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Good Reads Review: No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy novels really have something about them.

He's the kind of author that rarely exists nowadays, and while he has recently blessed us with two brand new novels back-to-back, many are expecting them to be his final books. His novels are infused with an honesty, grittiness, and an unflinching examination of the human condition that can fill readers with dread, yet also serve as undeniably compelling page-turners.

We are lucky that many adaptations of McCarthy's novels have kept these elements of his books. However, of all the adaptations No Country for Old Men has proven to be one that has increasingly stood the test of time. With this being my way in to the world of McCarthy, I was especially excited to read the original novel on which the Academy Award winning film is based.

For those unfamiliar, the novel follows three central characters: Llewellyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran and welder, Anton Chigurh, a cold-blooded assassin, and Ed Tom Bell, the County Sheriff.

When Moss stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong in the Texas wilderness, he finds himself a satchel containing $2 million dollars in cash. Sensing an opportunity for himself, he takes the money. But shortly afterwards he is spotted, and all hell breaks loose. With a price on his head and everyone he loves at risk, the drug dealers hire Chigurh to track the money down, and he will cut down anyone in his way to get it. Lastly, Bell completes the trifecta, going after both the thief and the killer.

I was shocked to read that this novel received mixed reviews upon release. Upon reading it, while it did fall below my gargantuan expectations, that doesn't make it a bad book. As an actual cat-and-mouse story, you cannot deny what an achievement the storytelling is.

McCarthy really dives into the heads of these characters, and while some might be unlikeable on the page you feel every feeling, take every hit, and sweat through every interaction they endure. True to form, this is a brutal book at times.

The two massive standouts are easily Chigurh and Bell. The former is a chilling, unrelenting monolith, extreme in his efficiency as an assassin; and his cold-hearted nature instantly makes you fear for any unfortunate soul that crosses his path. Bell meanwhile serves as the primary voice of the story, and true to the title, he is it's heart and soul, filled with weariness and fear; and coming to the realisation that he is outmatched and going up against forces that he barely understands.

True to form, McCarthy's voice is expertly translated onto the page and his approach on focusing on the actions of characters in the build up to conflict has moments of surprising effectiveness, filling every moment with that creeping sense of dread. However, this can lead to moments where the story can drag, especially after high moments of action when characters are dealing with the repercussions of said events.

However, the climax of the book which has been widely discussed is a particular highlight, where McCarthy's examinations of death and self-determinism really shine through.

With this book, McCarthy tells a story about the anger, fear and the ultimate acceptance of a fact we will all face: that there will come a point where the world will inevitably change into something you won't understand and barely recognise. While I'll leave the specifics of the ending out for spoilers, it leads to more questions of self-determinism being asked by the reader long after the final page.

You cannot deny that this is a compelling examination of an inevitable experience all humans will face, and this book is a must read for those diving into the world of Cormac McCarthy for the first time.



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