Back with a bang

Sue Prideaux’s ex­plo­sive new bi­og­ra­phy of Ni­et­zsche

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE - JULIE PAR­SONS

It be­gins with the can­dle­flame: “the image of the can­dle­flame caught in the pier­glass twisted and righted when he en­tered the hall and again when he shut the door.” The sim­ple, beau­ti­ful image. The sim­plic­ity and beauty re­peated again and again in this mag­nif­i­cent book.

The can­dle lit for the fu­neral of young John Grady Cole’s grand­fa­ther. With his death comes change. The ranch, which both grand­fa­ther and grand­son loved, will be sold. John Grady’s life in bor­der­land Texas in the 1940s – horses, cat­tle, the sun “cop­per­ing his face and the red wind blow­ing out of the west” – will end. So he will ride, with his friend Lacey Rawl­ins, south to Mex­ico.

It’s the lan­guage as much as the story that makes this book so spe­cial. Birds im­paled on cac­tus af­ter a thun­der storm: “Gray name­less birds es­paliered in at­ti­tudes of still­born flight or hang­ing loosely in their feathers. Some . . . still alive and they twisted on their spines. . . and cried out but the horse­men rode on.”

Rode on, John Grady, to­wards his fate. Fall­ing in love with Ale­jan­dra, the daugh­ter of Don Héc­tor Rocha y Vil­lareal. The world he en­ters is mer­ci­less to those who trans­gress the laws of class and fam­ily. The boy, Blevins, whom he and Rawl­ins be­friend, is ac­cused of steal­ing a horse. Rough jus­tice: “the pis­tol shot came from beyond the ebony trees. Not loud. Just a flat sort of pop. Then an­other.”

Don Héc­tor’s pun­ish­ment, pri­son, awaits them. “They spent the whole of the first day fight­ing. . . ev­ery man was judged by a sin­gle stan­dard and that was his readi­ness to kill.” The buy­ing of a knife “a switch­blade with the han­dles miss­ing” will save him when his as­sailant, “not much older than he” at­tempts the coup de grace.

Shin­ing through the sav­age cru­elty, like the can­dle­flame, is John Grady’s hon­our, in­tegrity, and kind­ness. All the Pretty Horses, first of a tril­ogy. John Grady rides on. And I will go with him.

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