Reading took the backseat of the blindly rushing along automobile that is my life. The backseat ride for the book was only for a few days and it later returned with a vengeance and quite a forceful one at that too. I read two books back to back which were literal tour de force for all that they conveyed. The first was Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ and the next was Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’.
Blood Meridian is one of the most violent yet profoundly powerful of all novels I have read. Without giving too much of the plot line away, I could say that it is the eyewitness accounts of a character known only as ‘The Kid’ as he traverses the desolate wilderness of the US-Mexican border with a group of scalp hunters. Simply put the book is a descent into a maelstrom of violence as each act of ruthless carnage robs the men of their last vestiges of humanity and compassion. The prose however is a different matter altogether. There are no punctuations and the sentences long and unwinding over many paragraphs yet me like scores of readers before me never had trouble knowing who was speaking when. It is the landscape that steals the thunder in the book. Visual treats are galore in the book in the form of snow capped peaks, barren desolate plains and deserts that bleach any living thing to bone. The landscape is unforgiving and the men brutal and as the reader you wander among them. Dazed and bloodied you watch the veritable hell unfold before your eyes, you sit with them at campfires in the shadow of mountains where out of the rim of the firelight the eyes of wolves gleam at you. The desert stretches out all along where the eye can travel, your horse stumbles, the dust makes you the color of the desert and the sun makes your throat scream soundless for water. This is what McCarthy makes you experience in this book. I practically was awake all night with this book, the landscape was pulsing with life inside my head and refused to let me back on to the safety of my bed.
There is another alluring factor in the tale : Judge Holden. Multitudes of pages have been written about him. The judge was created an enigma and he remains so even after the last page. He sits semi naked at the campfire and talks to you about war,science, the lost civilizations and philosophizes about creation and the brush strokes of the master artist named god. He gives candy to little children, plays with them and in the same breath breaks their neck and scalps them leaving the mangled little body on the desert. He chronicles life and artifacts and later annihilates them without even looking back. When asked why ,he simply replies What exists in creation without my knowledge, exists without my consent. I read reviews of this book where people raved on about the judge and now I know better. How would you describe a polished monster who on his revolvers inscribed the words Et In Arcadia Ego ? Some interpret him as the Devil for all the trails of carnage he leaves behind him and his seeming immortality and the lesser popular version is that he is a wrathful god but the author does not tell you on thing or the other.
McCarthy’s characters get hold of us and shove us headlong to the pits of our minds where evils make their nest and monsters lie dormant .
A Clockwork Orange is from a different stable. It tells of a society where the nights are ruled by gangs of unruly and violent youths.The protagonist Alex is a sociopath, the leader of such a gang. The lingo that is used here needs a bit of getting used to but it is a real delight once you do. The initial chapters spill over with violence and sexual acts committed by Alex and his gang all over the place. We get to know deranged mind of the protagonist : a pedophile, rapist,murderer and a connoisseur of classical music. Burgess creates a remarkable study of character by associating the ascending violent streaks of his character with the rising crescendos of Beethoven’s 9th. After this initial stage setting do we as the readers get to know what the title of the novel actually means.
One of the most remarkably memorable lines in here is a quote A man who cannot choose ceases to be a man . This forms the soul of the story, as in what would happen if you were to strip the freedom of choice from a human’s life. To be an inherently good person are stripped away all thoughts of retaliation or violence from you which is aversion therapy taken to perversive heights. Alex even in this pitiful condition wants to strike back but bides his time and his behavior points to the subtlety with which Burgess has created a sociopath. The tale is a wonderful study of a world wearing a flimsy mask of democracy which is falling apart at the seams revealing the Cheshire cat grin of totalitarianism behind it.
Phew !!! Now that was a long post but as always now that my thoughts have materialized into words, I feel relieved.