As can be said of all Cormac McCarthy novels, Blood Meridian is not for the faint-hearted. At its centre is 'the kid', a fourteen-year-old boy, sucked into a mercenary band of scalp hunters who rove the south-west frontier of 1849. As they drift from one bloody massacre to another, a hellish world unfolds.
There is little plot in this novel - the action is, for the most part episodic - and the omniscient narrator remains detached to the point that we never get inside the heads of the characters. This makes them feel two-dimensional and cliché in their bloodlust and I know that I've seen them all before – the psychotic murderers, the crooked lawmen, the Indian accomplices dressed in ill-fitting morning coats – and because of the narrative distance, I learn nothing new about any of them. The narrator also has an amoral and objective tone: we are never asked to make judgments about or join in the depravity, but merely to be a witness. We do, however, get the sense early on that it is the judge, not Glanton, who we need to be wary of, and in the final chapter our suspicions are confirmed when we learn his true identity.
McCarthy's prose is stunning - visual, rich and multi-layered. Turn to any page and you will find imagery full of precision and clarity: "They did not noon nor did they siesta and the cotton eye of the moon squatted at broad day in the throat of the mountains to the east and they were still riding when it overtook them at its midnight meridian, sketching on the plain below a blue cameo of such dread pilgrims clanking north." It is for writing like this that I will continue to return to McCarthy.