From The Writer's Chair

No Country For Old Men – A Book Review

'Cormac McCarthy's Masterpiece'

'Cormac McCarthy's Masterpiece'

No Country For Old Men Review

“It’s a mess ain’t it sheriff”, Bell’s deputy asks him. “Well if it ain’t it’ll do till the mess gets here”, Bell reply’s knowing full well that hell has arrived in Texas.

‘There is no such thing as life without bloodshed’, said Cormac McCarthy in a rare interview thirteen years ago. A sentiment which echoes the plight of his character Llewelyn Moss in ‘No Country For Old Men’.

The recipe for a thriller needs only a limited number of ingredients to spark a readers’ interest and hold their attention. No Country For Old Men’ is a simple story of greed, revenge, violence, doubt and fear showing the full implication of one simple snap decision.

These are the most primal of human emotions. Ones which we can all comprehend and are able to identify with.

Whilst out hunting antelope near the Rio Grande Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a transaction gone horribly awry. Finding bullet ridden corpses, several kilos of heroin and a caseload of cash he faces a choice that he knows will change everything. Should he leave the scene as he found it or cut the money and run? Choosing the latter this begins a chain of events that will culminate in each participant asking the question, how does a man define his destiny?

Cormac McCarthys’ first novel since the acclaimed ‘Cities Of The Plain’ is a taught mesmerizing modern day western which tackles important philosophical questions with the brute tenacity it’s central antagonist displays throughout the story.

The punchy dialogue thrusts the reader forward at a relentless pace hurtling at a tremendous speed to the inevitable bloody climax.

Cormac McCarthy’s traditional retrospective prose has been completely abandoned here in favour of vibrant dialogue which reads as much like a screenplay as a novel will allow.

At times this unconventional novel seems to transcend genres, it is a neo-noir thriller western drama with aspects of satire and dark humour. It is truly uncharacterisable in the modern literary sense.

'What's The Most You Ever Lost On A Coin Toss?'

'What's The Most You Ever Lost On A Coin Toss?'

All characters appear fully formed and with very little back story revealed. In the case of Chigurh, the primary antagonist, he is solely described as someone without racial or religious characteristics. McCarthy describes him as someone who could have quite logically originated from anywhere, even the bowels of hell itself. Moss is a capable and resourceful man. He is a returning Vietnam veteran, though nothing in any great detail is explained of his experiences in the novel. Suffice to say he is more than capable of looking after himself. Much of Ed Tom Bell’s personality is deduced from his musings. He is a third generation lawman, that we know as much and now in the twilight of his career he appears bemused by much of the country around him. However, each character is central to the story as they complete ‘the three points of the triangle’. Chigurh is inherently evil. He has achieved an ambient state of grace that none of us will ever know. He is an individual whom applies his twisted logic to make sense of the world he perceives. Moss is the humanistic character, one whom everyone can identify with. He has both the light and the dark inside him and acts in his own best interests depending on the situation at hand, whereas Bell has become a pacified watchdog, not an attack dog whom is content overseeing his remaining days in a melancholic and lethargic fashion.

Despite the novels diluted format McCarthy’s bleak, violent fundamentalism is profoundly evident. The cynical tone of the novel allows the reader to fear the worst at the conclusion. McCarthy draws the reader into open gunfights on city streets, crude makeshift weaponry and agonising self medication and dressing in obscure motel rooms. The inevitable never seems too far away.

Such unrelenting sinister high hokum might be ridiculous if not for McCarthy’s insistence on pushing the reader forward at a relentless pace leaving very little, if any time to pause and digest what has just been described. Like Bell the exchanges between Moss and Chigurh leave us breathless and only able to sit back and watch in horror.

McCarthy guides us into an inevitable world of violence, it is an utterly absorbing and chilling tale. It is a heated story that brands itself on the readers mind as if seared by a knife heated on campfire flames.


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