Blood Meridian is a fitting title for Cormac McCarthy’s brutal anti-western. The book is heavy with blood, thick streams of the arterial liquid pooling and coagulating at its dark heart. McCarthy wields words like a surgeon’s blade, finding spare beauty in unforgiving landscapes lit by blue flashes of lightning or unforgiving men unleashing violence for the promise of a handful of coins.
Based in historical fact, the cowboys and Indians of Blood Meridian aren’t noble warriors but rather savages who slaughter innocent villagers and return their scalps to their kinfolk for gold. The novel observes their actions without attempting to find reason or justification behind their cruelty. Combined with McCarthy’s distaste for punctuation and a refusal to waste words, it makes for difficult bedtime reading.
At the centre of this grim tale stands Judge Holden, an icon of modern literature. An immense man in spirit and in flesh, he espouses twisted, poetic pseudo-philosophies; records the flora and fauna he encounters; and conducts a maelstrom of violence around him. He is first introduced turning a town against a priest for his own amusement, polluting something sacred with doubt and bloodshed. And so it goes, innocence corrupted by the inescapability of war.