2 October 2009

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men, 2005

Out-of-his-depth Llewelyn Moss stumbles across a drugs deal gone horribly wrong, makes off with a case containing $2.4 million and engages the relentless pursuit of the toweringly bad Anton Chigurh. This is not a book that’s especially complex with its plot, and McCarthy makes it a relentless ride because it feels so completely testosterone-driven. It might be trite to say that his idiosyncratic grammar and punctuation is what carried this story for me: commas only when absolutely necessary, no quote marks, in fact nothing that detracts from the punch of his storytelling. McCarthy has his own way with written English; and why not, for him it’s a toolkit, he uses it as he wants but with precision.

The story itself is direct enough not to be bogged down with (or even need) much in the way of descriptive passages, although the rambling observations of Sheriff Bell on the decline of common decency gradually gain the upper hand in the reader’s mind over the the amoral violence of Chigurh, and you end up sympathising, if not completely then at least with a degree of respect for his outdated point of view. Bell may also be something of a Jubal Harshaw: McCarthy’s point seems to be that violence such as this needs to be considered minus its modern, fake, grafted-on glamour (à la Natural Born Killers) and seen once more in a properly moral context. In No Country For Old Men he embeds the men – and only the men – all at different levels in a culture of violence from the top to the bottom – the women, all but invisible in background supporting roles, can never upset the balance of machismo by getting in the way of the guys figuring it out for themselves, the hard way. A mostly excellent and memorable read despite its overtly masculine trajectory.  PY


No comments: