Thursday, October 18, 2007
book review - No Country for Old Men
A good friend of mine enthuses about Cormac McCarthy and tells everyone that he meets to start reading his books. But his recommendation comes with a caveat that the first 100 pages might be difficult going and you have to stick with it. The fact is that the book dies take a while to get going is not because of the reasons you might initially thing but is connected to the style.
The absence of quote marks, some problems working out as a result who is speaking as well as the descriptive technique means it is not until about page 100 that you feel settled and able to navigate through the rest of the novel.
By then the bodies have already started piling up and the three main characters are becoming clear – the sheriff Bell, the psycho Chigurh and the opportunist Moss – and you are starting to get drawn in to a story that has several directions it could head in.
Each chapter is prefaced with an italic dialogue that are the thoughts of Sheriff Bell who is clearly a very wise man but struggling to keep up with the cross-border trade in drugs and death. As the bodies stack up he starts to despair not just about this case but about the way things are heading in general.
Moss is one of the characters you most empathise with because the Vietnam veteran stumbles across a scene of carnage in the desert and finds a briefcase with $2.4m, which he takes. But as he is leaving one of the dying men asks for water. Moss makes the mistake of going back that night to take him some and from that moment until his death is being tracked by Chigurh and the Mexican drug dealers.
Chigurh is a strange character that has no problem killing someone on the flip of a coin not only because he enjoys it but also because it appeals to his moral code. He is ruthless, effective and determined not only to track down the money but also dish out his own flavour of revenge on the way.
When a hit man is sent to track him down you sense Moss and his wife might end up with the money but Chigurh is too good for them both and ends up getting the money and a couple more corpses.
In the end bell decides to retire but wonders if he is letting himself and the town down by making that decision and has flashbacks to when he let himself down in the second world war.
A freak accident with some Mexicans smoking drugs in a car sees the end of Chigurh’s killing spree and Moss, his wife and numerous other innocent bystanders end up getting shot down.
But this is not really a story about a single case but more a vivid example meant to illustrate how much the drugs business has distorted what is acceptable and how expendable a life is when it stand in the way of making millions out of crime.
The violence is meant to be extreme to not only show the futility of trying to fight it with traditional sheriff departments but how another more cynical generation is needed to comprehend the motivation of those that are breaking the law.
It is not only a requiem for Bell and the generations of lawmakers that had gone before him but also to that part of America. Impressive landscape and quiet towns are now being used as the backdrop of a war that cares nothing for the innocent. That is the real message you take away from this story that on occasions seems to be venturing on occasions into some sort of Quentin Tarentino inspired film script.