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Cormac McCarthy: Suttree

Some have called this McCarthy’s masterpiece and it is certainly a very fine novel, even by McCarthy’s own high standards. Cornelius Suttree has left his well-to-do family for life on a dilapidated houseboat along the banks of the Tennessee River. Just as Lester Ballard in Child of God was us, so Cornelius Suttree may well be, as McCarthy tells us right at the beginning – Dear friend… when the streets black and steaming.. and…when the drunk and homeless have washed up in the lee of walls…no soul shall walk save you. Suttree’s companions – they are not friends – are the petty criminals and outcasts of society. There is no real plot to this book – plots are not really very important to McCarthy – but a series of colourful episodes and the usual collection of characters, who are both funny and sad, starting with Gene Harrogate, a naïve young criminal, who tries to dig into the bank vaults and, of course, fails. Indeed, pretty well all of the characters, Suttree included, are failures but McCarthy’s portraits of them make them failures well worth reading about.

Publishing history

First published 1979 by Random House