Exhausting read. Excellent portrayal of moral degradation and alienation. Spare, taut, strong prose, as usual by McCarthy. But it's a hard read. The type of involvement here is purely intellectual, as it's almost impossible to empathize (even though McCarthy portrays him rather sympathetically) with Lester Ballard, a murderous necrophile. The narrative is detached from him so we're left wondering as to his motivation, trying to make sense in our minds of this character. There's not even a sense that he's evil - he almost can't help it, you see him as part of the environment: such a flat character with no depth at all.Which is not a problem, this is what the book's about. Just don't expect to understand the character as one would in John Fowles' The Collector, which covers some similar ground.
A deeply flawed book, not nearly as good as stuff as As I Lay Dying or Absalom, Absalom!. But a very decent crime novel, with often masterful prose. If it were by anybody else I'd be stunned - the story of Temple Drake's sexual and moral corruption has no parallel except in the films of David Lynch. It's not good enough for Faulkner though, as most of the book just meanders with a murky, stilted narrative and faceless characters. Definitely irritating to sit through just to get to the good, lurid and creepy bits.
It has a few very good observations on literature, being a reader and a writer as coming-of-age. But characters, plot and setting are rather weak, barely focused: you can't really see them, just outlines really. He does try to illuminate one character on the last chapter, but by then it's too late and it feels tacked on, an addendum rather than a proper coda.
I loved every Murakami book I've ever read with the exception of this one. I only got through the end the third time. I admit the atmosphere and the story had me gripped for the first 200 or so pages. After that, there's not enough to make you keep going. The book is undeniably bloated, Murakami supplying endless descriptions of everyday actions, particularly what and where characters eat all the time, and this gets very tiresome. But all this wouldn't be such a problem if Philip Gabriel's translation wasn't so stiff and awkward (especially the dialogues). Jay Rubin and Alfred Birnbaum do much better in the other Murakami books I read (Rubin in Wind-up Bird Chronicle, After Dark, Norwegian Wood and After the Quake and Birnbaum in Wild Sheep Chase). The last 150 pages are without a doubt, some of the worst Murakami, from self-plagiarism to bathos.