An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Book Review: Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

When I took Suttree by Cormac McCarthy down from the shelves recently it was immediately apparent that I had had this book for some considerable time and yet it remained unread: the spine was pristine; the cover foxed and; the price - 5.99 from Picador. Why still unread I wondered? It is widely regarded as an American great and I had clearly been impressed, at some stage (probably during 1979), to acquire a copy.

Well, the first few pages explained all. Suttree is one of those works, and they are mercifully rare though Oblomov, The Precipice and The Petty Demon recall themselves, that manages to repel me in the opening pages to the point where I close the book and yet intrigues me enough to keep it on the shelves rather than dispose of it - what I call a "maybe later - maybe one day" book. As I ploughed through those early pages again (and I remembered the viscid prose vividly) remembered attempts at this tome came back to me.

The blurb on the now aged cover had promised me Faulkner and Twain but the text seemed to offer me very little save repeated detailed and frankly tedious descriptions of the river - especially its smells - and the odd glimpse of one Cornelius Suttree, our hero-to-be who had little to commend him. But, like the river itself that is the central figure of this novel (shades of Finnegans Wake anyone), I ploughed on. Riverun slowly, very slowly, sticky prose passage follows sticky prose passage as the river runs more and more languorously. Like the mighty em eye double ess eye double ess eye double pee eye the prose slows as the plot, such as it is, widens. There are promises of freshwater pearls among the mud and the one certainty is the inexxorable nature of the river itself.

McCarthy takes Suttree and his readers away from the middle of the river into the rock pools and eddies, the slack water and the weed banks of life beside the river where flotsam and jetsam of humanity have washed up. Damaged and grubby as they are they provide added interest to the tale and at points, like the river itself, the narrative and the plot come into unexpected flood and one finds oneself rushed along for pages at a time until the pace slackens again and once more we drift along.

We drift along through the narrative as readers and Suttree drifts along through pools of minor human adventure until we all are washed up onto the wide and muddy delta at the mouth of the river and ultimately, into not being.

And so I reached the sea shore and left Cornelius Suttree as he washed out to eternity. Finally I had finished Suttree. It is lavishly written this novel, too lavishly perhaps, and the episodes feel not contrived but not contiguous. It is an honest book and it is an achievement. In the end I think I enjoyed it. At all events I think it is probably an important book and I now feel I may come back to it one day.


1 comment:

  1. It's funny, how I usualy judge the book by it's 1st few pages too ... It gets my attention at the beginning or it doesn't at all. I actually never went back and took the book I once couldn't read. maybe I should change that :-) War and Peace would be the 1st one then :-)