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1980s Chunkster Historical Fiction Pulitzer Prize

Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry

 Winner of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize

What an epic! I am really pleased that after nearly three months I finally made it to the end of this massive book. I originally started reading Lonesome Dove as part of Amy’s readalong, but unfortunately I failed to keep up with everyone else and so had to make do with reading their comments several weeks after I made it to the same spot.

Lonesome Dove is the first Western I’ve ever read. It contained all the elements that I was expecting in a Western (cattle, horses, guns and the big outdoors) but the atmosphere was very different. I was surprised by the gentle humor running all the way through it and, although several people were killed, it never felt dark. 

The story begins in Lonesome Dove, a small town in Texas, and follows a group of men who decide to take some cattle to Montana. We see the dangers that they face from both animals and other men, but also the complex relationships that they have with each other. Lonesome Dove crosses so many genres – it is a romance novel as well as a vivid piece of historical fiction. It is a shame that it is called a Western as I think the term is quite off-putting to some people.

The book started off very slowly – it took me about 300 pages to begin to engage with the characters, but once this happened I found them to be some of the most vivid I’ve ever read about. There was very little forward momentum anywhere in the book, so I never felt compelled to pick it up and start reading again. This made it feel much longer than its already imposing 940 pages.

The characters were very well developed, but there were many points when I wished that the book would stop fleshing out the characters and get on with the story. The plot picked up in the final section, but I was a bit frustrated by the number of loose ends left unresolved.

I’m really pleased that I made it to the end of this classic, but I wish it had more pace and a less meandering plot. There was a lot to enjoy and I do think that it is one of those books everyone should try at some point in their lives. Recommended.

Opinions are divided on this one:

…..both funnier and sadder than I’d ever anticipated. Whimpulsive

…life is too short to spend my reading time in the company of people I don’t like who are doing things I find repulsive. Semicolon

Lonesome Dove is on my all time favorites list. Capricious Reader

Can you recommend any Westerns which have a faster pace?

43 replies on “Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry”

I was wondering how you’d like this … one of my friends read it last year and loved it, so I’ve been considering it for a time when I’m up for reading a serious chunkster. I thought it might be too slow-paced for you. I’m intrigued by your review so I’ll keep it on my tbr list.

Laura, I think that you’ll enjoy this one. It was a bit slow for me and that is the main problem I had with the book. I was under the impression that Westerns were all action so was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. I look forward to finding out what you make of it.

Must admit western style books are a area of books I ve never read ,remember the tv series for this being very good ,I may at some point read a couple westerns but not a moment ,all the best stu

I keep hearing this is the book to read. It even is mentioned in people’s best books ever. I almost went for it, until I saw the size of the damned thing. Maybe if I’m bedridden for a month! James is doing a Western challenge in May, where you read one book from that genre. I think I’m going to do a re-read of “Outlaw” by William Kiefer, one of my favorite books of all time. That one wouldn’t bore you, I’m pretty sure.

Sandy, OK. I’ll see if I can find a copy of Outlaw.

I think that Lonesome Dove could well become one of your favourite books so I hope that you find the time to read it at some point (although not by being bedridden for a month!)

Hi Sandy
Do you know who published this book Outlaw as I too have read the start of this book, I got half wway through and over ten years later the name of the book and the author stuck to me like blue.
It is buy far the best I have read and would like to try to eventually get it to read again and you have been the only link I have been able to find on this .
From Andrew in New Zealand

Anything by Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey. I wouldn’t consider anything that either of them wrote to be classic literature but that wasn’t their intent. They are both excellent storytellers of the American West. L’Amour wrote over a hundred books. Most of them can be read in a week at most. Most of his books are standalone and can be read in any order. My favorites though are the Sackett books. 18 books which tell the story of a particular family history running from 1600-1880. Starts with “Sacketts Land”. Hope that helps!

Matt, 18 books covering nearly 300 years? Wow! I’ll make a note of it and give the first book in the series a try at some point. Thank you for the recommendation.

This is a great review. I have never read Lonesome Dove because I don’t like westerns, but my mom read it when it first came out and loved it – and she wasn’t a western person either.
You reminded me of this book and maybe I should rethink reading it. And watch the TV series.

Alex, I haven’t read any Westerns so don’t know what they are like. You are making me feel as though I should try one, just so I know. ;-) Enjoy your read/watch if you decide to do it.

I’m glad I read this slowly as part of a read-along, perhaps thats why it didnt seem as slow to me? There is a sequal and it carries on but I’m not at all tempted to read it even though I’m sure alot of lose ends are tied up in the sequal. As much as I loved Lonesome Dove I think I just want to leave the characters as they were are the end of the novel.

I would read another novel as it wasn’t all quite what I was expecting.

