Review by Ben K
Set near the American/Mexican border No County for Old Men concerns a Vietnam war veteran, Llewelyn Moss, who stumbles across a drug-deal-gone-wrong, taking a case containing a million (or thereabouts) dollars from the scene. As you can imagine, the drug-trafficking tycoons aren’t too happy, and both sides have contract killers hunt Moss and money down, one of which goes by the name of Anton Chigurgh. Merciless, enigmatic, elusive and psychopathic, Chigurgh believes that he is a disciple of fate and that those that he kills are destined to suffer at his hands. in momoents of doubt, he flips a coin.
Meanwhile, the last player in this game of cat and mouse, and trying to track everyone down is Sherrif Ed Tom Bell, an old law-enforcer who undergoes a quiet crisis of the sould. He’s always looked up to “the old-timers”, but has never really found his feet in the modern world. He’s stuck in the past; a time when crime was smuggling cattle. Rodeos, bar brawls, showdowns, shootouts on horseback. A time when there was such a thing a acode of honour. He can’t understand a new world of suicides, drugs, money, ruthless murders and psychotic killings. He’s not cut out to deal with such matters, not ‘willing to put his soul at hazard’, and this case pushes him over the edge. In amongst this ‘new kind’, he seems like a child. Though people say that he is just getting old, sheriff Bell knows that it is the world that is following a downhill path.
Chigurgh is a fascinating character, as his views contrast greatly with Bell’s. Though his ideas about fate and destiny initially seem bizarre, they slowly start to make sense the deeper in to the novel you read. He is also an honest man, and invariably keeps to hisword. He sees the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and though he is hired by one crimelord, he realises that this man is the guilty party, shoots him and instead delivers the money to the other side. He may not abide by the law, but he follows his own rules, and this code of conduct does hold moral ground. One character says that one ‘could almost say he has principles’. I recently read Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs Dalloway. In this, the character of Clarissa was meant to represent the sane truth, and the character of Septimus the insane truth; this is equally true of the sheriff and Chigurgh.
Cormac McCarthy’s writing is very special. He is extremely sparing with his words – you won’t find many lavish descriptions, nor elaborate, ornate language, and his concision often results in a rapid pace. This is certainly true for no Country, which hurtles along like a rocket. However, though he is very economical with language, often just describing physical actions and occasionally lending a sentence or two here and there to characters’ internal thourghts, he still creates pasages of great beauty, and in the case of one of his most recent works, The Road, poetry and horror.
And it’s not just the prose that’s great. Dialogue is razor-sharp, and he has a great ear for the regional vernacular. In No Country, you can just hear that southern twang as you read it. The colour with which McCarthy’s characters speak really helps to paint their personalities, and indeed, in his books, a characer can be definied in a couple of lines of dialogue. A scene can be perfectly illustrated within a sentence. He really understands languages and its effect on the reader’s perception of the story.
I urge you to try No Country for Old Men, which can be read as a gripping thriller, or as a pensive meditation on morality and fate. Try anything by Cormac McCarthy, whose perceptive, evocative writing has cemented my admiration for him.