No Country for Old Men

by Cormac McCarthy

Hardcover, 2005

Collection

Publication

Knopf (2005), 320 pages

Description

Llewelyn Moss is hunting antelope near the Texas/Mexico border when he stumbles upon several dead men, a big stash of heroin, and more than two million dollars in cash. He takes off with the money--and the hunter becomes the hunted. A drug cartel hires a former Special Forces agent to track down the loot, and a ruthless killer joins the chase as well. Also looking for Moss is the aging Sheriff Bell, a World War II veteran who may be Moss' only hope for survival.

Media reviews

All that keeps No Country for Old Men from being a deftly executed but meretricious thriller is the presence, increasingly confused and ineffectual as the novel proceeds, of the sheriff of Comanche County, one of the "old men" alluded to in the title.
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"No Country for Old Men" is an unholy mess of a novel, which one could speculate will be a bitter disappointment to many of those eager fans. It is an unwieldy klutz that pretends to be beach reading while dressed in the garments of serious literature (not that those are necessarily mutually exclusive concepts). It is a thriller that is barely thrilling and a tepid effort to reclaim some of the focus and possibly the audience of McCarthy's most reader-friendly novel, "All the Pretty Horses." Worst of all, it reads like a story you wished Elmore Leonard had written -- or rather, in this case, rewritten.
Mr. McCarthy turns the elaborate cat-and-mouse game played by Moss and Chigurh and Bell into harrowing, propulsive drama, cutting from one frightening, violent set piece to another with cinematic economy and precision. In fact, ''No Country for Old Men'' would easily translate to the big screen so long as Bell's tedious, long-winded monologues were left on the cutting room floor -- a move that would also have made this a considerably more persuasive novel.
In the literary world the appearance of a new Cormac McCarthy novel is a cause for celebration. It has been seven years since his Cities of the Plain, and McCarthy has made the wait worthwhile. With a title that makes a statement about Texas itself, McCarthy offers up a vision of awful power and waning glory, like a tale told by a hermit emerging from the desert, a biblical Western from a cactus-pricked Ancient Mariner.
Cormac McCarthy's ''No Country for Old Men'' is as bracing a variation on these noir orthodoxies as any fan of the genre could expect, although his admirers may not be sure at first about quite how to take the book, which doesn't bend its genre or transcend it but determinedly straightens it back out.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Polaris-
I'm wary of 'reviewing' a book that already has clocked some hundreds of such entries. The excellent and gripping film adaptation directed by the Coen brothers received a rightly deserved amount of attention as well. So a lot of people know this one already. Nevertheless, this was my first read of McCarthy's work, (picked up for a quid in a bank of all places!) so I'll attempt to convey my impressions having just finished the book.

This is set in the year 1980. Before the triumphalist era of Reagan sets in and at a time when the USA was perhaps beginning to sense itself a nation that had passed something. An America when the Vietnam war was a very fresh wound on the national psyche.

Texan Llewelyn Moss is a veteran of that war. He is hunting alone in the Rio Grande hinterland, and happens upon a very bloody drug smuggling denouement - which includes a shot-up vehicle, a dying occupant, and a file case full of cash. Millions. He makes a decision that will change his own life and the lives of several others.

(SPOILER AHEAD!)

"It had already occurred to him that he would probably never be safe again in his life and he wondered if that was something that you got used to. And if you did?"

A second man has made it his business to find the case of money and return it to whom it belongs. Anyone interfering with this endeavour will be mercilessly eliminated. There follows a fast-paced and intensely described series of episodes as we see how life indeed changes very immediately for Moss and his family, and how the second man, Chigurh, sets about retrieving the case.

McCarthy's story is told narrated in the third person, except that a third principle character - that of the investigating local Sheriff Ed Tom Bell - reflects back on this time with a first person narrative which intersperses each chapter. The effect is one that is somehow cinematic, as we the reader experience the story in rotation from one perspective to the next. The good, the bad, and the fearful. The language used by the author is as spartan as the surrounding terrain.

"...Where he crested out the country lay dead flat, stretching away to the south and the east. Red dirt and creosote. Mountains in the far and middle distance. Nothing out there. Heatshimmer. He stuck the pistol in his belt and looked down at the river one more time and then set out east."

The characters are drawn with a similar economy but are all too believable. The character of Chigurh alone is one of the most terrifying and coldly calculating psychopaths I've ever read. Sheriff Bell is an aging and somewhat disillusioned cop, on the eve of his retirement. Bell's 'tale' as told to us is one as much about a sense of a declining morality, a changing American civilisation, and even life itself, as it is one about a drugs deal gone bad, a case of money, and a trail of dead bodies.

