The experience of reading Cormac McCarthy’s new novel, The Passenger...kept making me think about the word 'portentous' ... 'Portentous,' according to Webster’s, can mean foreboding, 'eliciting amazement' and 'being a grave or serious matter.' But it can also mean 'self-consciously solemn' and “ponderously excessive.” It contains its own yin-yang of success and failure. Applied to prose, it can mean that a writer has attained a genuinely prophetic, doom-laden gravitas, or that the writing goes after those very qualities and doesn’t get there, winding up pretentious. McCarthy has always been willing to balance on this fence ... Still, it was a thrill to hear new McCarthy sentences ... The teetering wouldn’t be interesting if he weren’t capable of those spellbinding descriptive passages, a trademark ... Much of The Passenger happens in a room, or a couple of rooms, where the same scene, with variations, runs on a loop. I suspect that many readers will resist or resent spending as much time there as we do. I came to find the goings-on sometimes captivating, but almost feel that I am covering for my abuser in confessing that ... I’m not sure why Alicia’s therapy transcripts have been made a separate volume, in Stella Maris. That is, I’m not sure why McCarthy felt that The Passenger could absorb her hallucinations but not her treatment. Seems arbitrary, as formal choices go ... The Passenger is far from McCarthy’s finest work, but that’s because he has had the nerve to push himself into new places, at the age of all-but-90. He has tried something in these novels that he’d never done before.
McCarthy in afflatus mode is magnificent, vatic, wasteful, hammy ... McCarthy’s deflatus mode is a rival rhetoric of mute exhaustion, as if all words, hungover from the intoxication, can hold on only to habit and familiar things ... For the first time in his career, McCarthy is aiming to write fiction about 'ideas' ... In the new pair of novels...a fresh space is made to enable the exchange of ideas, and the rhetorical consequences are felt in the very textures of the fiction ... His ear for dialogue has always been impeccable ... People think and speak rationally, mundanely, intelligently, crazily, as they do in real life; only for a writer as strange as McCarthy would this innovation deserve attention. And along with the excellent dialogue there are scores of lovely noticings, often of the natural world ... The new and welcome thing in The Passenger and Stella Maris is the lucidity of this bitter metaphysics. McCarthy’s earlier books were so shrouded in obscurity, rang with so much hieratic shrieking and waving, that it was perfectly possible to extract five contradictory theological ideas at once from their fiery depths.
Staggering ... Narratively speaking, the book is more interested in expanding the scope of its own mystery than in solving it ... Don’t come here for a thriller about a plane crash, but the pages do turn with remarkable ease. From the initial mystery of a missing person, the novel explodes outward like an atomic chain reaction to the very face of God, at the intersection of mathematics and faith ... Is this sounding like a lot? It is. The Passenger also happens to be something of a masterpiece, an unsolvable equation left up on the blackboard for the bold to puzzle over ... It is his most ambitious work, or perhaps a better word would be weirdest. But it’s held together with wit and chuckle-out-loud humor, which can be sparse in his other novels ... And it’s genuinely fun to read throughout ... It makes sense that at this stage in his career, the author would push in his chips and attempt to understand the mechanical clockwork of reality itself.
A proper 400-page tome ... The totality of McCarthy’s twin books is that of a doomed love story between brother and sister. Sharing, in unequal measure, a passion for one another that is scandalously far from platonic, McCarthy never outright references incest in either work, yet the subject looms large in both ... It’s a compelling premise for a mystery, but answers are not the point of this dizzyingly metaphysical treatise on the human condition ... It’s a lot to absorb, but the less you worry about how all these countless threads could possibly tie together, the better you’ll be prepared for the eventual reality: They don’t ... The legacy of McCarthy’s new offerings is, much as the author would surely wish, both magnificent and cruelly impossible to define.
