One of the best books I've read by a living author. It is an extremely violent Western. It can be seen as a deconstruction of the Western, but if that were all there were too it, it would not be really interesting, because, at least for movies, most famous westerns are deconstructions of the western, so there is nothing new about that. My edition compares the work to the Illiad, Dante and Melville. The Illiad is in some ways apropo because the book is a kind of epic literature. The work is full of classical illusions but these illusions are used in away more typical of medieval and renaissance writers and especially painters than ancient writers.
Melville is a more useful analogy. Like Melville there is something operatic about McCarthy's writing. It deals with big themes writ broadly and thrown in your face. The symbolism is in your face and the imagery arresting.
The most useful comparison is Dante. Blood Meridian is about a journey through hell. Here the hell is an embodied world. The landscape of the old west becomes a kind of hell scape. The deserts are life threatening and we go on a journey into human depravity. We follow a small group who is on a mission to scalp Indians, but in the end destroy also the very people that they are trying to protect, until they themselves are destroyed.
The nominal main character is the Kid, but the real main character is the Judge. The Judge is a huge, hairless, albino who seems to know something about everything and destroys everything that he touches. As the book goes on, the Judge becomes so satanic that it becomes a moot point whether he is symbolic of Satan, or Satan himself and the book is deliberately ambiguous about this. Good characters arrive on stage, only to shortly thereafter die.
It is a vision of unremitting horror and depravity, full of hellish visions such as dead babies hung from a bush, violent, pointless murder, rape, slavery and so on. These images are arresting. The image of the Judge hunting the Kid and his companion in rent clothing with an idiot on a leash, a rifle in one hand and a parasol made out of skin and bone in the other I will never get out of mind.
Its interesting to compare it to The Master and Margarita where the devil is conceived as the other. Here in this book McCarthy puts the devil where he belongs, in the hearts of men.
I had previously read The Road by McCarthy, and while I liked it, I wouldn't have thought that he could have written a book this good. The book is an almost entirely successful exploration of human depravity. McCarthy manages to invent a way of writing which is both current and yet operatic. The book stands in the tradition of such works as Melville, Dante, and King Lear (which is alluded to). I'm glad to see someone do this and to find a space for this kind of writing in current literature.
I highly recommend this book. A beautiful, although horrific exploration of madness and evil and man's inhumanity.