23 February 2009

Author Love: Cormac McCarthy

'Tis tasteless, I fear, to follow on from the Still Waters post with a review of Martin Amis' Dead Babies. I'll look as though I'm falling into a reading rut. Hence, this homage to Cormac McCarthy.

Those who are well acquainted with McCarthy's work will be aware of the general mood his stories take: dark, twisted, violent, despairing, barren and ultimately apocalyptic basically sums him up. His most recent work (The Road) won the 2007 Pulitzer and was his most emotionally traumatic to date. His style seems to have evolved into more simplistic prose over the years, and to great effect. One could argue that no dialogue and descriptive text could be simpler than in The Road, yet only McCarthy would be able to turn these words into a passionate, desperate reaching of hands towards a hopeless, extinguishing light.

The Road has been made into a film with Viggo Mortensen as the father. I personally feel that Paul Bettany would have been an excellent choice. I know he could bring the darkness and desperate humanity needed to the role. Viggo is just plain moody. Also, I don't think I'd be able to worry about his survival or future. To me, he will always be able to fall back on the help of the elves. This ruins the suspense somewhat.

That is all hypothetical because I could barely read the novel; seeing it on the big screen may, in fact, shatter me to my deepest possible emotional depths. I can't even go into more detailed descriptions of The Road; it's too upsetting for me and FAR more destabilising for you to just pick it up and read it.

The book I've just read however, is Outer Dark. An earlier work of McCarthy's, it is much easier to read and not nearly as emotionally traumatising. It tells the story of a young woman (Rinthy) who gives birth to her brother Culla's child. He abandons the baby in the woods and lies about his death to Rinthy. The story then follows brother and sister in their desperate yet separate searches for redemption.

With allusions to the Bible, King Lear and Snow White this could have turned into a symbolic nightmare. Well, it's definitely still a nightmare, but in a TOTALLY good way, if you can stomach incest* and cannibalism. It's a dark parable, with no moral message at the end, just the destruction of hope and love.

I think it's a good introduction to McCarthy, with enough of the fable in it to not seem real (that way it's not as scary). Alternatively, you could start with No Country for Old Men, which is considered McCarthy 'light'.

Outer Dark/No Country for Old Men: 9/10.
The Road: 10/10.

*Incidentally, I CAN stomach incest. I think it's because I have no brothers. I can't comprehend the grossness of the situation.
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