Portentous' ... There is bravery involved, especially at heights of style where the difference can be between greatness and straight badness. [McCarthy] teeters more in these new books than in the several novels for which he is judged a great American writer ... You hear Hemingway and the curious loudness of those supposedly clipped and stripped-down sentences. Something attention-seeking in the syntax ... Much of The Passenger happens in a room, or a couple of rooms, where the same scene, with variations, runs on a loop. I suspect that many readers will resist or resent spending as much time there as we do. I came to find the goings-on sometimes captivating, but almost feel that I am covering for my abuser in confessing that ... Slightly showy? If so, only with what Wallace Stevens called the 'essential gaudiness' of the best poetry. The action passages underwater are also splendid ... The Passenger is far from McCarthy’s finest work ... He has tried something in these novels that he’d never done before: I don’t mean writing a woman (although there’s that), but writing normal people.
His sentences—lyrical, electrifying, indifferent to punctuation—are often imitated, never equaled. He’s the cool flame beneath the hot boil of our era. That flame burns bright and clear in two new works...The Passenger, wondrous in its architecture (and its strangeness), and a companion piece, Stella Maris, an edgy, minimalist novella ... McCarthy’s art is transcendent even as it takes no prisoners. His work will enthrall us into the future, even as it frightens, flummoxes, bewitches.
... a brilliant book, a departure from McCarthy’s previous works that still feels of a piece. It’s set in the real world of the 20th century yet filled with the same elegiac language and drop-dead sentences of his antique Border Trilogy and the apocalyptic future of The Road ... The story of a haunted man on the run, it has McCarthy’s classic linguistic flair, plus Thomas Pynchon’s wordplay and paranoia and, last but certainly not least, a sweeping history of theoretical physics. The Passenger is a stunning accomplishment: For McCarthy to publish a work of this scope and ambition at 89 is phenomenal. But it has a tragic flaw. Is it fatal? ... Must the core of this book be a love story between an older brother and his younger sister? Couldn’t a writer with McCarthy’s capacious imagination conceive of an adult, independent woman who could serve as an equally powerful lost love? I realize he’s been here before — his 1968 novel Outer Dark was about brother-sister incest — and of course any novelist can put anything he or she likes into fiction. But it is 2022. An older brother in love with his younger sister? It’s not tragic; it’s creepy ... McCarthy turns his substantial writerly gifts upon two distinct forces: the mechanical and the theoretical. He attends to the exquisite detail of Bobby’s physical world — the sounds and feel of an oil rig in a storm, the touch and clunk of a cigarette machine in a bar, the step-by-step process of removing a bathroom cabinet or digging up and carting off buried treasure. All the while, Bobby converses with friends who riff on time or men and women or Vietnam or failure, paragraphs and pages of disquisitions that can be funny and moving and dirty and insightful. Sometimes it feels a little like being trapped in a dorm hallway at 1 a.m. with a smart sophomore who is really, really stoned ... There are oodles of passages like this, so much to puzzle over for those who like to puzzle hard while reading their fiction ... As someone who hasn’t studied any higher math or physics, I didn’t always find a foothold in the theoretical arguments here ... It’s Cormac McCarthy writing as only Cormac McCarthy can ... With its cast of ruffians, its American sins, its contemplation of quantum physics, its low life and high ideas, The Passenger is almost a perfect book. If only.
... magnificent ... McCarthy has taken the oldest story in the world—humankind’s search for meaning in a world seemingly devoid of God—and makes it feel fresh and personal to each and every one of us. There exist unseen powers that exert influence on every aspect of our lives. Here, those forces are embodied not by a solitary amoral villain as much as in some anonymous authority that’s terrifying in its systemic mundanity ... McCarthy controls tides that ebb from long passages of pure dialogue to some of the most lyrical and beautiful prose I’ve enjoyed in years. The effect is stunning. I found myself reading long sections aloud to better hear the assonances...These are pages to linger over ... Cormac McCarthy transports us to a world quite a bit like our own, where his characters, like each of us, feel the immense weight of absence—be it love or God or something even more ephemeral. The Passenger in particular is a masterpiece; it reminds us that McCarthy is both one of the most extraordinary prose stylists working in the English language and also our greatest teller of stories about not knowing.
