First impressions of Lonesome Dove are physical. Do I need to sort a gym membership to be able to carry it around with me? It weighs in at 843 pages; an intimidating brick for my fellow passengers on the 0810 to Birmingham that would have to be classed as luggage.
But within a few pages I was hooked. It’s a wonderful read and I had no fears about finishing it. Unlike many long books I’ve read I soon forgot about the word count and began to dread the end.
In short, the book is a cattle drive, and indeed spiritual journey, from the badlands of Texas up to the pastures of Montana. Gus and Call are the main characters – tough ex-Texas Rangers leading a crew that ranges from experienced cowhands to wet-behind-the-ears but willing Irish immigrants. The West was brutal and many of the scenes have stayed with me: the nest of snakes in the Texas river, the brutal Indian Blue Duck slaying July Johnson’s followers, the abandoning of a baby.
There is every form of hardship imaginable, but it never feels too much. The humanity of the characters – whether it be Gus’s talkative nature and wit or Deet’s loyalty – shines through. When things go badly wrong it is because characters are tested by a harsh landscape or brutalised by others. Often it is naivety or lust or braggadocio, forgivable or without consequence in our world, that leads to the direst consequences.
A wonderful book. Recommended as a great Western.