Metro Reco: Blood Meridian
In my contemporary novel course, each week we’re comparing two novels, one American, one Canadian, with something in common, be it themes, style, form, genre. Our first two novels were Westerns: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and The Englishman's Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe.
First, Blood Meridian. Wow. I don’t have the words. First of all, I’ll warn you, this book is incredibly violent; it’s probably the bloodiest book I’ve ever read (and you know I’m not squeamish). Set in the 19th century Wild West, the novel tells the story of the Glanton gang, a group of scalp hunters on the US-Mexico borderlands. The gang’s leader and the novel’s antagonist is Judge Holden, an enigmatic Kurtzian figure. He’s diabolically evil; he’s also fiercely intelligent. He is fascinating—and he’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
The violence in the novel is relentless, and it’s deliberate. McCarthy describes cruelty using language so beautiful and dense it is like reading poetry. The result is a very unsettling read you can’t stop thinking about. The book provoked a very interesting response in my class—folks either loved it or hated it. I think it’s genius, and I highly recommend it to you.
Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Englishman's Boy was my second Western in as many weeks, and I’m a new fan of the genre.
An absorbing mix of fact and fiction, the novel looks at two historical periods, both steeped in mythology. Recounted by a narrator in 1950’s Saskatoon, the book centres around two narratives: the story of a screenwriter in 1920’s Hollywood, and the tale of the Englishman’s Boy, who took part in the Cypress Hill Massacre of 1873 in the Wild West.
Poetic, sometimes raw and brutal, always fascinating, the novel drew me in gradually, but as the chapters progressed, it became harder and harder to put down; I turned the pages faster and faster until I reached the stunning, tragic climax.
Guy Vanderhaeghe was born in Esterhazy, a mining town in Saskatchewan. He won the Governor General’s Award for his first novel, Man Descending (1992) and won it again for The Englishman's Boy (1996). He is probably best known for The Last Crossing (2001), a bestseller that was selected for the 2004 Canada Reads.