... the language is compelling and soulful, even when the voice sounds sharp. Amid esoteric talk of mathematics and wickedness and hideous ruination, there is poetry and the rhythm of song. Sheddan’s lines alone are worth the price of admission.
The Passenger is grounded in the recognizable physical world. It is also Mr. McCarthy’s most sociable novel since Suttree, from 1979; a disarming amount of it is devoted to Bobby’s chatty meals at interesting New Orleans restaurants with charismatic “familiars” from the city’s underworld ... The author’s signature punctuation tics are still present, if less dogmatically enforced...Also accounted for are Mr. McCarthy’s outrageous flourishes of quasi-gothic language, which always fall somewhere between phrophecy and self-parody ... It is the inherent chaos of that knowledge—the 'endless nothing' it seems to vouchsafe—that Mr. McCarthy tries to plumb more directly than ever before ... I enjoyed these novels for their weirdness and originality, their intellectual provocations and the detective-like engagement they demand from their readers, who, quantum-like, bring them into reality. But my enjoyment was frustrated by the familiar feeling of being strong-armed into a predetermined lesson about the horror of existence. Mr. McCarthy is committed to this lesson in a way that by now seems like a posture. How else could he write novels filled with ideas that unsettle assumptions about the fundamental nature of the universe, yet leave untouched, somehow, the convictions of his previous books?
Prepare to be baffled ... A different species than we’ve spotted before ... McCarthy has assembled all the chilling ingredients of a locked-room mystery. But he leaps outside the boundaries of that antique form ... The style — a mingling of profound contemplation and rapid-fire dialogue, always without quotation marks and often without attribution — is pure McCarthy. But so is the irritating tendency toward grandiosity ... It risks sounding comically overwrought ... Throughout the novel, we’re subjected to intercalary chapters about Alice and a menagerie of Vaudeville freaks who inhabit her psychotic hallucinations. Chief among these figures is the Thalidomide Kid, who torments her in conversations so bizarre and relentless ... When McCarthy descends from Mount Olympus and writes in his close, precise voice about Western carving out the ordinary activities of his day, the novel suddenly hums with genuine profundity. But many pages strain self-consciously to explore Big Ideas about the Nature of Reality. The explanations are so cursory that we never get to see the light.
This feels like something out of David Lynch. As is so often the case with Lynch, there’s a non sequitur quality to this scene (the novel contains no other mention of Alicia being an actor) in which an image is so powerful that its intensity becomes its own justification, destabilizing the basic conditions of the narrative even as the force of the disruption draws us deeper into the novel’s dreamworld ... Do with these details what you will or what you can; they are a mere sample of the myriad narrative circles that I simply could not square ... McCarthy is hunting big game and he’s brought out the big guns to hunt with. What he has not done is provide anything resembling a plot through which to reify and explore these ideas in narrative ... I have no problem with McCarthy stepping up to the void for a good long gander. What I take issue with is that these two novels together run nearly six hundred pages, and they hang fire on a host of questions that do have answers ... The truth is that The Passenger only fails to satisfy when it vamps as a thriller. That’s a promise that just won’t ever be made good. When the novel follows its Lynchian instincts...when its power and pleasures are considerable. It is a novel of set pieces and soliloquies, images and ideas, at its best when refusing to be anything other than its moody, freaky self. Above all, it is a book of evocative surfaces, like a John Ashbery poem, where things we take at first to be windows turn out to be mirrors, and the radical alterity glimpsed in dark glass turns out to be ourselves ... requires a reader who is patient, a proactive collaborator in the production of meaning, and willing to meet McCarthy where he is. Such a reader will be richly satisfied. As to whether anyone else will be, I truly don’t know ... succeeds on the vitality of McCarthy’s prose and the intensity of his vision. I have my quibbles with it, but basically it works.