This is no ordinary crime tale, but rather a comment on something much larger than that, something that I couldn't quite grasp exactly. Possibly that there is a creeping decay of sorts at work, which colonises and changes society as we know it. The criminals and the cops alike, and maybe an honest welder like Moss as well. Not the most uplifting read, but a very affecting one that is well written and should have you turning the pages. Definitely going back for more McCarthy.
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LibraryThing member wortklauberlein
A modern morality tale that sucks the reader in and doesn't let him go. Several veterans of foreign wars, each a very different man, are ensnared in a new war in southern Texas. The questionable morality of their own wartime experiences pales in comparison with the amoral hunter-stalker bent on not only retrieving a stolen shipment of heroin and the $2.2 million meant to pay for it but also on keeping his own balance sheet of lives taken and lives saved at the flip of a coin. Do the decisions small and large that we make along the way inexorably shape our fates?… (more)
LibraryThing member LovingLit
Oh-la-la. I saved this book so that I would have something to look forward to reading. And it turns out I had a lot to look forward to.

The violence that I knew was in this story had been off-putting to me. There are a lot of people getting shot in the head, it seems. But the simplicity in which the events are described allow the coldness of the killers characters to come through, and also let us off the hook in terms of being on the receiving end of graphic descriptions of it all. There is not a lot of mercy shown by the main perpetrator, he is a man who sets very high standards for himself in being thorough in his retribution.

The story starts in the chance discovery of a crime scene. A lot of money, drugs, guns and dead people. Moss, the man who chanced upon this scene and is very tempted by the money, makes a decision. This decision starts off a string of events that results in the deaths of many and a cat and mouse type situation involving the man who has the money, the men who want the money and the sheriff who wants the whole mess over and done with.

As usual, for me, the story is secondary to the way it is told. I love McCarthy's writing, I love the way his dialogue flows without the use of speech marks or "he said/she said" type fillers. The story itself, also happens to be quick, gripping is cast with people we can see ourselves talking to. People who are struggling with past decisions, and the repercussions these have on their current situation.
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LibraryThing member bragan
Llewelyn Moss is hunting in the desert one day when he comes across the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. He comes away from the encounter with a suitcase full of money and the realization that now both parties involved are after him, as well as the local sheriff. This initially seems like a completely standard action thriller plot, although McCarthy's sparse, literary writing elevates it many notches above standard thriller quality without sacrificing any of the tension. Among other things, I have to admire the way he manages to effectively portray the main bad guy as really, really scary using just a few very simple brushstrokes.

Ultimately, though, the plot isn't what the novel is about at all, and in the end it all but abandons it in order to become what it really is: a meditation about the deterioration of American society. Which is a little disconcerting, perhaps, but it works better than you might expect. I am particularly impressed by the fact that the perspective it's told from, a conservative point of view I normally have very little sympathy for, elicited very real feelings of empathy and understanding in me.

The one thing about MCarthy's writing that doesn't thrill me is his apparent hatred for any form of punctuation other than the period. I think this sort of worked in The Road. I remember commenting after reading that one that it gave the impression that all the apostrophes had been destroyed in the apocalypse, and it's possible I wasn't entirely joking; perhaps it did help to enhance that novel's particular sense of bleakness. In this one, though it mainly struck me as irritating and a little pretentious. (Not that this one isn't also bleak, mind you, but it's bleak in a different way.) Worse, there were a couple of places where the lack of a comma or an appropriate set of italics led to enough ambiguity that I found myself confused for a paragraph or several. And this, folks, is the reason why these conventions exist in the first place! Fortunately, it's a good enough book in all other respects that I was able to get past that. Mostly.
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LibraryThing member jjtyler
Wow.

I think you can sum up the entire review with the word above. This book is a lean juicy steak with zero fat. That is the most important thing about this story, that there is zero fluff, because if there was any unneeded junk put into the story, it wouldn't work at all.

I love that McCarthy isn't some literary aficionado somewhere at some university but he is somewhere living in a truck out in West Texas or East New Mexico, writing.

Seeing the movie before the book did not hamper my joy in reading this one bit. What is great about the book is that you get much more of Sheriff Tom Bell, and you get to see his view of things in panorama.

Moss's demise is explained in greater detail, and although it is still not satisfactory for most, it is the way McCarthy intended the book to be, without a tidy ending and without any sense of justice.

