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Cormac McCarthy – No Country for Old Men

Title: No Country for Old Men
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Narrator: Tom Stechschulte
Year: 2005

I first learnt of Comrac McCarthy after a friend recommended his novel The Road (only circumstance made me choose No Country for Old Men first, give me a week or two and I will probably review The Road as well), and later learning that the novel also gave birth to the film with the same name, which has also been recommended to me. The book is quite extraordinary in that it isn’t very extraordinary at all, and yet manages to be very good. I shall try to explain why this apparently paradoxical statement is true.

The story is probably the most important sign of mundanity: after a shootout in the desert close to the Rio Grande, Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss finds the only survivor of a terrible shootout between drug-trafficking gangsters. He also finds a briefcase containing more than two million dollars in cash. Moss leaves the dying Mexican and takes the money with him, but cannot help returning later to help the Mexican. This sparks a hunt for Llewelyn, which is the scarlet thread running through the narrative. Apart from Moss, there are two main characters: Ed Tom Bell, the sheriff and the main protagonist of the novel, and Anton Chigurh, psychopath, hitman and the antagonist.

Similar stories must have been told thousands of times, but still McCarthy does it in a memorable and intriguing way, and I can see a number of reasons for this. Most importantly, the story is split between the three main characters, and although they interlace frequently, it’s not a straightforward narrative. This means that the reader only gets patchy updates on what’s going on, which in this case leads to a novel which is actually thrilling to read (I can’t even remember when that’s happened before). Second, the characters are realistic, but yet unique enough to be interesting. I find Anton Chiguhr with his high-standard villainy to be the most fascinating character; the others are realistic, but perhaps not very unique.

What about language and style? Overall, it’s good. Cormac McCarthy knows when to spell something out and when not to, meaning that the novel is almost exactly as long as it should be (the end being an exception; it’s too long). He relies heavily on dialogue to let the characters tell his story for him, which means that we encounter a lot of “it don’t mean nothing” and “it ain’t them Mexicans” and so on. This lends credibility to the setting and the characters, but also grows quite annoying at times.

Conclusively, No Country for Old Men is quite good, very good in fact. The ending is weak, some characters are boring (although realistic), but on the other hand, the language is nice and the book about as long as it should be. In my case, Tom Stechschulte’s narration made the novel come alive, but I’m quite sure that was as much due to his skill as to the author’s. Four snails to my first Cormac McCarthy novel.

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