... part familial trauma story — including incest — and part slow-burning thriller. However, it's also much more than that. McCarthy writes about everything here, from buried gold and incredibly detailed dives to mathematics and the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ... Elegant writing like this is present once in a while, and it's balanced by straightforward prose about everything and nothing ... The back and forth — this is a novel about nothing important/this is a novel about everything that matters — is often surprising, perhaps a bit disjointed and jarring, but it's also unequivocally McCarthy-ish, and it works. The novelist is concerned with the big questions now more than even, and that obsession is present in almost every page ... flirts with not being a traditional novel and succeeds.
Some of McCarthy’s most celebrated novels are page-turners, but that’s not on the agenda here. These books are built to stand apart from the reader, to withhold, to refuse to satisfy. You can almost feel McCarthy swaggering a bit as, with great skill and elegance, he chooses time and time again to frustrate any desire the reader might have for either narrative or story ... The official line from the publishers is that The Passenger and Stella Maris each stand alone, but don’t believe them. The Passenger would be maddeningly opaque without Stella Maris to elaborate on some of its most compelling plot threads, and Stella Maris would be dry as book binding without The Passenger to leaven its many philosophical arguments ... Speaking of writing, it’s just as great here as you would expect. Sometimes I think the reason literary criticism got obsessed with evaluating prose as 'sentences' over the past few decades is simply that McCarthy’s are so good. They rattle out at you like little bullets, mean and punchy and precise ... Still, McCarthy is stingy with the pleasures of his prose. In this pair of novels, his most ravishing sentences tend to evoke horrors, either cosmic or personal. He is stingy, too, with the possibility of sweetness or joy ... Neither The Passenger nor Stella Maris is designed to be anyone’s gateway to Cormac McCarthy. They lack the visceral emotional intensity McCarthy can conjure at his best; they are pointedly spare and withholding. But taken together, they offer an intellectual experience that’s not quite like anything else out there, laced with the eerie beauty that only Cormac McCarthy can offer.
At first, The Passenger, published this week, seems poised to deliver a similarly transformative variation on the thriller, but it is not to be ... This isn’t to say that the two books—particularly The Passenger—lack indelible passages ... Never has McCarthy sounded more like H.P. Lovecraft, whose extravagant hopelessness is forever tipping over into camp. McCarthy’s fiction, too, sometimes threatens to become a parody of itself. At its best, it counters his nihilistic tendencies with the sheer thrill of narrative, arguing, in its way, that a sleek, relentless story, gorgeously told, offers pleasures enough for this world. These confusing, confused late-life novels don’t do that. Instead they’re overtaken by dissolution.
... a breathtaking exploration of the nature of reality, love, God, consciousness, and knowledge. While their core concerns remain fully rooted in the overarching project of McCarthy’s oeuvre, The Passenger and Stella Maris tackle dazzlingly fresh ground and are a welcome advancement in McCarthy’s preoccupations ... McCarthy’s writing retains the tangible gristle of a field guide, full of the organic solidity and exacting diction that have helped solidify his reputation ... Despite his ruthless appraisal of our chances at clarity on this front, McCarthy’s writing pursues a sublime and majestic undercurrent weaving through the dark waves of chaos. There is genuine honor and hope to be found within our simultaneous resistance against and acceptance of the darkness. And so, McCarthy’s reckoning with theory is joined by intentional forays into the metaphysical, forging a discordant, necessary partnership set in the story of two doomed lovers. The results are staggering.
As bold and intellectually keen as anything the author’s ever written ... The Passenger is no No Country for Old Men. It can be at times frustratingly withholding and opaque, its enticing opening giving way to plotless philosophical discursions ... Readers looking for answers to the questions raised by The Passenger won’t find them here – only more questions, more pieces of an unsolvable equation McCarthy is posing about the universe and our place in it.
