on 17 September 2011
like many people I came to the novel via film. The Coen's adaptation is noted for being faithful to the novel. So faithful that Ethan Coen nonchalantly described the writing process with the words "one of us one of us types into the computer while the other holds the spine of the book open flat." Despite the similarities many people who have come to the novel as I have feel that reading it was worthwhile because it "fills out the gaps of an otherwise excellent movie." The quotation in the previous sentence comes from a review on this website and I think it succinctly summarises the views of those who saw the film before reading the book. Yet such views miss the different ways in which McCarthy and the Coens cast their narratives. The modesty of the Coens only encourages this perception. Whether or not you prefer their version to the novel, they have created a story which is subtly different from that of the novel, and through comparison between it and the novel, the novel's themes can be seen more clearly.
To keep this review short, I will limit it to the differences between McCarthy's and the Coen's portrayals of Llewelyn Moss. What connects both is that despite Moss's fear of the crime world he has entered, he refuses to accept he is beaten. This is perhaps best expressed in scene that is actually exercised from the film. On arriving on the scene of Moss's death, Ed Tom Bell is told by another sheriff how even after begin "shot all to pieces" with a machine gun, Moss still manages to pick up his gun and shoot his assailant. However, in the film Moss is presented to the audience as someone who can prevail and his death - especially considering it comes not at the hand of Chigurh but at the hands of a Mexican hitman - comes as a heart-rendering surprise. In the novel, Moss is doomed from the moment he finds the case, looks inside, sees the money, and is scared in "a way that he [doesn't] even understand." This contrast between McCarthy's and the Coen's portrayals is demonstrated most clearly when Moss comes face to face with Chigurh. In the film, Moss shoots Chigurh through the door to his hotel room before fleeing out the window. He then climbs into a moving a truck, but Chigurh, who has followed him out the hotel, shoots the driver causing the truck to crash. Now comes the key part of the scene: Moss climbs out the truck, cross the street, and hides behind a car. Chigurh approaches the truck, with his back to Moss's hiding position, confidant that Moss dead. Moss shoots Chigurh. He emerges from behind the car, presumably ready to kill him, but Chigurh - just as he manages to do throughout both the film and the novel - disappears and makes his escape. Not only does Moss wound Chigurh but he also manages, if only for a brief moment, to out-fox Chigurh, turning him into the hunted and forcing him to flee.
Contrast this with the novel. Here Moss hides under his bed and allows Chigurh to enter before he points his gun at him. He orders Chigurh to drop his gun which he does. A moment now exists where Moss could kill him. But he doesn't because he lacks the will to do so. And Chigurh knows this. "[Chigurh] didn't even look at [Moss]. He seemed oddly untroubled. As if this were all part of his day." This is the difference between McCarthy's and the Coen's 'Moss'. The Coen's has the will to kill - no, assassinate - another human and thus is a little more like Chigurh, whilst McCarthy's is always the weaker man, even when he holds a shot gun and his pursuer is unarmed. McCarthy's Moss hesitates; The Coen's does not.
These different portrayals of Moss highlight McCarthy's thematic concerns and the Coen's stylistic concerns, though perhaps their themes too. Both narratives are concerned with Ed Tom Bell's feeling of helplessness in the face of a changing forces. McCarthy's portrayal of Moss highlights this theme by showing another person who tries to forge their own path yet is helpless when faced with Chigurh, the embodiment of the forces that are making the country no place for old men. The Coen's portrayal is man, who though ultimately defeated, is never helpless and until his death always has the chance making a "clean getaway." It could be argued that their prime motivation for this is to make the film more palatable to audiences. In a film as bleak and subtle as No Country for Old Men, it is quite reasonable to presume that audiences will want something to balance this. A hero, and one that has the chance to prevail. The Coen's Moss is an imperfect human being but in contrast to Mcarthy's he retains the attributes necessary to occupy the role of the hero. Perhaps this remains a difference between the film and the novel. Sebastian Faulks has declared the hero character to be dead in the modern literary novel, and McCarthy's portrayal of Moss fits this pattern. The Coens seem less willing to abolish the hero. The question which I think must be answered is whether is still a place for heroes or if in the world of No Country for Old Men they are no longer relevant.
This is the second Cormac McCarthy novel I've read after The Road and in some ways it is an even bleaker piece of work. The Road describes a future hell, No Country for Old Men is about a present (or recently past) Hades.
