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Cormac McCarthy – All the Pretty Horses

January 5, 2009

160. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992)

Read By: Frank Muller
Length: 10 h 04 min (320 pages)

Genre: Western/Literary Fiction

Started: 14 December 2008
Finished: 30 December 2008

Sparse, vivid landscapes
and lots of horse imagery
don’t hold my interest.

Summary: It’s 1949, and sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole’s grandfather has died, and his mother has sold the family ranch, which she has no interest in maintaining. John Grady and his cousin and friend Lacey Rawlins decide to cross the border into Mexico, looking for work as cowboys, and possibly some adventure along the way. They join up with a younger boy who is riding what looks to be a stolen horse that he swears is his, although he’s unwilling to provide any details. When that horse gets lost and stolen, a chain of events is set into motion that includes horse thievery, breaking of wild horses, the seduction of (or maybe by) the beautiful daughter of a Mexican landholder, some time spent in jail, and more than one gunfight.

Review: Cormac McCarthy seems to be somewhat of a divisive author; people seem to either really love or really hate his books. I’m somewhat in the middle, although I’m leaning towards the negative. A lot of the people who are hardcore fans are so because of McCarthy’s writing, and it is incredible, there’s no denying that. (Although I quickly determined that reading his prose in print form would drive me batty in about a page and a half, so I’ve only ever listened to audiobooks of his works – let the narrator deal with the run-on sentences and sort out where there are supposed to be commas and quotation marks.) McCarthy’s language is sparse and almost brutally precise, perfectly mirroring the landscapes he’s describing – both the language and the images it conjures are beautiful in their bleakness.

At least for me, however, interesting and beautiful writing has never been enough on which to hang a novel. There was plenty of stuff happening in All The Pretty Horses that should have been exciting – Wild horses! Mexican prison! Getting shot! – but inexplicably, it comes out as dull. I had a hard time telling where the story was going, a hard time figuring out how (or whether) each event fit together into a cohesive story, a hard time telling what the point was, and a hard time caring. Maybe I just missed the point altogether, but as it was I had a hard time making myself go back to listen to more of this book. Pretty language (although if you don’t speak Spanish, be warned: there are large untranslated sections), but the characters and story just didn’t do anything for me. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of McCarthy’s, or people who really enjoy Westerns will obviously disagree with me, but I could have given this one a miss. Aaaaaand I’m off to my Netflix queue to see if the movie is any better…

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Trish’s Reading Nook, Books I Done Read, Ex Libris, Bending Bookshelf
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and right when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2009 2:38 am

    I can’t wait to share this review with Lisa of Books on the Brain. She and I have this thing about McCarthy.

  2. January 5, 2009 8:14 am

    I’m not a big Western fan, so I think I will give this one a miss. Thanks for your review.

  3. January 5, 2009 10:08 am

    Sheri – A good thing? Or a bad thing? Or just a thing thing?

    bermudaonion – I’m not really a Western fan either, but I wanted to try another McCarthy book besides The Road… not entirely sure why I picked this one, though.

  4. January 5, 2009 10:24 am

    I have enjoyed (if you can say that for such depressing stories) the two McCarthy books I’ve read: The Road and No Country For Old Men but I think I will pass on this one. I will look for your movie review, though.

  5. January 5, 2009 11:58 am

    I haven’t read any of McCarthy’s books.

    I was also stopping by to let you know that I’ve given your blog an award:

  6. January 5, 2009 9:42 pm

    I really love McCarthy, but this is probably my least favorite of what I’ve read. His books aren’t all that exciting despite the fact that the events *should* be exciting, but the sparse writing for some reason creates suspense for me. I don’t really actually know–I’ve tried to figure out what it is that I love about McCarthy, but I haven’t figured it out yet. :P Definitely not an uplifting writer!

  7. January 6, 2009 11:11 am

    bkclubcare – I’ve been putting off watching No Country for Old Men until I read the book, but I don’t know how soon that’s likely to happen… maybe I should just get over my “book-before-movie” rule in McCarthy’s case.

    Alyce – Thanks you, that’s so sweet!

    Trish – It’s good to hear that even for a McCarthy fan, this book was not fantastic. I like his writing well enough that I’m not quite ready to give up on him as an author – which book of his would you recommend I read next? (I’ve already read The Road, which I thought was interesting, if somewhat overhyped and horribly bleak.)

  8. January 6, 2009 11:16 am

    Haha–you’re going to get bleak with all the ones I’ve read. I think The Crossing is my favorite–which is also part of the border triology. Although, I read it for a grad course seminar and all my classmates disliked it. :P I think the most reader friendly one is probably No Country for Old Men. I’ve heard great things about Blood Meridian, but haven’t gotten to it yet. I liked The Road a lot–but I think it’s definitely his starkest novel–that I’ve read.

  9. January 6, 2009 5:09 pm

    I have this one too, I started it a while ago, but never finished it. I want to give it another try. Great review.
    I do agree when you say: ‘interesting and beautiful writing has never been enough on which to hang a novel’

  10. January 7, 2009 11:19 am

    Trish – I’m pretty sure I can get Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men in audiobook format from the library, so I’ll have to give one of them a try… just maybe not right away. :)

    bookworm – I’ve run into this problem a lot, actually, where the writing is technically excellent but the book just doesn’t do it for me. I’m sure it’s just the “type” of reader I am, but I read for escapism, and if I’m not into the story a book’s telling, then incredible writing is not enough to save it. Conversely, I’ll usually put up with moderately terrible writing if I like the story. I’m sure for other readers, the relative importance of writing/story to their enjoyment of a book is much different.

  11. January 8, 2009 9:57 am

    I have not read this book. I’ve only read The Road, which I liked for the most part. I may have to skip this one given that I’m not too fond of westerns

  12. January 8, 2009 11:21 am

    Serena – From what I understand, this is not generally regarded to be one of McCarthy’s better books, so going off, reading some of his other works, and then coming back to this one when you’ve run out of other books is probably a good plan of attack.

  13. December 20, 2011 12:46 pm

    Dear Fyrefly,
    What did you make of the gun being booby-trapped in the canyon when John Grady is running, with the Captain in tow, after stealing back the Blevins horse and his horse? Why did making an elaborate booby-trap help him escape, and why does McCarthy not explain this more?
    I enjoyed your review, and agree that McCarthy’s language is tough to take, I happen to like commas and quotation marks. I have a book club at and we look forward to your thoughts.

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