... everything one might have hoped for ... worthy of becoming your favorite new literary drug, a multifaceted jewel of a book that will keep you up all night reading and thinking ... What is missing is the violence of his other novels, though the attendant sorrow of the human experience is present ... Some parts of The Passenger can be rough sledding. McCarthy occasionally drops information into the dialogue that includes words and phrases familiar to mathematicians and physicists but most likely are unknown to the general public. Thankfully, the scientific discussions never bog down the narrative. The obscure terms are for the most part amenable to comprehension (at least minimally) with a few moments of research ... Please note that McCarthy is not showing off here. The multiple exposures to the pure scientific concepts found within these pages hint at a deeper story that enhances the primary one being presented. There is also plenty of grim laugh-out-loud humor scattered in the tales of war, death and love. McCarthy attempts and succeeds in covering all the bases of human activity while skipping lightly across the mystery, science fiction, thriller and even romance genres, though he does not linger too long in those kingdoms. Instead it carves out its own unassailable fiefdom ... the first volume of this major work is required and unforgettable reading that will make you even more impatient to encounter its companion.
... a noirish novel of strange dreams and promising fragments of plot ... his prose has reduced and intensified, like a pot of stock left on the boil. Nowadays his sentences have the solidity of stones and the clarity of diamonds. He still doesn’t like speech marks, avoiding apostrophes apart from where their absence might cause confusion, and prefers simile to straight metaphor, as though being upfront about the inherent fraudulence of figurative language might go some way to neutralising it ... Like Hemingway and Beckett before him, McCarthy is more interested in narrating outer than inner life because he thinks that the interiors of characters — like those of other people — are essentially unknowable, or, at least, unknowable through words ... In the face of such mechanical bleakness what are we left with? Sentences and actions, is McCarthy’s answer: detailed accounts of bodies moving through space and time, doing things and having things done to them in turn. In these magisterial new novels, he makes that seem enough of one.
Cormac McCarthy is a writer who demands – even insists – on being read thoughtfully and thoroughly. I should begin this by being absolutely straight with you: The Passenger is a compelling read, but not an easy one ... When there are not long divagations on the difference between mathematics and physics, or theology, or grace, or conspiracy theories around Kennedy, there is a mordant humour ... McCarthy has a lilting legato to his prose; usually quiet, sometimes unexpected.
... characteristically bleak and daunting ... one of those sentences beautiful enough to stop you in your tracks, its structural perfection, vivid imagery, and apocalyptic foreboding a perfect encapsulation of what makes McCarthy, well, McCarthy. Never for the faint of heart, the writer who has wrung hard, often bloody poetry from the Western and the end of the world has never been less compromising, or more challenging. Now 89, he’s not going gentle into that good night ... don’t look for any answers. This isn’t the kind of conspiracy that leads to a conclusion. It’s more an amorphous manifestation of a hostile universe ... a stubborn novel that dares you to like it, written with a verve and mastery of language that make it hard not to ... One of the best things about McCarthy is his willingness to interrupt the doom with a rimshot ... McCarthy’s world remains no country for resolution, except for the inevitable one that concludes six feet under. In the meantime, the horizon is obscured by the darkening rim of the world.
McCarthy throws the reader an anchor of this sort every few pages, the kind of burdensome existential pronouncement that might weigh a lesser book down and make one long for the good old-fashioned Western equicide of McCarthy’s earlier work ... heavy but pleasurable, and together the books are the richest and strongest work of McCarthy’s career ... Most of the novel is dialogue—if the thunderous omniscient narrator is listening, he’s not interested—and by turns tender, ironic, bitter, and searching ... as a pair, The Passenger and Stella Maris are an achievement greater than Blood Meridian, his best earlier work, or The Road, his best recent one. In the new novels, McCarthy again sets bravery and ingenuity loose amid inhumanity ...These novels feel like McCarthy’s effort to produce such words, and to react to the dying of the light with Sheddan’s vigor rather than Bobby’s and Alicia’s despair. The results are not weakly flickering. They are incandescent with life.