The basic story is of Llewellyn Moss, a hardworking cowboy with a young wife. Out hunting, Moss comes across the scene of a drug deal gone bad with bodies, heroin and millions of dollars left behind. Moss chooses to take the money but makes the mistake of returning to the scene to fulfil the request of a dying man.
This random act brings him into the sights of pyschotic hit man Chigurh and the rest of the story is then about Moss's increasingly desperate attempts to escape and Chirgurh's coldly lethal pursuit. The third major character is introduced as Chirgurh is himself followed (always at least a step behind) by the happily married Sheriff Bell.
Initially I thought the book was, as the blurb suggests a lament, for the corruption of the American dream, by drug dealing and the breakdown of old fashioned values. In fact the theme of the book seemed more "plus ca change" as the present day violence is contrasted with past violence in the west and with the violence of war. McCarthy also explores ideas of fate, of the power of the random in shaping our lives, of the battle between good and evil, and of our inability to escape the consequences of our actions. The book ends with discordant notes of hope and hopelessness, suggesting that in the end the power of events will drag even the best man down, but that there is hope of redemption in simple human love.
The three central characters are superbly drawn, both in and of themselves and as personifications of ideas, Moss is a blue collar everyman, Bell the voice of folksy small town America and Chigurh the elemental power of pure evil. In fact Chigurh is probably less a character than the force of fate or nature.
If you are drawn to this book by one of the reviews which reads "A western thriller with a racy plot and punchy dialogue, perfect for a lazy Sunday", I would expect you to be disappointed. Yes the dialogue is superb, but this is a deep, disturbing, thoughtful metaphorical novel and not something I would want to rush through, nor something I would read particularly to relax.
I have to say that about a quarter of the way in I was wondering if I would finish the book, finding the fractured structure difficult to get into, but in the end, No Country for Old Men is well worth the effort I feel is required at the start.
If you pick up this book because you loved the Coen brothers' film, then you will either adore it or loathe it. I'm torn between the two. 'No Country' is a mix of blunt-force trauma and philosophical debate. It's a study of how brutal, awful violence has pervaded American society, and how it blights the lives of the very ordinary people it touches. If you've seen the film then you'll know the plot and be familiar with the main characters -- all were faithfully drawn from the novel, although you get a deeper understanding of their back story and motivation in the book than you do in the film.
However, much as I love the plot, philosophy and characterisation, McCarthy's use of language drives me insane. He abandons large chunks of punctuation to capture, I assume, the speech patterns of the region. But attemping to read an entire novel written without speech marks in patois is extremely trying. It disrupted the whole flow of the text for me. I could just about manage the didnt couldnt wouldnt, but trying to understand whether a line was speech or not nearly ruined the book entirely. If you can cope with an entire novel written in text-message English then you'll be fine. But if I had not known the plot, and grit my teeth and determined to see it through, then I would have stopped reading after the first couple of chapters.
So it's left me feeling very wary of picking up any more books by Cormac McCarthy. Perhaps I'm just not cut out for modern American literature...
Either 1/10 or 9/10.
on 19 May 2008
You often see people compare books and the movies that are made from them. This is something that has happened to this book, with the book, perhaps surprisingly, coming off second.
This book isn't as bad as many people say it is. The best dialogue is lifted from the book, and while nearly every character (except the sheriff) is a bit "cardboard cutoutish," I don't necessarily think that that's a bad thing.
The book is about an old time cop's attempt to understand what the hell is happening in his county when drugs really hit the area in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Each chapter starts with a reminiscence, and the chapter kind of sort of addresses the issues he raises in the reminiscence. Through the chapters, however, runs the story of a guy's discovery of some drug money, and his increasingly forlorn attempts to avoid the guy who is trying to reclaim it.
