See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt.
My advice for you, if you’re concerned about reading Blood Meridian because of its reputation for being a bloody, violent, and disturbing book, is to read this review of it first (there are no spoilers, but if you’re worried, just read the last part, under “Blood Meridian Charades”). Having that in mind throughout the book adds some levity to what is probably the darkest text I have ever read.
It is, however, totally worth it.
Blood Meridian tells the story of a young man living around the Texas-Mexico border in the mid-1800s who gets caught up in a gang of miscreants who bring extraordinary violence not only to his life, but the lives of the native people around them. At the head of this gang are Glanton and The Judge, the latter being an enigmatic man whose singular cruelty will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.
There is no way to do justice to the bleak poetry of this book. You would think that a novel which is basically about raping and pillaging ad infinitum would be a slog but I was gripped all the way through. Part of the point, of course, is that you do become inured to the violence – and at the point where it does become monotonous, McCarthy points out how awful it is that you could possibly become numb to this kind of suffering. Except that everybody does. Which of course raises questions about how we should feel about the Glanton gang. Is it only natural that they should become inured to violence? Should we have some kind of pity for some of them? It’s hard to say. I don’t think I have any easy answers, or any answers at all.
Then there’s the judge, a charismatic monolith of evil. It would be easy for his character to become almost a laughable caricature – he not only oversees all of this horrendous behaviour, but is a child molester. This never happens. I can’t tell you why it doesn’t feel like this, but it doesn’t. McCarthy is a genius – I can’t see his artistry, I can’t unpick it at all because I have no idea how it’s done.
What happens at the end? Who knows. I don’t know what to think. All I know about this book is that I was immersed. I don’t have the most visual imagination in the world, but I could see everything in this book. Sometimes I didn’t want to, but it was there.
I have so little to say about this book, because I think you have to read it to understand. It is extremely brutal – and it definitely isn’t for everyone. That said, I really think that most people who like to read should give it a shot. I give Blood Meridian nine and a half out of ten.*
*Half a point off for the dead baby tree. I mean, really?