No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It is a twist of fate.
The public library in my home town, with only three bookcases of English books, harbors a few books that have been turned into movies at one time or another.
Perhaps not too surprising considering that the preponderance of crime novels and crime novels seem to be a favorite genre of books to turn into a movie.
And one of them is ‘No Country for Old Men’.
It’s a depressing title for sure. It invokes the image of cranky oldsters reminiscing how everything used to be better: the milk, the butter, the cheese, the people and the crime.
And it is that kind of book.
It would have been boring, if the writer hadn’t employed a few things to keep your attention.
First is the MacGuffin of the story. A man, called Moss, runs into a crime scene and finds a suitcase with a few million dollars. Everyone is dead, nobody knows he is there. What would you do?
Moss takes the money and runs.
But running isn’t as easy as he might think. For one, there is family to contend with, and for another, a lot of a other people want that money as well.
One of those is the coldhearted psychopath Anton Chigurh. The man carves a path of dead bodies through humanity. The dead pile up wherever he goes.
Next to him are a lot of shady, often unnamed, types that take potshots at Moss. Most of them are more meat for the meat grinder that Chigurh is. More dead bodies.
Next to those are the authorities, represented by Sheriff Bell, the old man in the title.
The whole story then proceeds along these three lines: Moss, Chigurh and Bell and ends in a tone true to the title: sad. I leave it open how sad exactly.
There is however something problematic with this book. The whole psychopath-goes-wild-theme is somewhat too fabricated. For some reason Chigurh gets away with murdering scores of people without the FBI getting involved. McCarthy paints us a picture of a wacko massacring a lot of people, often in the open, and he doesn’t get caught or even suspected and so Bell can exclaim ‘this is no country for old men’ and ponder quitting his job. I found that a weak element in the book. It is simply unbelievable that anyone can get away with what Chigurh did without the federals getting on his case and someone gunning him down.
Now this all makes for a book that would not have gotten more than three stars from me, if it wasn’t for the writing style. McCarthy uses various styles to tell the story. There is the internal monologue of Bell. There is the third person view of Moss and Chigurh and there is the for me interesting style of dialog.
I am used to write dialog like this:
“Where are you driving to?,” Merit says.
But McCarthy writes it down like this:
Where you going?
No “”, and usually no indicating of who says what. This could become confusing if not handled properly, but McCarthy does as he pulls it off if you pay attention. Sometimes I had to read back a little, but he usually keeps it clean enough so you are sure who is saying what.
For that I am giving McCarthy some extra credits. That is why I give the book 4 stars.
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