As I said, I don't think the book is as good as the film (the book doesn't have quite the pacing that the film does), but it's not that bad either. You just need to think of it as a guy reminiscing about the past, rather than a linear thriller. You'll enjoy it better if you take that approach I think.
on 14 May 2015
Reviewers of this terrific book point to the "sparse" prose, unrelenting tension, a diabolical villain (but as strongly principled in his own way as the sheriff is in his - there's worse than Chigurh here) and the poetic evocation of dreams, Texas, and the past. Quite right too, so why only four stars? Because I think plotting lets the whole thing down and I wonder if CM was originally going to give us another 100 pages or so, possibly of Sheriff Bell hunting down an injured Chigurh, while he in turn went after Moss. The assassin's road accident near the end of our acquaintance with him has no organic connection with what's gone before and only a few effects - the sheriff interviewing the boys who took the gun from the wreckage mainly. I also didn't see the point of Moss falling in with a teen runaway either, unless it was to emphasise what a great down-home boy he really is, though that had already been accomplished. All this is carping: I finished the book at about midnight, put it down, and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Was that something in the back garden? I swore I heard something...
on 16 March 2007
This novel is different from Mc'carthys previous ones because he usually includes a lot of descriptions of nature. Nearly all of the settings in this are urban, so the more artistic side of his writing has no place. I think this is why reviewers are describing this book as being like a thriller.It does rattle along at a fair old pace compared to his previous books. It starts out very well but he seems to lose interest in it himself by the end. I think it turned out like a thriller by accident.If you have not read Mc'carthy before he writes in the tradition of his local dialect. All the descriptions of the charachters are external. There are no emotion words and you are never told what they are thinking, just what they say out loud,which isn't much. This means you only ever get part of the picture, and you have to work out most of whats going on for yourself. I do like his books very much but you have to be in the right sort of mood for them because they require more effort than the average novel. The prose also has it's own rhythym which puts you in a funny kind of trance for about an hour afterwards. This book would probably be a good introduction to his work because there is more action than usual.
on 25 August 2010
This is my third book that I have read by mcarthy (others being The Road and Child of God) so I knew exactly what to expect in terms of writing style and lack of punctuation.... however, sometimes I still found it rather difficult to follow the characters and occasionally the plot.
The Book starts off well enough with plently of grisly gunfire and deaths to keep even a Stephen King fan happy. We learn of the main characters very soon, but i often felt that I would have liked to have gotten into some of the sub characters a little more and allowed them to develope. Very often they appeared every few pages for a fleeting moment and then forgotten about (although not many survive very long).
As you expect from the author the plot rattles along at a more than steady pace, to the not so dramatic conclusion. Although I found the last 40 odd pages of the book the hardest to follow and have to admit got a fair bit confused at the end, having to reread various paragraphs to maintain a semi understanding of what was going on.
Def worth a read and will introduce you to a great author..........
on 6 May 2013
I tried to read 'The Road' previously and threw the book down after about five pages. The writing style in this book is the same and I found it very difficult to read. I decided to read it though, because I enjoyed the film and had images in my mind of the people involved. I would never have stuck with the book if I hadn't seen the film. I don't know why I did stick with it (sheer bloody mindedness I guess)but I sort of enjoyed it - if that makes sense!
I came to this having 1st read McArthy's latest book 'The road'. This is in many ways similar even though the subject matter is totally different.
A man finds some cars in the desert, the occupants have all been shot and in the back of one vehicle he finds an awful lot of money. His decision to make off with the cash sets in motion a relentless and inevitable chain of events.
The similarities with 'the road' are a really driven narrative that simply ploughs ahead and drags the reader with it, a plain narrative style that mixes speech and description,( no quotation marks are used), so that you are forced to read each sentence more carefully and more impact is gained this way.
In a short space of time the author has you rooting for the hapless 'hero' but as the story twists and turns and peolple die and change it becomes impossible to not face the truth that it's the decisions that should be simple, when we know what will happen if we do something foolish but we do it anyway, that have the biggest and most disasterous consequences for both us and the people around us.
The law enforcers, hitmen, thief and his loved ones are all shaken up beyond redemption by what happens. McCarthy's excellent use of dialect and ability to paint a picture of southern American small town life in so few words is a testament to his writing prowess.
This is only the second book of his I have read but both have been like a car crash, you don't want to look, you know you shouldn't but you just have to and he leaves the reader numbed and breathless.
It's all in the detail and McArthy paints his landscapes with a fine brush.
If you want an easily digested blockbuster look elsewhere but if your brain is in gear and you want it exercised then this is easily recommended.
on 8 November 2012
This is the third of MacCarthy's books i've read. He is rated very highly in america and though the stories have all been good, i find it difficult to follow the plots. the lack of punctuation, the continual descriptions of the same locations, obscure the storyline; and often i found myself mixing up the characters, where they were, and not being able to follow dialogues. The film was much better than the book.