Jessica, I think reading this with several other people is a very good idea. At one point I nearly caught up with the readalong, but I never felt like racing through it and so read it at about half the speed everyone else did. I think I was finding it even slower by trying to force myself to read a certain number of chapters in a given week. I think you just have a higher tolerance for slow books than I do :-)

I don’t feel like reading the sequel either. No one seems to rave about it so it can only be worse than LD.

This is the only Western I’ve read, so I have no recommendations. I thought the beginning was slow as well, but then it picked up later on. I liked it, but my expectations were to high. I enjoyed the pace of a readalong, but I think maybe it’s a book best devoured whole if possible.

Shelley, There is no way I could have devoured it whole :-) I think I was hindered by slightly high expectations at times, but they did help me to persevere through that slow beginning. It is nice to have finished it after so long.

I haven’t really read many other westerns. I think I enjoyed this one so much because in many ways it reminded me of some of the sweeping historical fiction sagas I love. The readalong worked well for me because it wasn’t the only book I was reading. I read a few other faster paced books at the same time to balance it out.

SuziQoregon, I agree that this had a lot in common with those sweeping historical sagas – it only lacks the generational aspect, but I’m not sure I want to know what their children get up to ;-)

I’ve never had much interest in reading Westerns, but this one I’ve always wondered about. Sounds like it really stands out from the genre, maybe I’ll give it a try someday, too!

I would have run a mile from this book if all I had known about it was that it was a Western. Definitely not for me, I would have thought. But you make it sound as if it’s a book that might overthrow my prejudices. And after all what else are prejudices for but to be overthrown?

Study Window, Overthrowing prejudices is always a good thing to try. :-) I’m not sure this is the best book to start with – as it is very slow to start and feels very long. I’m sure there must be a shorter, easier way to try a Western, but if you are up for a challenge then I hope that you enjoy it.

I have always wondered about this book but never read it. I’ve read some of McMurtry’s other books, and liked them. It was the western & romance aspects of the book that put me off which I’m a bit ashamed of since it’s very close-minded of me especially when this is an award winner! So I was happy to see your review and to read that despite some problems this is definitely a book worth reading…or trying, at least!

Thank you Jackie!

I haven’t read too many other westerns – in fact, I can’t remember another one! I did enjoy this but I agree with you that it was painfully slow, especially in the beginning. I got wrapped up in it eventually but it probably took me longer for that than it would have to read an entire other book.

Meghan, I’m glad I’m not alone in finding the beginning really slow. I think I could have read about 8 normal books in the time it took me to get through this one – it definitely isn’t an efficient use of reading time ;-)

I generally have no interest in reading Westerns, so you’re right that that would be a turn-off for me! BUT, that said, the fact that you wound up enjoying it so much really says a lot. Also, while I was not excited at all to see the recent film True Grit, when I did go see it with my family over the holidays, I wound up enjoying it so much, even with it’s Western olde tyme setting… So, I definitely think that I have to open myself up to the possibility of being swept away by the wild west… but a 940 page book scares me! I’m not sure I’d have the temerity to stick with something through a slow 300 pages.

Steph, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a western, so that is another barrier I need to break soon. Perhaps I’ll have to give True Grit a try :-) If you are scared of long books then this probably isn’t a good book to start with as it feels much longer than 900+ pages. Perhaps I’ll find a shorter western for you to try soon.

I don’t remember any of the slow and meandering parts to be . . . well, slow and meandering. LOL. I loved this book and the characters and never felt bothered by any loose ends. I have heard several people say that it took them a long time to get into the book — I think I was hooked from page 1. I’m so happy that you read it and liked it.

Beth, I think most people take a while to warm to the book, but I have seen a few people who loved it from the first page as you did. At least we can agree it was good in the end. :-)

I’ve been tempted to pick this book up in the past since I’ve heard it is so good. However, since I just finished a huge book (Musashi – 970 pages) I think I’m going to give it a few months before I consider it again. :) Congrats on completing the book!

Alyce, I don’t mind diving straight back into another long one (I’m currently trying to decide what my next one should be) but I have to read them slowly and have another shorter book on the go at the same time. Perhaps I should give Musashi a try!

I’ve never read a Western. I didn’t even think I enjoyed Western films, but I really liked the new version of True Grit, so now I’m rethinking my dislike. I hope to read this one day, but I fear I have no sense of urgency. I do plan to get to all the Pulitzer winners in a few years when I finish all the Orange longlists, and I’ll look forward to reading this one then.

Carrie, I don’t think I’ve watched a Western film all the way through, but I am intrigued now a few of you have mentioned True Grit. I’ve just added it to my DVD rental queue and hope I enjoy it as much as everyone else seems to.

I had this one on my shelf for years and just never got around to reading it. I have to admit that the fact that it is a western is what put me off. Your review is reassuring me that I will like it and must let go of my preconceived notions.

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