The novel is dizzyingly, meticulously constructed, the orchestration of time—of passage, essentially—conducted rigorously, unfathomably, like a mathematical inquiry into the spiritual. For all the classic McCarthy turns here—the rowdy regionalisms and high rhetoric, the attention to the gear and tackle and trim of working life, the stratagems of music and conspiracies and spending gold, the stuff of things built, houses, oil platforms, violins—the primary, the overwhelming subject is the soul. Where can it be found? By what means does it travel? Is it frightened when we take leave of it? Can it find rest in the darkness? ... This is a book that demands that we pay attention, an outrageous skirting of today’s rules of literary engagement.
A masterpiece ... McCarthy had to command not only the vocabulary of salvage diving but also string theory and quantum mechanics, and enough math to make its main female character, Alicia Western, convincing as a world-class mathematician.
Extraordinary ... The Passenger is like a submerged ship itself; a gorgeous ruin in the shape of a hardboiled noir thriller. McCarthy’s generational saga covers everything from the atomic bomb to the Kennedy assassination to the principles of quantum mechanics. It’s by turns muscular and maudlin, immersive and indulgent. Every novel, said Iris Murdoch, is the wreck of a perfect idea. This one is enormous ... This is a book without guardrails, an invitation to get lost. We’re constantly bumping into dark objects and wondering what they mean ... On a prose level, McCarthy – now 89 – continues to fire on all cylinders. His writing is potent, intoxicating, offsetting luxuriant dialogue with spare, vivid descriptions ... What a glorious sunset song of a novel this is. It’s rich and it’s strange, mercurial and melancholic.
Reading it is like immersive theatre: one of those elaborate warehouse productions where you stumble about from tableau to tableau, trying to piece the story together ... The novel is long on atmosphere and short on sense. There are slick, movie-style conversations with a private investigator, a Vietnam vet, and a trans woman; long lunches with a garrulous criminal friend; flashbacks to Alicia’s hallucinations; the obligatory bit of survivalism (would it even be a McCarthy novel without an episode involving tinned foods and roadkill?) ... James Joyce is invoked. An oblique reminder that great literature requires hard work? But McCarthy’s difficulty is perverse. The decision to open The Passenger with an impenetrable conversation between Alicia and her hallucinations; the quantum mechanics; the pinball structure; the confusing dialogue — all this just makes the novel hard to read. Nothing meaningful is gained. It’s a shame because at times these books are more interesting than McCarthy’s key works ... We think these books are unflinching. Really, they are kitsch: McCarthy’s is an art of exaggeration. A con trick is being practised ... That’s how you garner comparisons to Hemingway and Faulkner — when, in fact, you’re a mediocre hybrid of both.
Bobby Western endures such a low-intensity, relaxed persecution that The Passenger only fitfully functions as the thriller it gestures at being – the vibe is more Kafka on the bayou. Having absorbed modernism and the dislocations of the technological society, literary novelists of McCarthy’s generation decided that while it was fair game to present a mystery, it was gauche to resolve one, and so the enigma of the downed plane and its absent passenger sinks into the background, beacon of a broader metaphysical disquietude. Meanwhile, Bobby hangs out at bars conversing about desultory subjects – the Vietnam war, string theory, even the Kennedy assassination – with a shifty cast of demi-monders ... This ambling, messy novel is in many ways unmistakably a Cormac McCarthy joint. We get the polysyndetic sentences of numbly procedural description, the severely pessimistic vision of human nature, the near-total absence of interiority, and of course the Melvilleian blasts of end times lyricism – there’s a lot of that. McCarthy has always walked a fine line between the profound and the preposterous and The Passenger shows cavalier disdain for the risks of self-parody run by a singular stylist writing deep into his 80s. While some writers betray an ambition to be priest or president, McCarthy remains shamelessly bent on prophet status, preferably in the Old Testament lineage ... not knowing what to do with all his brain-breaking research, the author simply dumps it on his readers. The formal problem is one of incommensurability: spooky physics and quantum indeterminacy confound classical fiction by destabilising the reality to which realism defers. In short, you can’t dramatise this stuff – laudable ambition smashes into the wall of its impossible fulfilment ... Whether or not the ominous physics and math-mysticism add up to a novel in the sense commonly understood – or enjoyed – is debatable. But it is something, not least the vehicle for a specifically novelistic kind of philosophising less concerned with establishing systems than with the dark fire of wild insight and forbidden revelation.
