Andrew Cattanach on Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

by |July 11, 2012

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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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

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

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