Saturday, 17 September 2011
Lonesome Dove - a point of view
A quotation at the front, from TK Whipple, Study Out the Land, perhaps sums up McMurtry’s intention. “Our past still lives in us … what they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.” McMurtry seems intent on debunking the myth of the cowboy; here we find they’re ordinary, not particularly bright, with simple empty lives in a gritty unforgiving world devoid of much culture. Yet, despite this, some of his characters grow into mythic proportions. Going on, though belabored by heart-rending grief, is heroic, and that’s what many in this book do: go forward, go on.
McMurtry employs the omniscient point of view (POV), beloved of so-called literary writers. Not for them the struggle to maintain consistent POV, rather they’d opt for the rather lazy head-hopping that thrusts the reader into the minds of several characters in the same scene. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course – though modern agents and publishers tend to prefer consistent character POV.
The main drawback with the omniscient POV is that the reader doesn’t get into any particular character’s head long enough to form a bond. So when a main character dies – and McMurtry does tend to kill off people the reader’s getting to like – the effect isn’t as devastating as it might have been if the character had been more deeply lodged in the reader’s psyche. By its very nature, omniscient POV isn’t as intimate as individual POV. The author is not only playing God, he’s letting you know he is.
That apart, I enjoyed the book immensely and was moved in parts. I felt that the creation of Gus McCrae is a classic – though inevitably we learn most about him from his voice, not his intimate thoughts.
So, don’t be put off by this tome’s length. It’s well worth reading. There’s a prequel and a sequel too!