book review – Outer Dark

This was an incredibly easy book to get through despite the subject matter. Despite the italicised start and the slight disorientation that comes from a complete absence of quote marks that is the Cormac McCarthy style the story gets you early on.

The themes that seem to run through his work include traveling down roads searching for something and coping with extreme almost supernatural violence.

Outer Dark has doses of both with a brother and sister giving birth to a son from their incestuous relationship that seems to be one of hate by the time the child comes and possibly was never one of love just forged out of boredom or possibly rape and violence.

The siblings live in a run down shack and the day she gives birth a tinker comes calling and it is he who discovers the abandoned child in the glade that the father chooses to dump it in.

The mother does not believe her brother’s explanation of the infant’s death and a hunt then starts for the child. She wanders looking for the tinker and then her brother wanders looking for her.

The siblings wander through an America at the turn of the last century with work available for those prepared to sweat in the fields but suspicion as well as madness waiting for them as they pass from settlement to settlement.

Complicating the search for the tinker is the shadow cast by mysterious men who seem to cross the path of the brother and murder and engage in cannibalism. Who are they and what do they want? Those questions become more important as the dark horsemen get closer to intersecting with the siblings and the lost child.

The world that McCarthy describes is one that works on different planes with the landscape holding as many secrets as the people. When Holme crosses on the ferry and the cable snaps in a storm the elements as much as the mean spirited ferry driver are against Holme.

As the siblings go down their separate roads they draw nearer to a climax that not only leads to the child but also the destruction of their relationship. The sister finds the tinker but it is the mysterious riders who find the child and Holme and in the end the sister just finds ashes marking the end of her journey.

In a way this sets out all of the themes of his work – a journey, a road, violence, potentially a brush with something supernatural and an America that is lost.

Version read – Picador paperback

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