Sunday, 12 August 2012

No Country For Old Men - Review

Title: No Country For Old Men
Author: Cormac McCarthy
First Published: 2005
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Where to Buy: Amazon, Waterstones, Book Depository


"They say eyes are the windows to the soul. I don't know what them eyes was the windows to and I guess I'd as soon not know."

That is a line from the introduction of this book and is a good indication of the atmosphere and tone of this entire book.

Y'know sometimes buying a book on a whim reaps great benefits. As soon as I purchased this book knew I was going to enjoy it.

As stated above this book is a very dark and grim book that deals with the dark nature of humanity and how it's only getting worst. Intercepted between the end of one chapter and the beginning of another is monologues from one of our main characters Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a tired, old, world-weary WWII veteran. We see the world through his eyes in these experts, and the world he paints is not nice at all. He talks about the moral degradation of the West and America in general and the way society has decayed beyond his reach. The passages were one of the highlights of this book and were an excellent way of conveying the bleak world that McCarthy has made.

The plot centres around a man named Llewellyn Moss who one day when out deer hunting comes across a scattering of dead bodies and broken cars, most importantly though amongst all the wreckage he finds a satchel full of money. Feeling greedy, he takes it. Generally this was bad move on his part, as this means that another man named Anton Chigurh is hunting him down. Anton is a ruthless, psychopathic hit-man who kills just about everyone and anyone he meets with effortless ease. Them two in turn are being searched for by the authorities and the aforementioned Sheriff Bell. So it's essentially a wild goose chase between those three. It's a relatively simplistic plot, but that by no means is a bad thing as McCarthy clearly shows that you can create a captivating, engrossing and brilliant novel even with a simple premise.

By far the most interesting character is Anton, one of the most chilling and scarily unpredictable villains in the whole of literature. Anton represents death, a unstoppable killing machine that is bearing down on us that cannot be halted who plays into the darkest recesses of human fear. We also know very little about him, and in much the same way as The Joker in The Dark Knight is infinitely more effective in making the villain someone we should be very very afraid of. We don't know where he comes from, who he is or why he does all the heinous things in the book. When he does speak it doesn't give us much help either, as every word is shrouded in a cryptic mystery. For instance there's this bit when he's talking to Moss's wife about to kill her and they share this conversation:
You've got no cause to hurt me, she said
I know. But I gave my word.
Your word?
Yes. We're at the mercy of the dead here. In this case your husband.
That don't make sense.
I'm afraid it does.
....You give your word to my husband to kill me?
He's dead. My husband is dead.
Yes. But I'm not.
You don't owe nothing to dead people.
Chigurh cocked his head. No? He said.
How can you?
How can you not?
You can change it.

I don't think so. Even a nonbeliever might find it useful  to model himself after god.
That's about the closest we get to a formal explanation to his actions and even that is confusing.
The three main characters. From the 2007 adaptation of the book.

When a writer makes a psycho character the character they normally write id a crazed, hedonistic, killer who wants as much fun as possible and doesn't care who get's killed in the process (e.g Alex DeLarge or The Joker). These characters love causing as much anarchy and chaos as possible. Anton is definitely not this type of character. I never got any hints that Anton wanted there to be chaos and to me Anton clearly sees some kind of fate and reason in this world. In fact It could almost be that Anton sees himself as fate and that he has the power over people's lives and that him killing them is unavoidable and has to be done - as if there is no other way. The only time in which he seems to break that idea of destiny is when he flips a coin to decide if someone lives or dies. 

But even if he is the most interesting character that doesn't mean the rest aren't, far from it. Even the most incidental character is still full of well-developed characteristics and personality and is still as detailed and interesting as the main ones. McCarthy is clearly excellent at characterisation, effortlessly creating memorable and defining characters with sometimes the littlest of words.

The novel itself is written very oddly. There are no speech marks for dialogue and the sentences lack any kind of punctuation. It makes for very weird reading first time and I wasn't sure if I liked this at first, after all these things are the backbone of writing and have been drilled into us since we were about 5. But I actually really admire the McCarthy decided to say "fuck you" to grammar. It's a fresh approach to writing that hasn't been done before and It's really a great way to experiment with the art. It's not even distracting either, you'd think trying to read something with no grammar would be difficult but it's not. The writing is perfectly fast-paced and and works just as well without the grammar than with it.

Also, the southern dialect is written superbly in this book. With the exception of Mark Twain I don't think any other author has managed to capture it so perfectly. It is so fantastically rich and strong you'll find it near impossible not to read occasional words aloud in a southern accent.

I didn't know about Cormac McCarthy before this book. Now I do, and I sure as hell am glad I found him. I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. You may like this funny open letter to Cormac McCarthy