Last week I found myself at Paddington Station without a book for the journey back to Cardiff and so picked up Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel Child of God, as a short novel (a little shy of 200 pages) that I thought might just sustain me for the 2 hour journey home. In fact it took me a little while longer, not because this is heavy going – far from it, indeed I founf it difficult to pot down – but because once again McCarthy’s prose and stylistic virtuoisity demands it of the reader.
This is the story of Lester Ballard, a young, socially and intellectually challenged backwoodsman from East Tennessee and charts his decline into degradation. The dialogue is superbly captured and the descriptive passages are deeply lyrical and whilst it is at times shocking (at times the violence is portrayed with such matter-of-factness and a lack of sensationalism, as in Blood Meridian, that it becomes even more unsettling), as Ballard descends into sexual obsession, murder and necrophilia, it is a novel that is never devoid of humanity and humour. At times it is redolent of No Country for Old Men, especially in its cultural landscape, but you also cannot help but be reminded of Deliverance (I found it difficult to read without hearing ‘Duelling Banjos’ in my head). And no matter how depraved is the action that McCarthy is describing, he always seems to do it with a poetic sensitivity that never overstates its case. I found this hugely satisfying to read and is my favourite McCarthy book to date.