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The Passenger: Book summary and reviews of The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

The Passenger

by Cormac McCarthy

The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy X
The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy
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  • Published Oct 2022
    400 pages
    Genre: Thrillers

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Book Summary

The bestselling, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Road returns with the first of a two-volume masterpiece: The Passenger is the story of a salvage diver, haunted by loss, afraid of the watery deep, pursued for a conspiracy beyond his understanding, and longing for a death he cannot reconcile with God.

1980, PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI: It is three in the morning when Bobby Western zips the jacket of his wet suit and plunges from the Coast Guard tender into darkness. His dive light illuminates the sunken jet, nine bodies still buckled in their seats, hair floating, eyes devoid of speculation. Missing from the crash site are the pilot's flight bag, the plane's black box, and the tenth passenger. But how? A collateral witness to machinations that can only bring him harm, Western is shadowed in body and spirit—by men with badges; by the ghost of his father, inventor of the bomb that melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima; and by his sister, the love and ruin of his soul.

Traversing the American South, from the garrulous barrooms of New Orleans to an abandoned oil rig off the Florida coast, The Passenger is a breathtaking novel of morality and science, the legacy of sin, and the madness that is human consciousness.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A beguiling, surpassingly strange novel by the renowned—and decidedly idiosyncratic—author of Blood Meridian (1982) and The Road (2006)...Enigmatic, elegant, extraordinary: a welcome return after a too-long absence." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Chilling and masterly....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." - Booklist (starred review)

"A rich story of an underachieving salvage diver in 1980 New Orleans...This thriller narrative is intertwined with the story of Western's sister, Alicia…He dazzles with his descriptions of a beautifully broken New Orleans…The book's many pleasures will leave readers aching for the final installment." - Publishers Weekly

"After sixteen years of characteristic seclusion, McCarthy returns with a one-two punch...The Passenger is an elegiac meditation on guilt, grief, and spirituality. Packed with textbook McCarthy hallmarks, like transgressive behaviors and cascades of ecstatic language, it's a welcome return from a legend who's been gone too long." - Esquire

This information about The Passenger was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Zena Ryder

Brilliant, but way beyond weird
Cormac McCarthy’s writing is so good that I enjoyed reading The Passenger, even though much of the time I was confused. There were scenes that were deliciously tense, as you might imagine given that the protagonist, Bobby Western (yes, seriously), is a deep sea salvage diver. There are other parts that were so intriguing that I was pulled along, wanting to understand, wanting to get to the bottom of it all.

I don’t mind putting effort into a novel and I’m happy feeling at sea for a while, as the shapes in the fog gradually become clear and all the parts fit together in a satisfying way. (The absolutely wonderful Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr is like this.) I enjoyed my gradually increasing understanding of Western and his sister. I was looking forward to the ending when I’d finally see the point of that long conversation about Kennedy’s assassination, when I’d finally get the relevance of all those academic digressions, when I’d finally grasp the key to the crime/mystery element of the novel, when I’d finally understand who all the minor characters were and what they were doing in the book.

But, guess what? By the time I got to the end of the novel, I STILL didn’t understand. I felt like I was standing on the edge of a precipice of understanding. So I immediately embarked on the second novel in the duology, Stella Maris, thinking this is where I’d get my reward.

Again, I was drawn along by McCarthy’s writing and finished the second book in less than a day. This second book is ENTIRELY a conversation between Western’s sister and a doctor in the psychiatric hospital she’s checked herself into. There are no quotation marks, no dialogue tags (she said, etc.), no physicality to ground the conversation in a scene (he leaned back in his chair, etc.).

Classic McCarthy. He’s not one to coddle his readers.

The conversation takes long, wandering forays into mathematics, physics, philosophy, etc. I loved reading it. Cormac McCarthy has shown us (again) what a brilliant — and weird — mind he has. What an exceptionally talented writer he is.

However, ultimately, the experience was disappointing, not profound. McCarthy apparently wrote these books for himself and perhaps a small handful of super-fans with mathematics PhDs. Great. Good for him. No piece of art is for everyone. In the end, my disappointment seems irrelevant, even to me.

I was looking for something in the novels that McCarthy wasn’t interested in giving. As a reader of The Passenger and Stella Maris, I was like a Martian trying to discover what a human face looks like by studying Picasso’s Weeping Woman. Even though the experience didn’t give me what I wanted, I nevertheless experienced greatness. And I still want to read every single thing McCarthy has written.

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Author Information

Cormac McCarthy Author Biography

The novels of the American writer Cormac McCarthy have received a number of literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His works adapted to film include All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country for Old Men—the latter film receiving four Academy Awards, including the award for Best Picture. He died in June 2023 aged 89.

Link to Cormac McCarthy's Website

Other books by Cormac McCarthy at BookBrowse
  • The Road jacket
  • No Country For Old Men jacket

6 more...

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