Book club books will always be easier to review when it comes to putting pen to paper. Logically I suppose, the process of discussing a book out loud (however fruitful or not that discussion may be) never fails to help me compartmentalise my thoughts.
I’m fully aware that all I’ve moaned about lately is the lack of a good simple story and, although Robert Graves’ is helping to remedy that at the moment with his wonderful (and surprisingly uplifting) memoir Goodbye to All That, book club choices are always risky business. A double-edged sword of absolute hidden gems or books that are simply ‘ok’. Given the stellar reputation of The Road, we were all excited to read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. Although undoubtedly a modern classic, the more I think about it the more I feel like this might just have been ‘ok’.
John Grady; unassuming young cattle rancher from Texas, has just lost his Grandfather and, along with him, the prospect of a future on the family ranch, which with the death of its owner is now due to be sold. Seeing no future for him at home, Grady takes his horse and heads of south towards the Mexican border, taking his friend Lacey Rawlins along for company. Encountering madcap teenager ‘Blevins’ and his suspiciously majestic horse along the way, the boys set off on (for them, please note) an unforgettable adventure, full of danger, risky relationships and, oh yeah, some horses.
One book clubber very astutely described this book as ‘cinematic’. She was right. McCarthy’s descriptions of the majestic landscape these boys travel across are breathtaking; the approach of the oncoming storms terrifying (as Blevins will attest). It is hardly surprisingly that it was transformed into a film with Matt Damon back in 2000 – albeit a dull one. Lauding this book however, on the front cover of all things, as ‘one of the greatest American novels of this or any time’, I take slight issue with.
In my desperation for good stories, I can’t help but take that kind of wild claim to heart. The simple fact is that it should in fact read; ‘one of the greatest American novels of this or any time in my opinion.’ I mean, I’m used to bookish hyperbole, but this is just ridiculous.
This book is a true modern classic; where you can be sure to discover some seriously quality writing. From depictions of the wild landscape to describing the most subtle interaction between man and horse, McCarthy really knows his onions and it is just so satisfying to read. The dialogue, though hard to get into at first due to the distinct lack of pronouns and quotation marks, once clicked is just so perfect and entirely natural.
However, although I appreciate a bit of realism as much as the next person , the endless, monotonous journeying of the boys became seriously repetitive. Let’s face it, there are only so many ways of describing a bivouac. Of far more interest to me was their arrival and employment as cattle drivers at the Hacienda on the Mexican plains; full of history and human interest (least of all the hot romance that ensues). Also, although John Grady is a doubtlessly sympathetic character, the female contingency of the book group (i.e. 90% of us on the night in question) felt that McCarthy laid it all on a little strongly. What? He’s strong, handsome, sensitive, good with animals and fluent in Spanish?! And he’s only 16? … Pull the other one…..
Strong writing and the occasional nail-biting scene could not, in this case, hide the fact that full-blown Americanah, full of cheese and testosterone, jarred a little with our cynical, feminine, Mancunian minds. The ending was a little weak and readers simply don’t appreciate too many lines written in a language they don’t understand. It spoils the flow hombre.
McCarthy writes beautifully, but I won’t be reading the rest of his Borders trilogy.