Picador (2011, first published 1968), 252 pages
I’m currently reading faster than I can post reviews! I’ve decided to write some shorter “quick reviews” when I don’t have the time to write a full review.
Cormac McCarthy is one of my favourite authors and Outer Dark didn’t let me down. Outer Dark is a parable about the consequences of evil. The book starts with Rinthy Holme’s childbirth. She was impregnated by her brother, Culla, who refuses to call a midwife and then leaves the baby to die. Culla tells Rinthy that her child died but she knows that he is lying. Culla deserts his sister while Rinthy sets off in search of a tinker who she believes took her child.
Like much of McCarthy’s work Outer Dark is a meditation on the natures of good and evil. The book explores the role of fate in the lives of the characters, the choices they make, and the intersection between luck and choice. The baby, borne of an incestuous relationship, has no choice over its fate or even its physical movement. The fate of the baby, though preying on the mind of his mother throughout the novel, is only revealed at the end. Culla’s choice to, effectively, run away from his crimes and responsibilities is seen to have its own effects. McCarthy, as always, is superb at capturing the fear and danger of being a man who is trying to survive in an ultra-macho society (perhaps the greatest chase scene in cinema history, in No Country for Old Men, illustrates this terror).
Although society, and nature itself, can be brutal and terrifying, McCarthy’s tales are also parables. Culla’s original sins come back to haunt him as he becomes viewed as a suspect figure in almost every area he enters. The outsider male can be both a potential threat and a potential scapegoat. On the other hand Rinthy, as a sickly female, elicits sympathy and she brings out the good side of people she encounters.
Amazingly Outer Dark was originally published in 1968. I find this amazing as McCarthy’s trademark cadence is fully formed in only his second novel. Whilst this story is not quite as compelling as some of his later work it is still a heady combination of page turner and literary excellence.