Book review: Maths and madness in Cormac McCarthy’s first novels in 16 years

2 months ago 46

The Passenger

By Cormac McCarthy

Picador/Paperback/385 pages/$32.85/Books Kinokuniya (

Stella Maris

By Cormac McCarthy

Picador/Paperback/195 pages/$28.43/Books Kinokuniya (

4 stars

“Human kind cannot bear very much reality,” wrote T.S. Eliot in the poem Four Quartets. In his poetry, Eliot sought a language with which to bear up to that unbearable reality, and so too does Cormac McCarthy in his first new books in 16 years.

McCarthy, 89, acclaimed for bleak, powerful novels such as Blood Meridian (1985) and The Road (2006), is considered one of the greatest living American novelists. 

Blood Meridian was a violent 19th-century western; The Road was a post-apocalyptic vision of a nuclear waste in which humanity has reached its nadir.

The Passenger and Stella Maris are positioned somewhere in between. The Passenger opens on Christmas Day in 1972, as a hunter finds the body of a young woman who has taken her own life hanging in the wintry Wisconsin woods.

The woman, Alicia, is a mathematical genius and, since puberty, has been haunted by a motley crew of vaudevillian figures. They could be ghosts, aliens or time travellers from the future. They might also be figments of her schizophrenic mind.

She has a close relationship, bordering on incest, with her brother, the unsubtly named Bobby Western, a failed physicist and race car driver.

In the wake of her death, a devastated Bobby works as a salvage diver in the Gulf of Mexico.

One day, his team inspects a plane wreck with nine bodies. It tu...

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