There is quite a bit more of Anton Chigurh as well, and he gives out some of his philosophy and world views, especially right before he kills someone. I'm not sure why he is obsessed with the people knowing why he is killing them before he does it, but this is part of his M.O., showing the victims that their life is hopeless if it led to this point.

This book is a fast read, and that is mostly because a good portion of it is dialogue. I'm a sucker for good southern dialogue, and McCarthy's use of the language and dialect is unmatched in this generation.

This is a highly recommended read, despite if you have seen the movie or not, and go into knowing that this is more than a story, but McCarthy's view on civilization and the culture of violence. If you missed his point in the movie, the book won't leave you guessing as to what this all means. We're all in a basket, and we're all heading down south.

I'm going out of my way here to say that I can't remember enjoying a book this much, despite the depression that lingers after reading it. It has jumped up to my top five books of all times list, and may be close to the first. I know that means something to you.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the themes of my recent selection, No Country for Old Men, was amazingly timely. At the surface, it’s October, and I’ve already read a ghost story – why not throw a story about a sociopath to the mix? But at a deeper level, it’s a story about what’s happening to our country with each passing generation – how things are getting more obtuse, more complicated and less hopeful. With our presidential election right around the corner, I could not have stumbled upon a timelier theme.

No Country for Old Men is a complex story. At one level, it’s the story of Llewellyn Moss, a 36-year old Vietnam veteran who stumbled into a drug bust gone wrong and managed to snag millions of dollars in drug money. The Mexican drug lords are chasing Moss, but his biggest concern is that of Anton Chigurh – a clever, cold-hearted killer whose methods of execution are startling and gut wrenching.

On another level, it’s the story of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who policed his county without issue for a number of years, until the bad drug bust and the arrival Chigurh to his county. Bell carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, stemming back from his service during the Second World War. He desperately wanted to close this case, bring Moss to safety and retire without incident.

If you saw the movie, you picked up on the excellent characterization and spine-tingling plot. However, you missed McCarthy’s gift of writing – of presenting a story on the page that will leave you wanting more. McCarthy does not use quotation marks and other punctuation marks, which will drive the traditionalists nuts, but there’s something about the way he presents his stories that’s simple and superior. It’s like eating a delicious vegetable without the butter, sauce or salt – just the raw deliciousness that God created.

With recent comments made by Nobel judges that Americans lack talented writers, I sneer. Cormac McCarthy is among the best. It’s too bad these judges are overlooking such talent – because he’s among the best our country offers the literary world.
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LibraryThing member scofer
The story kicks off with Moss, who accidentally stumbles upon the scene of a drug deal gone bad while out hunting, and discovers bodies everywhere as well as a case containing $2.4 million. Moss takes off with the case, setting off a pursuit by Bell, an old sheriff who is trying to catch the bad guys but also trying to keep Moss out of harms way, as well as by Chigurgh, a hit man who is relentlessly tracking Moss to get the money back and to enforce his own evil code of justice.

I am conflicted about this book and struggling to explain why. Just coming off reading The Road (which I loved) and anticipating the movie made by the Coen Brothers, my expectations were high. Perhaps too high. While I loved the sparse, bullet fire narrative style, I grew weary of Bell’s reflections. I found parts of the book to be brilliant and riveting, while others bored me. Portions of the book were well developed, while others dropped me flat with little to no explanation as to what just happened. I might need to go back and re-read the book, perhaps skipping Bell’s prose which dragged on for pages. Chigurh is certainly fascinating, if not blood chilling. I will never look at a coin toss in the same way. Did I like this book? I'm really not sure. It certainly is not for everyone.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
After reading Cormac McCarthy's book The Road in May, I knew I would read more of his novels. Like that novel, No Country For Old Men is filled with brutal violence and asks deep questions about the nature of evil, morality and the idea of fate vs. choosing our own path.

When Lewelyn Moss stumbles across a drug deal gone bad out in the desert and walks away with a briefcase filled with over two million dollars, he sets off a string of savage murders and places himself and his wife in harm's way. Ed Tom Bell, an old time sheriff on the brink of retirement, carries the novel with his dry sense of humor and musings on the philosophy of life and its moral decline. Chigurh (apparently pronounced 'sugar' ... although I thought this character could better be described as 'chigger') seems to be the embodiment of evil - a super human monster who appears to have no respect for human life.

McCarthy takes the reader for a wild ride through the first half of the book. I found myself unable to put the novel down. The scenes are nail bitters, written like a screenplay. It is not surprising that the movie based on the book will be released in November 2007.

