Robin McLean

Pity the Beast

Millennia ago, Ginny’s family farm was all grass and rock and wild horses. A thousand years hence, it’ll all be peacefully underwater. In the matter-of-fact here and now, though, it’s a hotbed of lust and resentment, because Ginny’s just cheated on her husband with the man who lives next door.

When a crowd of locals—including Ginny’s bitter sister Ella—turn up to help out on the farm, a day of chores turns into a night of serious drinking, and then of brutal, communal retribution. By morning, Ginny’s been left for dead. But dead is the one thing she isn’t. With a stolen horse and rifle, she escapes into the mountains, and a small posse of her tormentors gears up to give chase—to bring her home and beg forgiveness, or to make sure she disappears for good?

With detours through time, space, myth, and into the minds of a pack of philosophical mules, Pity the Beast heralds the arrival of a major new force in American letters. It is a novel that turns our assumptions about the West, masculinity, good and evil, and the nature of storytelling onto their heads, with an eye to the cosmic as well as the comic. It urges us to write our stories anew—if we want to avoid becoming beasts ourselves.

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EBook: £6.99

More Info

  • Find out more about Robin McLean on her website.
  • Robin McLean will be in conversation with award-winning author Cynan Jones at an online Sam Read Bookseller event on 9th November 2021. More information on the event and how to get involved can be found here.
  • You can find the audiobook of Pity the Beast, narrated by Dion Graham, on your preferred audiobook platform.
  • Robin McLean’s Pity the Beast playlist is available on the Largehearted Boy blog.
  • Pity the Beast has been nominated in the Fiction category for 32nd Annual Reading the West Book Awards – vote here
  • In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Buzz Poole of Sandorf Passage said of Pity the Beast, ‘Currently, I’m staying up in bed at night with Pity the Beast by Robin McLean, a truly ambitious and arresting tale of the American West.’
Print status: Available
Author: Robin McLean
Original language: English
Format: B-format hardback with dust jacket
Publication date: 2 November 2021
ISBN: 9781913505141
Ebook ISBN: 9781913505158
Availability: World English
Number of pages: 384


Sandra Newman
The Guardian (Book of the Day)

‘[Pity the Beast is] full of casually perfect writing, especially about animals and nature . . . The crux of this review is that Pity the Beast is a work of crazy brilliance. It’s a worthy successor to William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, and the rare book that creates more space for later writers to work in.’

Fanny Blake
Daily Mail

‘[Pity the Beast's] ambitious and innovative narrative moves through time, space and myth in order to explore a larger philosophical canvas beyond the immediate drama.’

Sam Sacks
Wall Street Journal

‘Promotional material has likened Pity the Beast to Cormac McCarthy and there is a resemblance, particularly with the Judge’s insane pursuit of the Kid in Blood Meridian. But where Mr. McCarthy is grandiose and portentous, Ms. McLean is strikingly down-to-earth. Her characters may amuse themselves with flights of philosophizing, but mostly they bicker, wisecrack and daydream, their behavior—crude but engaging, and often even endearing—so grippingly at odds with their drift into savagery. It sounds impossible but for all its horrors, there is little that is lurid about the writing in Pity the Beast. I have never read a book that made evil seem so natural—which is both the most unsettling thing about this novel and its greatest accomplishment.’

Publishers Weekly

‘A category-defying novel of revenge, survival, and transcendence . . . Raw and elemental, searing yet wry, this has much to say on law and lawlessness, sexual politics, and humans’ animal nature.’

Kirkus Review

‘Ambitious, inventive.’

J M Coetzee

‘Not since Faulkner have I read American prose so bristling with life and particularity.’

Jim Shepard

‘Pity is in short supply in Pity the Beast, but compassion is not: set in the kind of country in which ploughs break against hidden rocks and running water is a girl sprinting with a bucket, it’s a revenge narrative that never loses sight of the power of empathy, a love song to all of those animals domesticated for our support, a startlingly open-minded meditation on good and evil, a how-to manual on survival in the wilderness, a primer on how to negotiate all of the blind and ruthless violence we’re forced to face in a world formed by trauma, and a passionate celebration of those small comforts that can and do get us through.’

Karen Russell, author of St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Swamplandia!

‘Robin McLean writes scenes that feel as vibrant, terrifying, and wondrous as your most adrenalized memories. Her country is never merely the backdrop for human dramas but a living, breathing entity, alive with the poetry of mules and skittering stone. Pity the Beast is a thrilling ride and McLean's world feels so real that every cloud and creature in it casts a shadow.’

Chris Bachelder

‘Mythic in scope and vision, ingenious in form and style, Pity the Beast is a magnificent work of art by a fearless and utterly original writer. I read it with wonder and terror, exhilaration and admiration.’

Noy Holland, author of Spectacle of the Body and I Was Trying to Discover What It Feels Like

‘Robin McLean’s gonna get you. She will take you out into deep, and then deeper, water.’

Karen Shepard, author of An Empire of Women and Kiss Me Someone: Stories

‘Robin McLean sees the world like no one I’ve ever read before.  In Pity the Beast, her exacting eye gives us human behavior in all of its beastliness while simultaneously reminding us that it’s not moral judgment that ugliness calls for, it’s even more careful attention.  McLean insists that if we face the worst of ourselves, and if we find some way to articulate what we see, we may emerge battered but filled with a compassion we didn’t know we had, and didn’t know we needed.’

Richard Wiley, author of Soldiers in Hiding

‘Not since I stood in a Washington D.C. bookstore back in 1992 to read the first few pages of All the Pretty Horses, have I known so quickly and surely that I was in the hands of a writer whose skills and sensibilities soared in a direction both thrilling and foreign to me at the same time. But where Cormac McCarthy uses his gifts to solidify the west we have always known – men on the edge, defining and redefining freedom – Robin McLean turns the tables on him (and us)  by putting a woman in charge.  Though Pity the Beast is, through and through, a feminist novel, however, there isn’t a sentence in it that preaches, not a word that calls attention to its political undercurrents. Robin McLean may be a literary newcomer, but in years to come we might be calling her a literary master.’

Sabina Murray, author of The Human Zoo and Valiant Gentlemen

‘Harrowing, gripping, the product of a deranged mind, Robin McLean’s Pity the Beast is a brutally gorgeous fever-dream of a novel. This metaphysical Western feels like something new.’

Praise from Booksellers

'Like any western worth its salt, Pity the Beast abounds in fiction’s elementals: muck and dirt and dust; flies and fire and shit; spirits both mythical and distilled; and, of course, fucking. McLean is a writer of the hard-scrabbled sacred and well-perfumed profane, and her grotesques cry out from their place there on the page. Behold, the heiress to Cormac McCarthy—her pen to the old man’s throat, her prose blood-speckled and sun-splattered and all her own.' Hal Hlavinka, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn