Blood Meridian

I read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian about a month ago, and then went back and listened to the audiobook -the Richard Poe/Recorded Books 2007 version. This was definitely a very good idea, and something I intend to repeat in the future. Blood Meridian is easily the best novel I’ve read this year, and it’s the sort of book that is going to require you to give it a slow and studious read. There’s lots of archaic vocabulary that will need looking up, and a fair bit of untranslated and colloquial Spanish that will need translating (my very limited Spanish got me through about 40% of the non-English dialog in this book, so if you’re a casual speaker or have a bit of a background in the language you’ll probably be fine). This is all on top of McCarthy’s typical absence of conventional punctuation and the distinctive voice that some people have a hard time with. On that subject, Blood Meridian is very violent and very gruesome, so if you are inclined to having a hard time with that kind of thing this is really not a book you’ll want to read.

Blood Meridian is sometimes classified as historical fiction, and while there’s certainly a fair bit of real history going on, that history is more a means to an end than anything in and of itself -this period of violent history is just a very bloody sandbox for McCarthy to play in. It’s far bigger than the historical context in which it is set, and deals with some very fundamental questions in a much more intricate and profound scope than I can communicate well in one of these three-paragraph reading logs. Suffice it to say, the violence and the monologues that define this book are interdependent and intractable, and most important, gorgeously depicted. McCarthy’s prose is always the main selling point, but here it isn’t just the whole show, but defining and working in service of the central ideology of the thing. Blood Meridian isn’t a Novel of Ideas, but its powerful immorality falls neatly in line with Garner’s oft-misunderstood ideas on moral fiction. An aside -this book has been criticized for its depiction of Native Americans and, yeah, certain passages read out of context do look pretty bad, but when read within their context and against the same sorts of passages describing the alleged protagonists, a careful reader will find that McCarthy is very much not taking sides with those advocates of Anglo-Saxon/Western European cultural superiority.

Following my close reading of the novel with an extended listening-to of the excellently produced audiobook was a great way to experience this thing. The feeling of listening and knowing when a spectacular piece of prose is coming your way is great, and having already done my research allowed me to easily follow and immerse myself in both the narrative and the sentence-by-sentence writing, a luxury that also offered me a greater sense of the ideological complexity the book offers its more attentive and obsessive readers. I plan to come back to this book. I’ve found its mythological essence sneaking into some of my own work of late, and that’s a good feeling.

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