This is a thriller of unusually high literary quality. But it becomes clear that the story around the wrecked jet is merely one of several strands of a novel that is far from straightforward ... McCarthy’s books are strikingly immersive and, in The Passenger, he makes New Orleans come alive ... Whether the novel’s narrative threads cohere is doubtful. On the face of it, there are three novellas here, welded together haphazardly: together with the thriller and the tragedy of Alicia, there is the story of Western’s own existential torments. There must be a suspicion that it is an unsatisfactory work-in-progress which McCarthy has finished off as best he can so that it can be published during his lifetime ... It becomes clear, however, that Western is as much on the run from himself as anyone else, seeking redemption while remaining at war with God. This gives McCarthy free rein for what is, above all else, his forte: luminously elegiac writing – whether concerning loss of life, of livelihood, or of innocence.
... a sprawling, surreal affair, a book as strange as any he’s ever written, and reminiscent of the melancholy drift and God-haunted monologues of McCarthy’s earliest novels, published half a lifetime ago. While in precis a thriller, this isn’t No Old Country For Old Men. No gun is fired, no blade drawn from its sheath. This is more digression than headlong chase ... Almost everything about the novel’s first hundred pages generates expectations for something tough, lean and violent...And then – beautifully, mysteriously, and somewhat bafflingly – we get another book entirely ... Even while flouting expectations, McCarthy’s fundamentals remain undeniable. He’s a writer of both wonderfully taut and often very funny dialogue, and this is a book full of talk, bouncing from jokey drunk chat to near-baffling stretches of monologic erudition ... Above all else, he is a prose stylist without peer ... On almost every page some Faulknerian dazzle finds you, and while his language verges on the purple or overripe, it’s thrilling to return to writing as unashamedly biblical and rhetorical as this, when compared with the dutiful sentences and sturdy, balanced paragraphs of contemporary prose ... Less successful is the book’s occasional dabbling with mathematics and physics ... The novel comes to life most vividly when it drops this baggage and instead of gesturing towards darkness, embodies it through Bobby ... Perhaps fittingly for a book about someone driven to stasis by mourning, the book feels inside out, forever discussing people not there, matters from the past half-explained. Both Bobby and finally the book feel a little withholding, as if we’ve been granted permission to only witness loss, without directly accessing its source.
The reality...is that The Passenger and its short 'coda', Stella Maris...are simply not good introductions to Cormac McCarthy’s work ... This isn’t to say they’re unsatisfying or disappointing or otherwise defective. But they are definitely best appreciated in conversation with the author’s broader oeuvre ... The dialogue here is as coarse and funny as anything McCarthy – whose humour is often unrecognized – has written in decades, and it reads as if it was recorded yesterday ... As memorable and idiosyncratic as these characters are, each exists as an avatar of fate and a symbol of the illusion of choice, twin subjects that course through McCarthy’s oeuvre ... Formally and stylistically The Passenger is something of a chimera for McCarthy. The main narrative arc is very much of the later period, with a detached tone suited to Western’s increasingly numbed affect, yet featuring jerky skips in time and place ... Nitpicking aside, these books are a moving final tribute to the panoply of thinkers who have provided the foundation for the wild and varied worlds of McCarthy’s fiction. They are, for all their harshness, pessimism and frenzy, the last of a stretch of deeply humble, occasionally elegiac novels.
