Five Fascinating Facts about Cormac McCarthy

The life and work of novelist Cormac McCarthy summarised in five interesting bits of trivia

1. He has been hailed as one of the four most important novelists of his age. Influential literary critic Harold Bloom, author of The Western Canon, has declared that McCarthy is one of the four major novelists of his time, the others being White Noise author Don DeLillo, Gravity’s Rainbow author Thomas Pynchon, and Portnoy’s Complaint author Philip Roth. Bloom has even said that McCarthy’s 1985 novel Blood Meridian is the ‘best single book since Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying‘. (We have more about William Faulkner here.)

2. McCarthy sent his first novel to the publisher Random House – because they were the only one he’d heard of. McCarthy has claimed that he sent his 1965 debut novel The Orchard Keeper to this publishing Cormac McCarthyhouse by default. McCarthy would subsequently be edited by the man who had edited William Faulkner’s work, prior to Faulkner’s death in 1962.

3. Unusually for a novelist even then, for most of his career Cormac McCarthy didn’t have an agent. His books sold in small quantities but none exceeded sales of 5,000 in the initial hardcover release.

4. Indeed, McCarthy didn’t give his first TV interview until 2007, over forty years after he sent off his debut novel to Random House. In 2007, McCarthy – who generally keeps out of the limelight – agreed to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in the library of the Santa Fe Institute. This was one year after his novel The Road had been published, a novel that Oprah had chosen for her influential Book Club.

5. One of his most popular novels, The Road, was inspired by a journey he made with his own son. The idea for The Road came to McCarthy in 2003 while he was on a visit to El Paso, Texas with his son, and McCarthy began to imagine what the city – and the world – might look like a hundred years in the future. George Monbiot has called McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road ‘the most important environmental book ever’ because it ‘shows that everything we value depends on the ecosystem’, but in many ways The Road is a mirror for the reader, who finds whatever preoccupations most exercise their imagination – war, climate change, natural disaster – within McCarthy’s considered and ambiguous prose parable.

Image: Portrait of Cormac McCarthy by Wel Tchou, via Flickr.


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  2. Now I’ve never read McCarthy and your interesting facts sent me straight to put that right, and I’ve bought The Road, which rather sounds like my kind of thing

  3. I am cautioned about him as well since I started reading All the Pretty Horses, I couldn’t deal with the grittiness after awhile. I had one student actually frightened of The Road and refused to discuss Cormac in class. That’s powerful writing.

  4. Cormac McCarthy is an author I simply do not know if I can trust. The Road is pretty simply one of my most favorite books ever. No County for Old Men was good as well, although there were some glaring problems with it that, by the end of the story, really bothered me. But beyond that, every McCarthy book I have picked up has been an absolute head scratcher. I would love to find another book he has written that compares to the experience of The Road, but I simply do not know which books of his might be in that category and have been burned too many times by the odd balls in his library.