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The Horse's Mouth (The First Trilogy #3)

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4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  951 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
The Horse's Mouth, the third and most celebrated volume of Joyce Cary's First Trilogy, is perhaps the finest novel ever written about an artist. Its painter hero, the charming and larcenous Gulley Jimson, has an insatiable genius for creation and a no less remarkable appetite for destruction. Is he a great artist? a has-been? or an exhausted, drunken ne'er-do-well? He is w ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published October 31st 1999 by NYRB Classics (first published 1944)
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Victoria King The artist who was commonly believed to be the inspiration for Gully Jimson is the late Gerald Wilde, a British Abstract Expressionist artist, but in…moreThe artist who was commonly believed to be the inspiration for Gully Jimson is the late Gerald Wilde, a British Abstract Expressionist artist, but in fact Joyce Cary met Wilde five years after the book was published. Cary said that had he known Wilde at the time he wrote the book, he would well have served as a model for his made-up character of Gully Jimson. The October Gallery in London represents Wilde's extraordinary artwork.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,591)
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Matthew
Mar 29, 2013 Matthew rated it it was amazing
I've read The Horse's Mouth about four times since I discovered it through the film adaptation written by and staring the incomparable Alec Guinness. I'm still baffled how a book can be so hillarious even while referencing William Blake and Spinoza all over the place. I don't know how a writer goes about creating the kinds of majestic sentences and authentic characters and vivid images that fill this book. I've read a bunch of other works by Joyce Cary and had extremely varied reactions to them. ...more
Kay
Aug 04, 2007 Kay rated it it was amazing
Gulley Jimson is one of the great literary creations, and as many times as I've read this novel, Gulley still appears as unique and unpredictable as he did the first time I read it. Joyce Cary's novels aren't as popular as they once were, but his First Trilogy remains a timeless masterpiece. I read the series backwards, it seems, for this is the third (and my favorite) novel. It's one of the finest descriptions of an artist and the artistic process ever written, in my opinion.

Oh, and as an asid
...more
Kerfe
Apr 30, 2012 Kerfe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
The painter Gulley Jimson is a soundrel, and no mistake. He would not be judged either a good man or a success, yet he has a talent and an appetite for living.

Joyce Cary's trilogy was good, better, and this, the third book, best for me. At the same time, all three now beg to be read again--the different points of view (Sara, then Tom, then Gulley), filled in by each character's separate inclinations, prejudices and intentions, would illuminate especially Sara's story, Herself Surprised.

None of t
...more
Roger Pettit
Jun 22, 2014 Roger Pettit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I meet two friends every six weeks or so to discuss a particular book that the three of us have agreed to read. One of the many pleasures of such an arrangement is that you are sometimes encouraged by one of the other members of the group to tackle a novel that might otherwise have passed you by. I had never heard of Irish writer Joyce Cary or of his novel 'The Horse's Mouth' before it was suggested as potential reading material by one of my book group friends. I am so glad that my friend nomina ...more
Stephen
Jan 06, 2010 Stephen rated it it was amazing
"Remember I'm an artist. And you know what that means in a court of law. Next worst to an actress." --Some words from the many of Gully Jimson in The Horse's Mouth.

There are two English novels that may give some profound insight into the artistic mind. I say “may” because how the hell am I supposed to know to a certainty, not being an artist myself. Those two novels in question are The Horse's Mouth and The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham. You will forgive me, I am sure, if I do not inc
...more
Lisa
Jun 22, 2016 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: c20th, usa, art-fiction
I loved this book: it was a window into the mind of a modern artist and (along with The Shock of the New it changed the way I looked at and understood modern art forever.
It's too long since I read it to write a proper review, I should read it again!
Bob
Apr 04, 2014 Bob rated it it was amazing
While it might be too broad a generalization to declare a stylistic similarity amongst many mid-20th century Irish writers, Joyce Cary has a bit of Joyce and quite a bit more of Flann O'Brien.
The Horse's Mouth is actually the third of a trilogy, though not having read the prior two parts was not remotely a problem. It is set in London in the late 1930s, where a 67-year-old painter who has had his share of success at various junctures in his career is now completely down and out and fresh out of
...more
Vit Babenco
Nov 16, 2014 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“I was walking by the Thames. Half-past morning on an autumn day. Sun in a mist. Like an orange in a fried fish shop. All bright below. Low tide, dusty water and a crooked bar of straw, chicken-boxes, dirt and oil from mud to mud. Like a viper swimming in skim milk. The old serpent, symbol of nature and love.
Five windows light the caverned man ; through one he breathes the air
Through one hears music of the spheres ; through one can look
And see small portions of the eternal world.”
The sheer beau
...more
Bettie☯
Description: The Horse's Mouth, the third and most celebrated volume of Joyce Cary's First Trilogy, is perhaps the finest novel ever written about an artist. Its painter hero, the charming and larcenous Gulley Jimson, has an insatiable genius for creation and a no less remarkable appetite for destruction. Is he a great artist? a has-been? or an exhausted, drunken ne'er-do-well? He is without doubt a visionary, and as he criss-crosses London in search of money and inspiration the world as seen th ...more
Chrissie
Mar 28, 2016 Chrissie rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, humorous, series, classics
I have read this but I ought to reread it since ALL that I remember is I liked it a lot. Why I do not remember. I remember it being humorous.
Bet
Nov 30, 2015 Bet rated it it was amazing
What a romp this book is! I'm sure it's not to everyone's taste, but I had to give it five stars. It made me laugh; it sometimes annoyed and sometimes bored me, but it got under my skin. As a painter I was with the old scoundrel, the ageing artist Gully Jimson, all the way. All the world was a painting to him and I know what it is like to lose the thread of a conversation because I'm thinking of what color I would use or how I would paint the person or the sky or the scene I'm looking at. He was ...more
E.
Jul 17, 2008 E. is currently reading it
This is Tom Robbin's favorite book. Thought it worth reading for that alone. I had to order an old copy from somewhere in the midwest cause I couldn't find it around here. We'll see.
Dick Heimbold
As an artist/author I am very interested in books about artists’ acts of creation. There are a lot of books written by lovers of art who describe the act of painting, but don’t capture what is going on in the artist’s heart and soul during the act of painting. Joyce Cary captured it in The Horse’s Mouth—and captured it as well as in any other book that I know of.

