All the Pretty Horses was the first of Cormac McCarthy’s novels that I encountered. Despite being a western – not genre I usually enjoy – this is one of my favourite reads of all time. I care about the protagonist, John Brady Cole, and Cormac’s lyrical prose swirls me out of my armchair and into a journey through the landscape of Mexico which is so vivid that I feel as though I am riding it myself. It is also the beautifully-told story of a boy’s first love affair.
John Brady Cole has been raised to be a highly-skilled and devoted horseman on his mother’s Texan ranch. But when he is sixteen she suddenly takes off to resume her career as an actress in the city of Austin. She plans to sell the property, and the boy faces losing the way of life he loves. His dying father cannot afford to buy the ranch and John’s mother refuses to lease it to a boy so young. John Brady travels to Austin to plead with his mother’s lawyer, but to no avail. Heartbreakingly, he buys a theatre ticket to sit alone watching his mother perform. Next day he watches, alone again, as she crosses the foyer of her hotel on the arm of a strange man.
He resolves to ride off with his closest friend, Lacy Rawlins, seeking work on the grand ranches of the Spanish elite in Mexico. As they trek across the Mexican wilds, they encounter a younger boy riding a spectacular bay horse. Despite Jimmy Blevins’ protestations, they believe that he is a runaway and the horse is stolen. Although feeling uneasy about this wild kid who seems to have ‘a wing nut loose’, John Brady is too honourable to abandon him in this dangerous foreign country. His decision sets them on a dangerous path.
By the time they have found work on the hacienda of the wealthy Don Héctor, where John Grady falls in love with the beautiful Allejandra, I am madly in love with Cormac’s long, trailing, elegant sentences. And I feel as though I have crossed the plains, creeks, rivers and mountains, and watched ‘the long dark tendrils’ of distant storms tracking the horizon. I once discussed the book with practical horse owners and they said they could hear every sound and smell of the animals because McCarthy’s descriptions of them are so authentic and alive.
Again, I will not commit the grievous sin of relating most of the plot. To me, All the Pretty Horses is one of the great wilderness novels.
I wonder if you will agree, and whether you have favourites of your own.