I have been meaning to blog Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian for a week or so now, but have been too busy at work to find time. So let me begin by saying that this is yet another extraordinary novel from McCarthy, in some ways very different from The Road and No Country for Old Men, but at the same time sharing many of the same themes. It is another novel that sets out to explode both the modern and older myths about the Wild West and uses harrowing imagery to do so. McCarthy sets his story in the mid-nineteenth century in Mexico, California, New Mexico and Texas and the landscape and climate are brutal, brutalising in turn the men who travel through it.
On one level Blood Meridian is a kind of Bildungsroman, focussing on the ‘cominmg of age’ of a young man, referred to as The Kid, although it is unclear whether, by the end of the novel, he has actiually learned anything at all, except how to survive by being as brutal and unforgiving as the next. The novel is also epic. Like the Road and No Country for Old Men it is a story of a journey, but a journey that arguably goes nowhere. There are also elements of some of the great eighteenth and nineteenth century novels (Gulliver’s Travels, for example, or perhaps, more pertinently Moby Dick or Tom Sawyer) and the book is not merely set in the nineteenth century, but is of the ninetenth century. It reads like a serialised popular novel of the time, with each chapter preceded by the headlines of what happens within it.
Perhaps most striking is McCarthy’s use of nineteenth century vernacular. In this sense it is slightly redolent of Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang (or should it be the other way round?). Whilst Carey’s novel is in diary form, we are never quite sure of the status of this document. It is not a first person narrative, but has an anonymous, but omnipresent author, who is always present, but never in the action. Yet at times the author also refers to being a witness to events, rather than just the reporter. We are never quite sure where we are.
The use of language very much adds to the texture of the narrative, but it is not easy reading. The complexity and unfamiliarity of the language, along with the harrowing imagery make it hard going at times. Buit it is the sheer quality of the writing that makes you want to keep on reading.