Have been suffering from a surfeit of cowboys this holiday one way or another.
Brokeback Mountain, of course.
And a 945 page cowboy novel which came with me back to Britain and was my holiday reading for the duration. My sister and family found it most amusing to find me sitting in the kitchen with my nose in a big fat Western every morning when they came down to breakfast. Heck, I even laughed at myself.
But when you belong to a book club ... well, you play the game and read what others choose. And this was a novel chosen by the only guy in our group, the lovely Kumar, who needed an escape from some of the "oestrogen-soaked" (his words) choices of the past months.
Anyway, I'm happy to report that although Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (who incidentally wrote the Golden Globe winning screenplay for Brokeback Mountain with Diana Ossana) is not a novel I'd have picked up in the bookshop, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It's a sprawling novel which opens in the small Texas town of Lonesome Dove where former Rangers Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call run a horse dealing operation. Life's pretty safe and predictable, and when a former colleague on the run from the law suggests a cattle drive to the as yet ungrazed pastures of Montana, the challenge is seized immediately. With a rag-tag bunch of characters which includes a Mexican cook who adds snakes to the cooking pot, a saloon piano player, a couple of homesick Irishmen, a whore hoping to find a better life for herself, several young, inexperienced cowboys and Augustus' pigs, they set off on an epic journey across the country.
The book (apparently based on a true story) moves swiftly from incident to incident, making it an exciting read. And although all the ingredients of the traditional Western can be found in the book, - outlaws, shoot outs, Red Indian ambushes - the writing is entirely fresh. There's a great deal of authenticity in the descriptions of the trail and the perils and hardships which must have accompanied such a journey.
McMurtry populates the novel with dozens of characters, many of whom appear for just a few pages - yet each is convincingly fleshed out with great economy. I particularly liked Augustus and his old flame Clara. Indeed, the female characters in the book invariably come across as stronger than the men, with the macho cowboys a little slow on the uptake and generally awkward around women.
There's a gentle humour and compassion about McMutry's writing that I found most appealing, and it doesn't surprise me at all that the novel won the Pulitzer (1986).
Haven't heard yet what the rest of the group thought about the book (how sad to have read the book and missed the meeting!) but I imagine it went down very well.