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The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form – Cormac McCarthy

09 Nov

LTDA startling encounter on a New York subway platform leads two strangers to a run-down tenement where a life or death decision must be made.

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.

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35 Comments

Posted by on 09/11/2014 in Plays

 

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35 responses to “The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form – Cormac McCarthy

  1. Jeff

    09/11/2014 at 20:07

    Sounds like it aspires to Plato, or at least Gaarder.

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    • Ste J

      09/11/2014 at 20:15

      Yes, Gaarder does do similar, he wraps his stories in magic though and this just feels grim. It does have certain bright points sometimes but ultimately fails for being neither complex enough or have any ultimate resolution.

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      • Jeff

        10/11/2014 at 21:13

        Now it sounds like The Road reconsidered as a pointless argument.

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        • Ste J

          11/11/2014 at 15:22

          That is a good point, I had not made that connection.

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  2. gargoylebruce

    09/11/2014 at 21:02

    Leaving out apostrophes? Grrr. I recently read a book in which one of the characters says “could of” instead of “could have”. I nearly poked my own eyes out. Then decided it was probably better to hunt down the book’s editor and poke out his/her eyes as they clearly aren’t being used for proper proof reading.

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    • Ste J

      09/11/2014 at 21:14

      I am sure the editor would say it was artistically merited for that character…tricksy is the editor. I on the other hand like to see the apostrophes when people talk to me in real life as well as on the page.

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      • gargoylebruce

        09/11/2014 at 22:35

        Indeed, I had already thought of that little ploy of the wiley editor. Unfortunately I have no better comeback than shouting,”I know you are but what am I?” And then running away.

        Liked by 1 person

         
  3. Alastair Savage

    10/11/2014 at 08:05

    I’ve never read Cormac McCarthy but he seems to be a much bigger fish in the US than in the UK. Do you think his themes are more resonant to people on the other side of the pond? I must say that the themes in the book as you outline them above don’t grab my interest at all.

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    • Ste J

      10/11/2014 at 08:39

      It is interesting that the European and American likes do differ, I think the themes are more aimed at the American audience but then again I think a lot of people here like his books, although I am not sure what people get out of them. If McCarthy had added some new twist to ideas he was writing about then this play wouldn’t have been half bad, my quest for a book of his I like continues…but not for a while.

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  4. shadowoperator

    10/11/2014 at 12:49

    Particularly after the huge success of the movie “The Road,” made from one of McCarthy’s books, people have been urging me to read him, but I have to say that I haven’t even picked up that one. I think you may be right though (and here I’m commenting safely from the tower of my ignorance of him), he may be a sort of cheap-shot Beckett. If I want to read Beckett, I can do so any day, and get the real thing. But probably at some point I will read that first book. Just can’t say when; there are so many things out there, and dystopian appeal aside, Cormac McCarthy is a relative newcomer who may not yet have earned his “stripes.” But then, I could always try this book you mention first, since it’s fairly short, and I like reading dialogue. We’ll see; I wonder when someone will think of putting it on a stage, as they almost certainly will!

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    • Ste J

      11/11/2014 at 15:27

      It has already been put on stage which makes sense given the weight of the author’s name after the books turned into films. I reviewed The Road a couple of years ago and that has a lovely veneer but lacks anything tangible to take away from it. Stick with Beckett unless you see this cheap or better yet in the library.

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  5. Tom Gething

    10/11/2014 at 17:00

    I think McCarthy hit his Zenith with Blood Meridian, a long time ago. Also, I am particularly fond of The Crossing for its images of Mexico. In these two novels there is less overt pontificating. The most obvious novel-written-for-screenplay-adaptation was No Country for Old Men, which was irritatingly didactic in the end, similar, it sounds, to Sunset Limited. Fortunately, the Coen brothers did a great job bringing NCFOM to the screen. The Road may have been his swan song, kinda like Hemingway writing the Old Man and the Sea. I have few expectations of anything as dazzling as Blood Meridian coming forth from him.

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    • Ste J

      11/11/2014 at 15:47

      I haven’t read Blood Meridian or The Border Trilogy, I believe I may have that somewhere, I seem to have a lot of McCarthy books despite not being impressed with any of the three I have read. Now Hemingway is a strange one, I loved The Old Man and the Sea but got annoyed with the conversations in A Farewell to Arms, for me the jury is still out on Hemingway that is unless you can recommend me a book to tip the balance to the positive?

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      • Tom Gething

        12/11/2014 at 19:15

        No, I’m not too keen on Hemingway’s novels. But his stories! That’s where I think he was a master.

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  6. Jilanne Hoffmann

    10/11/2014 at 18:10

    I’ve only read Blood Meridian, and it left me feeling fairly empty. But I did enjoy his use of language. I’m not tempted to read another. My husband has read The Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian. But I think he decided to stop reading McCarthy after finishing The Road. He’d had enough.

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    • Ste J

      11/11/2014 at 15:28

      I wish I had not taken the time to read so much McCarthy, what can I say I like to give authors a chance. He writes well, I think we just need something more than a unique voice.

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  7. angela

    10/11/2014 at 20:05

    Oh, how this made me laugh and actually speak to you via my laptop – really, SJ… I joke, but not. CM is a fave on mine precisely because he doesn’t use speech marks – I dare say I should not post what I’ve been working on for a MOOC (sentences are naked 😉 Anyhoo – I think the draw of CM in the US is that he addresses stereotypes and issues at the core of our history – this and Stonemason (another play that you should only read if not purchased for you prob wont like) which address race/religion/slavery but in various tones. I shall have to think of his other works – but he really seems to address the human condition and the darkness that resides there — anyhoo, I’m glad I had a half work day so I could ‘catch up’ on my fave bloggers- cheers!

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    • Ste J

      11/11/2014 at 15:39

      I am always happy to hear that other people talk to themselves (or the laptop which is a good excuse) as well. I shall let you off the speech marks as long as you post it so I can read it! Perhaps my understanding of American history is lacking somewhat, I just always feel that there is no real substance to his books that I can take away. I will look out for Stonemason at the library because I am curious as you have mentioned it.

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  8. Seyi sandra

    10/11/2014 at 22:31

    I think your versatility and honesty intrigues me, by the time I’ve read your thoughts on books, I’ve gained a deeper insight before I’ve even read the book. Some books are tedious to read and this falls into this category I believe. But you still shed light on the positive aspect of the book. I hope to read this, hopefully soon.

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    • Ste J

      11/11/2014 at 15:17

      It is a very quick read, that is unless you stop to ponder the points raised. Overall I wasn’t astounded by it but it is a decent read. I like to give people an idea about what they may find interesting or not about a book, if it keeps you coming back, I am happy.

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  9. Sherri

    12/11/2014 at 10:31

    Hmmm…interesting read this (your post I mean). I would find leaving out apostrophes really annoying. I tried reading Wolf Hall and found it a very difficult read because I spent more time figuring out who was speaking due to the lack of speech marks. I thought I was just being thick… This book doesn’t intrigue me – it did at first, mind, when I read your introduction. I thought, “Oh great, this sounds captivating!” but then I read on. Thanks for telling me all I need to know about it Ste, which is why you are such an amazing book reviewer.

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    • Ste J

      12/11/2014 at 19:52

      Wolf Hall spun me out, there was little in the way of signposting who was speaking unless close attention was paid. I think that book split opinion and I’m with you on the whole speech marks argument. I am glad you like my reviews, I have no agenda like the author/reviewers in the papers. although a Milky Way could tempt me, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Sherri

        14/11/2014 at 15:28

        I’m so glad you said that about Wolf Hall, I thought I was being thick when I read it! I only got half way through, completely lost the plot, literally. Oh Milky Way…now you’re talking 😉

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        • Ste J

          24/11/2014 at 09:07

          Milky Way, Galaxy and Mars, what is it about space and chocolate bars? I lent my friend Iain Wolf Hall and he couldn’t put it down, it did free up a bit of room on my book case though.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • Sherri

            25/11/2014 at 15:25

            Haha…yes, why is that? And speaking of Wolf Hall, did you see that it is going to be on television soon? At least we don’t have to worry about speech marks for that production…maybe it will be better than the book 😉

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            • Ste J

              25/11/2014 at 18:41

              It is strange, I never thought of chocolate and space as synonymous, perhaps it is some sort of running industry joke. I don’t know if I could put myself through Wolf Hall in any form again, there is too much else to occupy me. There isn’t much better than a book but in Wolf Hall’s case, who knows.

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  10. RoSy

    12/11/2014 at 15:05

    We’ll Ste’J – He’re ar’e som’e aposto’phe’s jus’t fo’r yo’u! 😉

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    • Ste J

      12/11/2014 at 19:29

      I am unsure if this pleases me or stresses me out even more haha. Thank you!

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  11. anna amundsen

    23/11/2014 at 12:29

    I am not very familiar with McCarthy..
    I read No Country for Old Men after I saw the movie (which was brilliant) but, before that, I read All the Pretty Horses – and it left me in awe. I made a note to read the rest of the trilogy. I loved the stone-cut style and stoicism and thought it very good.
    However, I am not particularly inspired to look for his other books. Reviews like yours tell me all I need to know..
    Then again, I might pick this one up one day.. Never say never..

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2014 at 09:44

      It is a strange thing with McCarthy that he makes me keep coming back for more despite my past opinions. He does sparse and bleak well I think but after all that I still wonder where the substance is.

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      • anna amundsen

        07/12/2014 at 18:26

        Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve found, both in All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men, something powerful.. an account of the deep indifference of the Universe when our private human concerns are in question; or anything else, for that matter.. a sense that we just are.. just like anything else existing anywhere.. I don’t know.. I do apologize because I lack words to express myself at the moment.. Hopefully, you’ll be able to grasp the idea from these poor sentences.
        Maybe I should reread the books in order to refresh impressions and explain myself better.

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        • Ste J

          07/12/2014 at 19:14

          Very existential. You are right there is an almost oppressive feel of indifference, I know what you are saying and even when you do not feel you have the words you are still Miss Eloquent. Rereading is always good but I know you have do much you wish to read and therein lies the conundrum, to read something new and experience possible new loves or to reread and search the depth of a book’s should for something new. It is a tough call.

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          • anna amundsen

            09/12/2014 at 23:00

            And you are, as always, Mr. Compliment.

            Although I would, most often than not, pick a new over the already known book, when in doubt, I must admit that, lately, I’ve been thinking (a lot!) about rereading certain favorites. I came to conclusion I was restraining myself for no good reason really. So, I reread Ragnarok. Now it’s Shakespeare’s turn.

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            • Ste J

              10/12/2014 at 19:12

              Restraining, never did any good ever, possibly. I wish I had your desire to reread but I am not in the mood yet, perhaps when the book collection is more read my eyes will demand a familiar page. Shakespeare is long overdue on my pile, I shall get myself on that soon.

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