Cormac McCarthy: Stella Maris

The latest addition to my website is Cormac McCarthy‘s Stella Maris. As he is ninety, this may well be his last novel and he definitely goes out with a grim tale. The main character in this book – Alicia Western – had appeared in The Passenger, McCarthy’s previous book, published earlier this year. This novel consists entirely of a psychiatrist, Dr Cohen, talking to Alicia, a voluntarily admitted patient at Stella Maris, a mental health facility. However, though it is in many respects clearly linked toThe Passenger, there is one significant plot change, concerning her brother, a key character in the earlier novel. Alicia is a genius. She graduated from the University of Chicago in mathematics when aged fourteen. She had worked in the area since then but, as we learn , there is some correlation between mathematicians and insanity. We learn a lot about maths, her various demons, her non-sisterly love for her brother, her parents, both involved in the construction of the atom bomb, her violin playing (she had bouight a $300,000 violin with an inheritance) and her solitude. She is critical of psychiatry, considering the standard tests breathtakingly stupid and meaningless and frequently challenges Dr Cohen. However, there is no doubt she needs help as she has considered suicide. Indeed, in the previous book she does kill herself early in the book. This is certainly a grim swansong for McCarthy but an interesting account of genius and insanity.

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