Monday, 18 April 2011

The Sunset Limited

Cormac McCarthy

The Sunset Limited is Cormac McCarthy without the thick, trippy prose, so it's no surprise that it's both accessible and fantastic.

It's billed as faith vs. reason, but that's not what's going on here. The only point it makes about religion is that the 'debate' becomes emphatically overshadowed by personal temperament when people reach their nadir.

It's testament to McCarthy's skill that he can write a novel even loosely formed around faith against reason and neither bore me nor piss me off. His insert-superlative-here ear for dialogue and his expert balance of humour and weight make this impossible to dislike (prove me wrong....)

There's another dichotomy McCarthy flirts with here, given by the character names: White is the suicidal book-loving intellectual (cheer the fuck up); Black is the uneducated, people-loving ex-con. I don't buy it. Ot at least, I don't think there's anything invested in that distinction, and no comment made by it. It's a cultural shortcut, maybe.

The real divide is opposing temparements, not opposing ideologies, beliefs, intellects or cultures. Any opposition they have in thought is the fruit of their opposition in nature. The Sunset Limited is two boldly drawn characters, brought together for an inevitably brief visit. They are each compelling and real, and it is they who make this book pass far too quickly.

I haven't seen the TV adaption, but I intend to. I'm told that White is more sypathetic than he is originally written, and based on the casting and trailers, I already agree. Too sympathetic, I fear.

Because the real dichotomy at the heart of The Sunset Limited isn't faith and reason, or head and heart, or black and white; and definitely not Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L Jackson. It's warmth vs. cold, and hope vs. despair. You can't warm up White without changing the whole thing.

My favourite part is the end. The outcome between hope and despair. I won't spoil it, but there's certain things about the nature of hope and the nature of despair that make only one ending is logically possible.


  1. Very refreshing to see a discussion and appreciation of McCarthy. I both love and hate his writing. At the very least, I respect his work even if it isn't always my style. He's a writer's writer, for sure. I haven't read this book, but I'll add it to my very big list. Thanks!

  2. Awesome! McCarthy is love/hate both at once. Whatever else he is, though, I find him compelling. I'm still not sure what I think of him, other that that I will read more.

  3. The movie doesn't bring out the nuanses in the book. I view the two as more intellectual combatans. In a way white humours black as white feels that the world thinks he owes it to black. The real dichotomy I feel is that white has an real connection to moral reality, while being intellectually disconnected, and black has a real immoral connection to reality, while being intellectually connected. The conflict line is between the non- violence of black and the self- violence of white. And it is the innelectual connectedness that is the hand that is played. That is why white must be bought with intellectual interest, and black comes off as so powerless.