No Country for Old Men

I think if you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics…

I’ve read a few McCarthys this year, the first of which was The Road on the recommendation of just about everyone. I enjoyed it so much that I then read Blood Meridian followed by this. I had seen just enough of the film adaptation of this on the telly to read everything that Sheriff Bell said in Tommy Lee Jones’ voice (I love most his serious film work) but not so much as to give me much more than an impression of a plot with something implicitly permanently dark on the horizon. As it happens, I have enjoyed the films that have been made of McCarthy books so far – though reading that someone has the rights to Blood Meridian doesn’t fill me with too much confidence, I’m pretty sure that it’s unfilmable in any unaltered and meaningful sense.

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t seen the Coen brothers’ screen adaptation of this book and who have not picked up the book before, the plot is basically like this:

  • Your everyday Joe character out hunting deer on the Texan border stumbles across the remains of a drug deal gone horribly wrong, with bodies strewn everywhere, a truck full of heroin and a suitcase full of money – along with a dying gang member begging for water.
  • Joe, or Llewelyn in the book, faces the biggest decision of his life and decides to take the money and run.
  • However, in the middle of the night his conscience takes over and he remembers to return to the dying man with the water he asked for.
  • This is an incredibly bad move, as he and his truck are spotted by men from one of the gangs attempting to retrieve their money and when Llewelyn gets away they bring in Chigurh.
  • Chigurh is probably the most psychopathic character you will read in recent times, and he is nigh-unstoppable.
  • The story that follows is a game that is less cat-and-mouse than it is juggernaut-and-grape, such is the force of nature that is Chigurh.

Along the way, the aforementioned Sheriff Bell (from Llewelyn’s home town) is trying to work out what’s happened and how to stop it before anybody else dies – without great results – and narrates the passages before each chapter in the book, explaining a little bit about why he became a sheriff, the lessons that life has taught him, and his despair at the changing world of 1980s America. I shan’t spoil too much of the story for you if you haven’t read/seen it, I shall just say that there is a sense of forlorn hope and all the best intentions dismayed throughout these sections, with the only real sunbeam in Bell’s life coming from his wife. McCarthy pitched at just the right level of gritty, as it is not a crime novel in any overbearing sense – it’s a Neo-Western and the style is pulled off perfectly by his use of blunt imagery and expansive description. It has that exact same feel of the classic gunslinger films, the feeling of an almost atavistic evil in the unstoppable bad guy, like a force of nature (in a similar vein to the character of the Judge in Blood Meridian). It goes without saying that this almost makes the whole book very, very cool. This reminds that Barrett also has a plan for a Neo-Western, that he may or may not write about at some point over here – I really can’t recommend his blog enough (however sparsely he posts).

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