In that small apartment, ‘Black’ and ‘White’, as the two men are known, begin a conversation that leads each back through his own history – mining the origins of two diametrically opposing world views, they begin a dialectic redolent of the best of Beckett.
White is a professor whose seemingly enviable existence of relative ease has left him nonetheless in despair. Black, an ex-con and ex-addict, is the more hopeful of the men – though he is just as desperate to convince White of the power of faith as White is to deny it.
Their aim is no less than this: to discover the meaning of life.
It is a puzzle to me, why I am unable to fully appreciate McCarthy’s works, his books always seem to exude more style then substance. For all my enjoyment of this book at the time on further reflection it seems a little empty.
In the format of a play this works really well, two people of different race and class and means sit together in a room debating the meaning of life, ethics, wealth, etc. It is always something that is going to intrigue and whilst amidst the book’s words I did enjoy it for the brief duration of which it lasts (160 pages) but beyond the well-worn story there isn’t a lot else.
In truth it all seems overly familiar, the characters and the ideas discussed are things I have come across plenty of times before, the setting is different but the themes are not. The short length of the book doesn’t give enough scope for anything more than a basic outline of the arguments up for discussion, the narrowness is forced by the structure McCarthy has chosen which perhaps harms the what he was trying to do.
The religious aspects of Black’s arguments, although overtly Christian could be defined in terms of any of the theological mainstays out there, what annoyed me most is that a fairly large proportion of the book seems to be defence of religion in the face of an unbeliever. The focus seems a little too skewed to this theme when there was plenty of differing themes which could have been introduced to layer the book.
In fact White is marginalised in his back story and seem to argue from the present for the most part with little in the way of back reference, he is essentially a closed book. Black on the other hand is ready to share life’s experiences but is perhaps a bit of a cliché for my liking. The two contrast well though and the conversation feels natural, enough, it still niggles me though that there is so much more that could have effectively been explored.
The author’s penchant for avoiding speech marks is cut out by the format so instead he decides to leave out apostrophes at random times, nothing annoys me more. It was the final nail in the coffin of this book. Overall the writer doesn’t do anything original here, everything has been said before and after reading three of his books I wonder will I ever learn my lesson and leave Mr McCarthy well alone.