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Blood Meridian
By Cormac McCarthy

When I arrived in England as a small boy from Japan, I promptly became obsessed with cowboys. I never fell out of love with Westerns, and became a huge fan of the great films of Ford, Hawks, Leone, Eastwood, and Peckinpah. But where were their literary equivalents? To an outsider, this is a gaping hole in American letters. But I found one magnificent novel, a work of unambiguously high ambition that takes on the myths of the frontier. The reach of McCarthy's book is such that it goes way beyond America: It stares unflinchingly at human nature itself—at the darkness and violence from which we're built, individually and societally. The story follows a gang of gunfighters who rampage around a Texas already scarred by butchery. Commissioned to slaughter hostile Native Americans, they are paid by the scalp, and soon cease to care where the scalps come from. There are staggering images of savagery, many of them hauntingly beautiful. Not for everyone (my wife always stops at the first massacre), but this is a monumental work of art.

Ishiguro's next pick: Ghostwritten

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