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

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4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  833 ratings  ·  97 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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Matthew
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
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
Roger Pettit
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
Kerfe
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
Lisa
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!
Steve
"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
Lemar
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
Bob
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
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
Susan Katz
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
Dot
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
Vit Babenco
“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
Mark Crowe
Ok, I admit I am biased. This is one of my favorite books always waiting for a reread. The story line, the writing, the fullness of the characters everything clicked for me. One of the overlooked great books of the last century it is beautifully written and serves as the end piece of Carey's Triptych with Herself Surprised and To Be A Pilgrim all sharing common characters but each with their own version of the story. Gulley Jimson is right up there with The Moon and Sixpences's Charles Stricklan ...more
Erin
It took me so long to read this book that the overdue fines from the library paid for it. I almost decided not to read it because I don't usually like fiction about artists. It also slips into poetry sometimes, and I don't usually have much tolerance for that sort of thing either. But I'm really glad I stuck with it (even through the tiny font) because it's one of the better books I've read this year. The dialogue was good and it was endearing and depressing at the same time.

---
“I respect artis
...more
Richard Bentley
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
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.
Zalman
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.
Joseph Nicolello
Apr 30, 2015 Joseph Nicolello 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.
Spencer Schankel
One of the great novels that explores the inner artist, by Joyce Cary. Gulley Jimson is a selfish, idealistic, opportunistic and above all a driven, very human character. He’s a con artist. He’s a genius. One of my favorite books that was made into a very good film starring Alec Guinness.
Caroline
Really great. I kept reading some things over and over and giggling to myself because the dialogue, especially, is so funny. This is pretty much about the most interesting character ever. He aggravates me but I want to be his pal.
Simon
It took over thirty years between buying this and reading it. I'm glad I waited because it means I had this special treat this year.
Heidi
Feb 28, 2008 Heidi rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mad artists
...happiness in the face of despairing circumstances...insanity of genius...
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
Tony
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
Lucy
To blatantly namedrop, Tom Robbins suggested I read this as I had mentioned that I was reading ‘An Artists Way’ of which he had not heard. He said the best book he had ever read of the artistic temperament was The Horse’s Mouth, now if Mr Robbins suggests one reads a book.. one does! I ordered it straight away…

It is a great tale of the trials of Gulley Jimson, who discovered, rather late on in life, that his role was to be a painter, he had tried to rebel against this family trait but to no avai
...more
Pewterbreath
How thoroughly British this book is! In any case, it's a "slice of life" book of the bohemian in London in the 30's. Funny thing, the main character is something of a scalawag---constantly on the make, in order to do his art. Of all the characters around him, Cokey is the most interesting---a tough woman that's bene put to the edge of society by the end of the book because of an unwanted pregnancy. His wives are also pretty interesting---one you never actually meet (dead long before the book sta ...more
Kate
This was my first time on a "blind date with a book", and it turned out rather well! I picked up "The Horse's Mouth" from a used bookstore in Beyoğlu, from one of those storefronts that have barely any display space since the road has risen so much around them. Instead of an actual display window, there was a basket full of books wrapped in brown paper, sold for something like 10-20 TL each. Honestly, I think I like the "blind date with a book" idea better than the actual book.

Not to say the bo
...more
Ensiform
The third part of a trilogy I remain ignorant of. It’s the story of Gulley Jimson, an artist whose first drawings --- of his wife at her bath --- are valuable masterworks, but who now at sixty-seven lives in poverty creating vast, fantastic Biblical visions on walls. He narrates the story, and his prose is steeped in realistically evoked artistic vision as he catches sight of ideas in nature and throws himself almost involuntarily into his work. The conversation is realistic: staccato and slang- ...more
Reacher
The author takes great leaps with figurative language at times, which I liked. examples:

"Constable night. Broken lumps of cloud whirling across a knife-colored sky like wreckage on a Thames flood. Moon running over the house fronts like a spotlight. When it fell on the willows, they trembled like girls caught in dark corners waiting for their young men."

"Hickson got older since I saw him last. Small and dry, black suit hanging off his back like a sack. Looked like a little beetle on its crooked
...more
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NYRB Classics: The Horse's Mouth, by Joyce Carey 1 6 Oct 23, 2013 01:26PM  
  • No Bed for Bacon
  • The Polyglots
  • Brewster's Millions
  • Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
  • Towards the End of the Morning
  • Augustus Carp, Esq. By Himself Being The Autobiography Of A Really Good Man
  • Slouching Towards Kalamazoo
  • According to Queeney
  • The Adventures of Gil Blas
  • A Fairy Tale of New York
  • Pictures from an Institution
  • Fireflies
  • White Man Falling
  • The History Man
  • Topper Takes a Trip
  • Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
  • The Unbearable Bassington
  • Before Lunch
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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 (3 books)
  • Herself Surprised
  • To Be a Pilgrim
Mister Johnson Herself Surprised To Be a Pilgrim Art And Reality: Ways Of The Creative Process Prisoner of Grace

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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.” 32 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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