All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy review

Hi everyone! I am back with another review and this time it is the first of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses. In the novel we follow John Grady Cole, a 17 year old who lives on his grandfather’s ranch in Texas and is passionate about horses. His parents are divorced, and when his grandfather dies his mother decides to sell the ranch, as it is losing money and she wants to start a career as an actress elsewhere. Dismayed by this, Cole and his friend Lacey Rawlins saddle up their horses and head to Mexico to seek a new life. Along the way they meet a third boy, Jimmy Blevins, who joins them on their adventure in a foreign land.

That is all I shall regarding plot as there are so many twists and turns. At times I thought I knew the direction the plot was heading in, but then suddenly McCarthy would go completely off-piste and I would be unsure again. That sense of unknowing, the feeling of anything could happen, really added to the atmosphere of the novel. You share this feeling with the characters as they traverse new landscapes and encounter the people who live there. The shared state of unknowing helped to create sympathy towards them and their plight.

The relationships between the three main characters were also beautifully drawn. Each had their own distinct personality which really shone through, and allowed McCarthy to create some interesting dynamics which were fascinating to read. In particular, the friendship between Cole and Rawlins was the most touching. Their dry humour manages to alleviate some of tension you feel as the story develops, but it never feels inappropriate or out of place. I think the humour is a bit of a relief, just a moment to pause before you dived back into the drama. Also, sometimes they don’t necessarily mention their individual plans to each other but the other one always knows what’s happening. I really liked that as I felt that made their friendship realistic, and I appreciated that McCarthy didn’t spell out the plot via characters. You were able to watch the story unfold more organically in a way. I also liked how the boys’ passing from childhood into adulthood, and that loss of innocence, was reflected in the changing way of life particularly the ranch closing down. It reminded me of the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, that passing from the Old West into a more modern world.

However, the thing I enjoyed most about All the Pretty Horses was McCarthy’s writing. It was simply stunning. He effortlessly writes detailed, beautiful passages about the landscape (I really want to visit Mexico now!) and manages to juxtapose them with sudden bursts of violence or drama successfully. The beauty of the landscape, compared to the harsh realities the characters were facing, made the novel really enjoyable and kept me wanting to read on. The dialogue, which flits between English and Spanish, also helps to highlight the difficulties Cole, Rawlins and Blevins faced. There are very few English translations of the Spanish so, as a non-Spanish speaker, it added to my not knowing what was coming next. The lack of translations was really effective in that regard. And the final image of the novel is perhaps the best I’ve read in recent years.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed novel this isn’t for you. In fact, if I had to nitpick, I would say the first third of the novel was a little bit too long as it dragged in some places. But if you like a great plot with plenty of surprises, amazing character development and stunning prose, you should definitely pick up All the Pretty Horses. This is definitely  my favourite McCarthy novel and I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy.

All the Pretty Horses is published by Picador. Click here for more information. 

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