I’m afraid my advice would be to curb your enthusiasm ... The Passenger...is neither [exhilerating nor coherent] ... Taking it as a whole, however, I can’t recall a recent novel so wildly — and often, it seems, wilfully — indifferent to what its readers might be expected to enjoy. Or even understand ... What on earth is McCarthy playing at? The most charitable interpretation, I’d suggest, is that he really is playing; that the whole novel is a mischievous joke about how nothing — whether religion, science or fiction — can 'get hold of the world'. In short, the exasperated bewilderment that the book produces deliberately echoes the only correct response to human existence ... A less charitable one is that, aged 89, McCarthy is throwing in everything he’s got left over ... Neither of these theories, though, makes The Passenger any less frustrating — the more so since McCarthy’s formidable talents for dialogue, perfect sentences and descriptions of the natural world remain undiminished. His nihilism is still pretty bracing too ... Almost by the law of averages, the scattergun approach means that he hits some targets bang on. Unfortunately, none of this is enough to banish the sense that The Passenger is a big old mess.
As usual, McCarthy is excellent on the settings and weather Bobby passes through ... You should know what you would be getting into if you chose to ride along with McCarthy’s plot: not a detective novel but a defective novel, one that has reasons for not meeting conventional expectations of solutions ... Perhaps meant to balance Bobby’s usually low-key realistic chapters, the melodramatic and stylized hallucinatory chapters go on much longer than the reader needs to arrive at a plausible solution to the mystery of Alicia ... Nihilism saturates the novel, implying that we all are passengers with little knowledge about our past and large delusions about our future.
So peculiar is his latest work that it’s unclear how many readers will find the rewards worth the wait ... ts plot might make The Passenger sound a more raucous and convoluted work than it really is. In fact, it is among McCarthy’s most quietly reflective novels, recalling the moments of serenity amid scenes of devastation that made The Road so haunting. The conspiracy plotline is ultimately a backdrop that serves to illuminate the portrait of unremitting grief beyond all hope of attenuation that lies at the novel’s heart ... sleeker prose and a preponderance of dialogue displace the darkly sensuous lyricism for which McCarthy is renowned. The ebb and flow of spare economy and lyrical intoxication undoubtedly lends the most rhapsodic passages a poignancy unusual even by McCarthy’s standards. At the same time, it’s difficult not to miss the sustained intensity of a masterpiece such as Blood Meridian ... nevertheless a moving and characteristically disconcerting addition to the oeuvre of one of America’s greatest writers.
Plot is secondary to McCarthy’s expert exploration of each character’s interiority, plumbing the depths of their subconscious ... His prose frequently approaches the Shakespearean, ranging from droll humor to the rapid-fire spouting of quotable fecundity. Dialogues click into place like a finely tuned engine. McCarthy has somehow added a new register to his inimitable voice. Long ensconced in the literary firmament, McCarthy further bolsters his claim for the Mount Rushmore of the literary arts.
The business with the plane is a MacGuffin, an excuse to present a scrapbook of McCarthy’s folksy, faux-Biblical philosophizin’ about love and death and fate...The characters all sound pretty much the same ... Some readers will find this pretentious to the point of hilarity, but fans of McCarthy will eat it up. And to give the master his due, he’s very good at it. Weaving together rhythmically spare but ornately dictioned descriptions of life in survival mode gives his writing a texture that’s as much a signature as his apocalyptic visions of a universe collapsing into moral and informational entropy.
A rich story ... Staples of the philosopher-tramps, vagabonds, and sociopaths of McCarthy’s canon [are present], though their presence doesn’t feel quite as thematically grounded as they do in his masterworks. Still, he dazzles with his descriptions of a beautifully broken New Orleans ... The book’s many pleasures will leave readers aching for the final installment.