Archive for Cormac McCarthy

the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2020 by xi'an

Le Monde called its readers to vote for their five favourite novels, with no major surprise in the results, except maybe Harry Potter coming up top. Before Voyage au bout de la nuit and (the predictable) A la recherche du temps perdu. And a complete unknown, Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as 12th and first science fiction book. Above both the Foundation novels (16th). And Dune (32nd). And Hyperion Cantos (52). But no Jules Verne! In a sense, it reflects upon the French high school curriculum on literature that almost uniquely focus on French 19th and 20th books. (Missing also Abe, Conrad, Chandler, Dickens, Ishiguro, Joyce, Kawabata, Madame de Lafayette, Levi, Morante, Naipaul, Rabelais, Rushdie, Singer, and so many others…) Interestingly (or not), Sartre did not make it to the list, despite his literature 1953 Nobel Prize, maybe because so few read the (appalling) books of his chemins de la liberté trilogy.

I did send my vote in due time but cannot remember for certain all the five titles I chose except for Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (2nd), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (74th) and maybe Fedor Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov (24th). Maybe not as I may have included Barbey d’Aurevilly’s L’ensorcelée, Iain Pears’ An instance at the fingerpost, and Graham Greene’s The End of the affair, neither of which made it in the list. Here are some books from the list that would have made it to my own 101 list, although not necessarily as my first choice of titles for authors like Hugo (1793!) or Malraux (l’Espoir). (Warning: Amazon Associate links).

the long way to a small angry planet [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2017 by xi'an

When leaving London last week, I went through the (very nice) bookstore in St Pancras International and saw this book by Becky Chambers. And bought it as I had read nice criticisms and liked both the title and the cover. I have been reading it at every free minute since then and eventually finished it last night. It is a very enjoyable novel, very homey despite it taking place mostly in interstellar space, as it goes through the personal stories of the members of a tunneller crew (tunnels meaning shortcuts between distant points in space, the astrophysics being a bit vague on how those are possible!). It is far from a masterpiece but the succession of scenes and characters is enjoyable enough to be enjoyable, with a final twist of a larger magnitude. Nothing profoundly innovative like Ancillary Justice [except for the openness about interspecies sex, this could have been written in the 50’s] or era-defining like Ender’s Game, or The Road, but a pleasant read by all means!

The Road

Posted in Books with tags , , , on June 4, 2011 by xi'an

“Well, I think we’re still here. A lot of bad things have happened but we’re still here.”

The Road was the book of Cormac McCarthy’s I first wanted to read, before I decided to start his books with the Border trilogy (The Crossing, All the Pretty Horses, Cities of the Plain). I just read The Road on the plane to Glasgow and in the wee hours of the next morning (daylight comes very early in Scotland at this time of the year!): The Road is a masterpiece! The story is told in a very sober almost clinical tone, with a minimum of details about the post-apocalyptic world both characters travel (or rather plod) through, the dialogues between father and son (whose age is quite indeterminate, between seven and ten, I would guess) are terse but translate very well the love and support they draw from each other. Even though the production of the corresponding movie had an impact on my reading the book, I have not seen it and do not plan to do so as the strength and brilliance of the book does not rely on action or even danger, but rather on how hunger, cold, deprivations bring father and son together. The story is told from the father’s point of view (it stops a few pages after the father dies), so the son remains a bit of a mystery, only revealed through the dialogues and the way he carries on in a doomed world, still caring for other humans when his father has hardened himself towards survival. (There is sentence towards the end where the boy replies to his father that he is the one who has to care about everything…) I would go as far as stating that the story has little appeal from a science fiction perpective: only a few humans have survived the apocalypse (how? the book does not tell…) and scrap the ruins of this world for canned food, most of them resorting to cannibalism when the manufactured food cannot be found. Apart from those few survivors, there seems to be no other living being, except for a dog heard once, and the flora is gone as well, dead forests burning in the background and ashes everywhere as father and son aim for the sea (which ends up being as dead as the land). What is amazing is that, within this half-made, rather unrealistic, world, McCarthy manages to make the trip of the father and the son so intense and believable that I had to keep reading if only to check they were still alive on the next page! I presume the book could instead be read as a parable about the meaningless of life and the absence of God, just like The Crossing (which is also an hopeless trip towards an empty goal), but I’d rather view The Road as a poignant tale of survival and purpose in a purposeless and dying world. A strong book with a lasting influence…

The Border trilogy

Posted in Books with tags , , , , on December 18, 2010 by xi'an

The Border trilogy is made of three books written by Cormac McCarthy: All the pretty horses, The crossing, and Cities of the plain. I have now finished reading those books and I am quite impressed by the dark beauty of the stories as well as by the unusual style of the writer. (I first wanted to read The Road and then decided on trying an earlier book of McCarthy.) Those books are “classics” in the sense that they refer to both a universe and a way to telling stories that have now vanished. (This feeling of reading a “classic” is of course amplified by my version of Border trilogy published in Everyman’s Library collection!) Cormac McCarthy is sometimes compared with William Faulkner; while I cannot really judge whether or not the comparison is apt, there is indeed something of Faulkner’s in the Biblical quality of McCarthy’s stories. Indeed, when I started All the pretty horses, I thought this was a realist story set in a past Southwest about cowboys but the novel soon turned into an allegorical tale about doomed love and lost innocence. This is even stronger in The crossing where each encounter of the brothers with strangers has a  tale-within-the-tale picaresque quality, most of the characters launching into stories  that sound like parables from an alternate Bible. Dialogues abound in the books but they rarely feel like chatter. (Having to decipher half of them from Spanish does add weight to this point!) Mexico is depicted like a primeval and a-moral Eden, where strangers are fed with no question asked, caballeros are considered as an aristocracy, and law-and-order does not mean anything, the local police summarily executing a major character in All the pretty horses… But the morbid fascination it exerts on the young cowboys is so strong it only fits within the Biblical message of the novels, what the New Yorker calls the “deterministic mythmaking of McCarthy”. Although not an easy read, I certainly enjoyed The crossing the most, because of its otherworldliness, the main character Billy pursuing his quests against all odds, first for a wolf,  then for horses and lastly for his brother. The final scene with the mangled dog is a desperately sad counterpoint to the starting plot with the wolf… The last piece of the trilogy Cities of the plain does not ring so true because of the different attitude of this same character. Again, this is the discovery of a major writer for me and I will certainly read some more books of his in a near future!


Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2010 by xi'an

In the crowded and hugely delayed RER A this morning, I managed to extract from the numerous  and unwanted signals emitted by the earphones of most passengers in my carriage the distinctive whine of the bombarde in Plantec‘s Reverzhi, a great album backing traditional Celtic music with a guitar baseline!!! Not that this excuses in any way this annoying habit of letting fellow passengers endure one’s own musical choice by using high-volume low-quality earphones in public transportation… Especially when I could not pick the passenger listening to Plantec. Tonight, as a coincidence, the passenger facing me was finishing a book by Cormac McCarthy, whose Border trilogy I am reading at the moment. Being in a Parisian and not a New Yorker metro, I did not engage into a literary conversation!

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