The story goes summat like this. John Grady Cole, a sixteen year-old rancher, leaves a complicated and tragic situation at home on the ranch in Texas where he was born and raised, and, along with his accomplice Rawlins, rides over the border to Mexico. Here they have to survive all sorts in a pretty brutal atmosphere, and of course the temptations of the farm girl…
To be honest it’s not the best book to read when all you want to do is run off to a farm and learn to keep cattle. Or spent your life growing up in Suburban London playing Cowboys and Indians. The day I finished this book I went to Waterstones and bought the Eyewitness Guide to Horse Riding. McCarthy’s description of Southern Texas and Northern Mexico is so appealing as to suck you from your surroundings. The passage describing how John Grady and Rawlins have to break in sixteen horses in four days is written with the same exhilirating determination that it takes for the characters to finish their work. You feel like a real man just reading this stuff.
But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a book just for horse-lovers, or agricultural enthusiasts. I think McCarthy appeals to anyone who loves a good story well told; he has a knack for writing with such understated beauty and compulsion that justifies his worldwide populatiry and acclaim.
At times McCarthy’s tone and story telling is so direct that it seems callous, but then he’ll offer the reader a moment of intense emotion that we are grateful for his uncompromising style. He cuts straight to the real stuff when he has to, and he doesn’t waste words doing it.
Blevins came to sit beside him and they talked of what it was like to be dead and Blevins said it was like nothing at all and he believed him.
He manages to find order in the chaos of a world of scoundrels and victims, middle-men and anti-heroes. His handling of the love story in this book is masterful too, if you like that kind of thing. I think he has quite a good grip on a teenage romance, with all of the giddiness and gravity that it merits, but it’s treated as just one part of this journey into adulthood, and is one of the best treatments of such a romance that I’ve read. It is understated but not underestimated.
McCarthy has unorthodox style that I’ve heard some people can’t really hack. He’s pretty liberal with his use of punctuation and grammar, as if he feels that nothing so trivial should obstruct his thought process. At times it can feel exhausting to go through a whole page without so much as a comma, but eventually it creates such a compelling and natural rhythm, pounding the page like the hooves of his hero’s steady stallion, that the words conjure an addictive desire not to leave the trail. You are whisked into a land of cowboys and mares and haciendas and sweat and tequila, and simply can’t leave. It’s the perfect kind of book to read on tour to fill the hours of hanging around. The amber valleys of Southern Texas, described with such easy triumph, become a welcome alternative to the incessant grey stream of concrete and cars on the M6 Toll.
So I bloody loved it. And I hope some of you can too. And so now it’s your turn, let us know what you think!