I believe he was able to do this because he was an artist who tried to make a go of it in Paris in his early years. Realizing he didn’t
...more
Lemar
May 28, 2013 Lemar rated it it was amazing
The flow of descriptive language on display here is overwhelming. The main character of the novel is an artist, and as if that weren't bad enough, a modern artist, as he, Gully Jimson, might say. The prose describing the art and more importantly the thought behind the art is staggeringly beautiful. Yes I was mentally staggering around my living room as I read passages like this one on a sunset,

"Under the cloudbank. Sun was in the bank. Streak of salmon below. Salmon trout
above soaking into was
...more
Dorothy
Nov 11, 2010 Dorothy rated it liked it
Seemed like serendipity that I randomly chose this book from my shelf at the same time as listening to John Updike's "Seek My Face". Both books deal with art and the relationship between the artist and philosophy. The main character in this book is Gully Jimson, a well educated man who sees himself as an artistic genius but lives on the fringe of society and his real talent appears to be as a con man.
The descriptions of world as he sees it are what makes this book special ....again I got the fee
...more
Gill
Apr 02, 2016 Gill rated it liked it
Shelves: unfinished
I've enjoyed what I've read of this book. I've read the first third of it, which gives me a good idea what it's about and about the writing style. I'm having some problems with the print size, even though I'm reading online, so I've decided to give the rest of the book a miss.
( I remember my parents having this book on the bookshelf when I was quite a young child, so it's quite a nice link to them to get a chance to read it. I remember as a child that I was fascinated by the title! )
Robert Wechsler
Dec 09, 2015 Robert Wechsler marked it as tasted
I found this novel both brilliant and boring. The brilliance appears in flashes throughout. The narrator is an original character, low and high all at once, completely incorrigible, much like Roth's Mickey Sabbath (or vice versa). Cary also uses language marvelously. I don't know if it's a matter of Cary's style being copied so much, but after a while the prose, the observations, the personality come to seem more relentless than brilliant. And more pretentious, as well. I wanted a respite from t ...more
J.M. Lee
Jul 28, 2015 J.M. Lee rated it it was amazing
My all-time favourite novel. If I could give it six stars out of five I would.

The protagonist is Gulley Jimson, an obsessive artist, and petty criminal. The novel starts with him getting out of prison. He scrounges, he cadges, he manipulates, and quotes a lot of William Blake. His style of figurative expression is fantastically visual, paralleling his perspective as a visual artist perfectly (Joyce Cary was also a visual artist). He's a ratbag, but you can't help loving him and laughing at the m
...more
Sylvester
Jun 26, 2010 Sylvester rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic, favorites
If you haven't met Gulley Jimson, you haven't lived. He's everything. He's wastrel and a workaholic, a genius and a simpleton. Nobody but Cary could describe him right, so I won't try. But for Pete's sake, put down that poor excuse for a book you've got in your hand, and get The Horse's Mouth! You'll be inspired and disgusted, you'll shake your head in puzzlement and you'll vow to do something a little more empassioned with your life. For anyone who gets a bang out of artists, this book is for y ...more
Richard Bentley
Apr 30, 2015 Richard Bentley rated it it was amazing
This is a difficult book. It is also a masterpiece. Difficult because it is the literary equivalent of mixing rye, tequila, rum, and gin. A masterpiece because of its soaring imagery, because of its idiosyncratic and incongruous humor, and because of the insight given into the soul of an artist. The difficulty is best felt when you read it aloud, because you are swept from the imagery to William Blake to English cant to impulsive (and often destructive) human behavior, cast in the form of a huma ...more
Nancy
Dec 22, 2014 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-history, fiction
I love this book. My third time reading it. And this time I read it with a painter friend of mine, who reminds me a bit of Gulley Jimson actually. Like Gulley, my friend paints because he has to, is compelled to, if he hasn't got a paint brush in his hand, he's still painting in his mind. A beautiful, powerfully moving, very funny, utterly original book about art and the artist.
Mike
Sep 23, 2015 Mike rated it it was ok
If Joyce Cary's intention for this book was to construct the character of an insufferable old coot, he did so with flourish. Sadly, I think he wished this book to be more a comedic piece, poking jabs at ideas he poorly understood, using language that quickly plummets from (James) Joycian to downright tedious.

Gully Jimson is a starving artist, literally. We see the world through his words. We are exposed first-hand to the absurdity of DESCRIBING a visual art. Jimson's qualities as a human being a
...more
Zalman
Jan 14, 2008 Zalman rated it it was ok
Had to read this for a Modern Novel class back in 1969. Of all the books I read for the course, this was the my least favorite. Since it was up against the likes of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", "Sons and Lovers", "The Magus", "Trout Fishing in America", "A Passage to India", and "The Voyeur", it suffered perhaps unfairly in comparison.
Abimelech Abimelech
Apr 30, 2015 Abimelech Abimelech marked it as to-read
I definitely look forward to reading this, and was amazing to find it for two dollars in mint condition the other day. Sampled a few pages of this and some dozen other NYRB I picked up at the fair, and this one will be at the top my to-read list of novels after some other lines of business are attended to.
wally
Mar 11, 2011 wally rated it liked it
Shelves: cary
read this one in a lit class, yay, all those years ago. i don't recall being blown away, nor do i recall having to plod through it...but reading under a deadline is never great shakes.
Heidi
Feb 28, 2008 Heidi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mad artists
...happiness in the face of despairing circumstances...insanity of genius...
Susan Merrell
May 31, 2016 Susan Merrell rated it it was amazing
Really loved this book, which is funny and raw and Dickensian in emotional tone and character building, but with remarkable and innovative sentence range. The story of an artist who remains an artist no matter what happens to him in the world, or what mistakes he makes, The Horse's Mouth really captures the obsessional way that artists' minds work, with vividness and humor.
I read this for Roger Rosenblatt's July 2016 Master Class at the Southampton Writers Conference, and am so glad it is on the
...more
Nicole
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this one.

I liked the way that the picture of the moment was constantly in Gulley's head no matter what else was happening (and therefore in mine). I liked the painterly descriptions of various throwaway setting items, as well as the acquisitiveness that Gulley has for them (I can USE that arm, that rooftop, those feet, those clouds).

I did not at first like the sentence fragmenty, rapid dialoguey thing that was happening, as it seemed jolting and gimmicky,
...more
Susan Katz
Jun 07, 2009 Susan Katz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humor, adult-fiction
Reading this book is part of an occasional project of mine to reread books I loved when I was young. This one, forty-odd years later, still holds up. A humorous portrait of a 67-year-old painter, Gulley Jimson, the book makes fun of the pretensions of "high art" and at the same time shows the real hold that art can have on a person's life. Gulley tries to discourage a young would-be painter who idolizes him because, says Gulley, though he may have "committed arson, adultery, murder, libel, malfe ...more
Tony
Feb 16, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it
THE HORSE’S MOUTH. (1944). Joyce Carey. ****.
This is my second read of this novel that I first read during the 1960s. It was the third novel in a tryptich of novels by this author that included “Herself Surprised” (1941). and “To Be A Pilgrim” (1942). Each of the novels contains, supposedly, the same cast of characters, but the story is told by a different one of them in each. In this novel, you will meet Gully Jimson, a 68-year-old artist – of sorts. You will not meet anyone like Gully in any
...more
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NYRB Classics: The Horse's Mouth, by Joyce Carey 1 9 Oct 23, 2013 01:26PM  
  • The Harpole Report
  • Ennui
  • No Bed for Bacon
  • The Polyglots
  • Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
  • According to Queeney
  • Brewster's Millions
  • White Man Falling
  • Towards the End of the Morning
  • The Adventures of Gil Blas
  • Pictures from an Institution
  • Augustus Carp, Esq. By Himself Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man
  • Slouching Towards Kalamazoo
  • Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
  • The History Man
  • Tropic Of Ruislip
  • Titmuss Regained
  • A Fairy Tale of New York
76129
Cary now undertook his great works examining historical and social change in England during his own lifetime. The First Trilogy (1941–44) finally provided Cary with a reasonable income, and The Horse's Mouth (1944) remains his most popular novel. Cary's pamphlet "The Case for African Freedom" (1941), published by Orwell's Searchlight Books series, had attracted some interest, and the film director ...more
More about Joyce Cary...

Other Books in the Series

The First Trilogy (4 books)
  • Herself Surprised
  • To Be a Pilgrim
  • Triptych: Herself Surprised, To Be a Pilgrim and The Horse's Mouth  (The First Trilogy, #1-3)

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“To forgive is wisdom, to forget is genius. And easier. Because it's true. It's a new world every heart beat.” 39 likes
“Nothing like poetry when you lie awake at night. It keeps the old brain limber. It washes away the mud and sand that keeps on blocking up the bends.
Like waves to make the pebbles dance on my old floors. And turn them into rubies and jacinths; or at any rate, good imitations.”
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