But then, McCarthy slows things down midway, giving the reader more to think about than who will be the next victim. Do our choices seal our fate in life? Are our lives merely determined by the flip of a coin? Or do we have the power to control our lives through the moral decisions we make? McCarthy doesn't give the reader any easy answers, and perhaps that is because there are not any. In the end, we are left with the symbol of a fire being lit in the darkness - perhaps the suggestion that we may still shine our light on evil, and reveal it for what it is.

Recommended.
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LibraryThing member angrywayne
I feel like so many reviews of this book give a lot away about the plot, that out of context, doesn't lend well to the writer or the novel. The last time I set down a McCarthy book, was when I finished Suttree a few years ago. I took a deep breath then and I took a deep breath again with No Country for Old Men. His adept use of dialect and imagery spurs my imaginaton back home to Texas. I think back to when I was a kid and the land stretched out before me and stories unfolded in the possibility and the plausibility of the harshness of the land and what it could do to man struggling within it. This book brought my heart back to those moments walking in the fields all alone, when you think you are alone. All of the sudden your heart lands in your throat as you are overcome with a feeling that something is not right, and you are afraid to look back.

He's captured the humanity of it all again. For me his stories revisit the same theme again and again, and as he ges older, they just get better.

I kind of want to read it again.

Just today I clicked on a trailer for the movie, yes they've made a movie of it already, and the first thing I thought was "..what a shame for those who never read the book..."
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LibraryThing member Periodista
Wow. Unputdownable, cinematic, violent, true and all the other accolades. You can see why the Coens grabbed it for a movie; there must have been quite a fight for the screen rights. Is there any physical description at all? The dialogue (and what a dialect!) carries everything.

I bet there was little debate: the sheriff had to be Tommy Lee Jones.

But it's Sheriff Bell's thoughts that should be the center of any book discussion. That's where the meaning of it all coalesces. I wish online book discussions worked because this is a book I'd like to talk about.
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LibraryThing member gbill
What I liked:
- McCarthy paints a picture of the country and the characters; the chapters early in the book are particularly good.

- The "voice" of the characters, both endearing and real.

- Musings on whether violence in man is "new", and other thoughs from the Sheriff directly in the chapters written from his perspective that are interspersed throught the book. He is far from incompetent, but is simplly overwhelemd and outmatched. His conversations with his old uncle at the end is great.

- Stark and direct. McCarthy does not waste a single word and "brings it", but despite that is still able to develop interesting characters and philosophize.

What I disliked:
- It's certainly not a book for anyone who dislikes violence (or lack of punctuation :-)), the bodies quickly pile up as the story goes on.

- Inexplicable behavior; the first of which is admitted as idiotic by the character ("I'm fixin to go do somethin dumbern hell but I'm goin anyways" ... also "There is no description of a fool, he said, that you fail to satisfy"), but the second of which is just baffling.

Favorite quotes:
"I thought I'd never seen a person like that and it got me to wonderin if maybe he was some new kind."

"I dont even want to know. I dont even want to know what all you been up to.
He sipped the beer and nodded. That'll work, he said.
I think it's better just to not even know even.
You keep runnin that mouth and I'm going to take you back there and screw you.
Big talk.
Just keep it up.
That's what she said.
Just let me finish this beer. We'll see what she said and what she didnt say."

"Where's your truck at?
Gone the way of all flesh. Nothin's forever."

"You think about a job where you have pretty much the same authority as God and there is no requirements put upon you and you are charged with preservin nonexistent laws and you tell me if that's peculiar or not. Because I say that is. Does it work? Yes. Ninety percent of the time. It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it."

"People complain about the bad things that happen to em that they dont deserve but they seldom mention the good. About what they done to deserve them things. I dont recall that I ever give the good Lord that much cause to smile on me. But he did."

"Nineteen is old enough to know that if you have got somethin that means the world to you it's all that more likely it'll get took away. Sixteen was, for that matter. I think about that.
Bell nodded. I aint a stranger to them thoughts, Carla Jean. Them thoughts is very familiar to me."

"The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that's a high compliment in my part of the world."

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

"You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it's made out of. Nothin else."

"I think by the time you've grown you're as happy as you're goin to be. You'll have good times and bad times, but in the end you'll be about as happy as you was before. Or as unhappy. I've knowed people that just never did get the hang of it."

"You can be patriotic and still believe that some things cost more than they're worth. Ask them Gold Star mothers what they paid and what they got for it. You always pay too much. Particularly for promises."

"You know that Gospel song? We'll understand it all by and by? That takes a lot of faith. You think about him goin over there and dyin in a ditch somewheres. Seventeen year old. You tell me. Because I damn sure dont know."

"This country will kill you in a heartbeat and still people love it."
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LibraryThing member prof_brazen_guff
Only the second McCarthy book I've read, the other being Suttree, so not quite what I was expecting. On the surface, the novel is a fast-paced thriller set in the American South, with bodies falling all over the place, and only a disillusioned old sheriff on the case.

Behind this narrative, however, there is an exploration of loss, of age, decay (physical and moral), and the betrayal represented by the American Dream, gradually become a nightmare.… (more)
LibraryThing member jawalter
I haven't read a lot of Cormac McCarthy, but from what little I've encountered, the man sure does like to paint a bleak picture of the world. I'm just not sure that I care.

McCarthy reminds me of one of the "old men" referred to in the title, vainly attempting to remember a past in which the world and the people in it made some sort of sense. What I think he misses is that the universes he imagines, whether it be the post-apocalyptic world of The Road or the pre-apocalyptic world of this book, are no country for any kind of man, old or otherwise. His characters might as well give up by page 2.

That's not to say I didn't like the story, in which a basically decent man makes a decision, for which he is doomed to be pursued by an unrelenting spectre of death, all the while being watched over by the benevolent, but impotent, figurehead of the law. It becomes apparent very early on that Moss was a dead man from the minute he picked up the case of money, and after that, the reader can only count the pages remaining until he dies.

It's an entertaining story; it just feels like you've finished reading it before you're even halfway through.

I was surprised by how faithful the Coen brothers were in their adaptation, but it's easy to forget that when they're not indulging in the quirkiness that suffuses most of their comedic work, they seem to share McCarthy's cynical outlook.

Also, the refusal to use quotation marks is just plain distracting, a constant reminder that the author wants you to know you're reading something important. Punctuation isn't a style. Writing without it is like cooking without heat.
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LibraryThing member squeakjones
Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men is deceptive. On the surface a bare bones, ruthless narrative about a man on the run from a cold-blooded killer and the sheriff who tries to figure out the puzzle of what went down, it's also a meditation on the nature of the country as we see it now, as opposed to how we viewed it in the past. It's a book about how our perception of evil has become more grand and black with every passing generation, and where we seek to identify ourselves within that framework. It's also a story of responsibilities, to family, to community, to one's self.

The plot is almost an afterthought - quiet vet Llewelyn Moss, hunting in the plains on the Texas-Mexico border comes across a couple trucks, several dead men, blocks of heroin, and 2.4 million in cash. Moss takes the money, and from there it is a bloody chase across Texas and Mexico as psycho-killers, Mexican drug dealers, and a determined sheriff follow Moss for their own reasons. McCarthy's writing is brief but poetic - it takes a few pages to get used to his unique writing style but once you're there the story moves at break-neck speed until its all-too-abrupt conclusion. Sheriff Bell, the narrator/voice of reason in the book contemplates that this new world he's seeing is indeed No Country for Old Men, and perhaps the evil apparent in killer Anton Chigurh is an evil we may all be destined for if the world continues to dip and sway on the tip of its own modernity.

For anyone who has not yet read McCarthy, this is supposedly his most accessible book ,and might serve as a great starting place before dipping into heavier fare such as All the Pretty Horses, Suttree, or Blood Meridian. The Coen Brothers are also currently adapting this book to be their next feature film, which sounds fantastic, since in many ways the themes here echo FARGO and, to a lesser extent, BLOOD SIMPLE. Great book, A-.
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LibraryThing member raggedprince
A very well executed thriller but not my favourite Cormac McCarthy. I didn't like having my nose rubbed in so much death. And I missed the presence of the landscape which is so strong in his other novels.
LibraryThing member Ruby_Barnes
Chigurh - an intelligent psychopath.

Third person narrator alternating with Sheriff Bell's first person reflections in italics. McCarthy's style throws dialogue and prose together without punctuation. This removes the need for speech tags and gives an immediacy to the story. The voices of the three protagonists are clearly distinguishable and the psychopathic villain Chigurh is worrying enough to keep the reader awake at night. Even though I knew the plot from the film, I was still stunned by McCarthy's summary and effective dismissal of two key characters. The horror and pressure tails off a bit at the end, which loses the fifth star for me, but in another way I was glad that cooling off phase was there to bring me down from the horror of Chigurh.… (more)
LibraryThing member John
No Country for Old Men is, on the surface, a murder-thriller that unfolds when, Llewelyn Moss, out hunting antelope, stumbles across shot-up vehicles and a number of bodies in a drug deal gone bad in the desert, and he also finds a bag with a couple of million dollars in it. He completely changes his lifepath, and those of several other people, when he takes the money and thus becomes the target of drug lords and a psychopathic killer named Anton Chigurh, as well as Bell, the small town sheriff in whose territory the murders took place. The chase, with a growing pile of bodies bloodily and often gratuitously murdered by Chigurh, ranges across Texas and just over the border into Mexico. McCarthy is unsparing in his descriptions of violence and brains splattering and arteries pumping through blasted throats. The novel also does not have the relief of the lush descriptions of countryside that lighten, somewhat, the violence in Blood Meridian. Here the action, and to some extent the thinking of some of the characters, is very much at the centre of the narrative.

The novel is about much more than just the violence. It is about those decisions in life that do alter a lifepath, and not always huge ones like whether or not to keep a couple of million dollars of obviously illegal money. As Chigurh himself says, "Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased....A person's path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning." Chigurh uses this reasoning to excuse himself as a tool of pre-ordained destiny in killing people. Certainly, every moment is a turning and a choosing, and looking back one cannot erase lines, but paths are not predetermined, they only seem to be in hindsight and the straight-line projection of history when one forgets the forks that were faced. This, in a sense, is the realization that Sheriff Bell comes to as he considers his life, his past actions, and his desire to change where he is in life.

This is also a novel about changes in society that lead to an unraveling of cohesion, of shared values, of broadly shared goals, of increasing division socially and politically, about vastly increased scopes for violence. Chigurh is the extreme model: a man who kills with no more compassion that one would have for swatting a mosquito, but who is even more dangerous for having constructed what he believes is a valid belief system. Moss is essentially a good man and a tough and resourceful guy, but he makes a serious mistake in taking the money and in thinking that he can deal with the subsequent pressures, not even being aware of the ripple effects on the lives of others. Sheriff Bell is a man who harbours guilt because people believe him to be better than he thinks he has been, and who realizes that he is simply not up to the task, that this world of ultra and gratuitous violence and death is way beyond him. Bell is the only character who actually changes; all the others remain as they were, or die; but Bell, strongly supported by the love and companionship of his wife, does finally take that fork that will let him live a quieter and more peaceful life.
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LibraryThing member bibliobibuli
Any synopsis of the plot is going to make the book look like pulp fiction. But what makes the book absolutely remarkable is the terse, spare writing, the crisp dialogue and the way that each page crackles with tension. It's so cinematographic that I can't think that the Coen brothers had to do too much work to bring it to the screen. (Although they seem to have done a pretty good job!)

Then there's the depth of characterisation, and the deeper questions about free will versus determinism, and the nature of good and evil.

Anton Moss, a welder and ex-Vietnam vet, is out hunting antelope in the arid scrub near Rio Grande when he stumbles into the aftermath of a gun battle in which the members of a drug convey have been slaughtered. And then he finds a suitcase with a cool $2.4 million inside.

Soon he is a fugitive fleeing from the hired gun, sent to retrieve the money, an icy-cold psychopath called Anton Chigurh (the name rhymes with "Sugar" ironically) who has a perverted sense of moral justice, a real angel of death who models himself on God. Chigurh decides the fate of his victims with a flick of a coin and calmly dispatches them with a stungun of the sort used in slaughter houses.

And then there's Bell, a small town sheriff struggling to do the duty he is entrusted with in a world that seems to be changing steadily for the worse. He is also doing his best to track Moss down before it's too late. The narrative of the novel alternates between omniscience and chapters where Bell is given free-reign to talk about his own history and philosophy of life in monologues that read like something from Studs Terkel's classic oral histories. Bell is a good man but he doesn't really have his finger on why the world is going to hell in a hand basket, even though he can see that it is.

To complicate matters, a special forces agent employed by a powerful cartel is also hot on Moss' trail. And there's Moss' young wife, who also needs to do a runner with her dying mother to avoid being picked off by Chigurh.

Although The Road was probably the most powerful novel I've read this year, I think this novel is far better from the technical point of view. And although McCarthy's use of punctuation is every bit as eccentric here, it seems to fit with the way the Texan dialect is written and doesn't grate as it does in The Road. (I did though sometimes get lost in dialogues, since there is no indication of who is speaking.) And thankfully, there are fewer choppy sentence fragments of the kind that had me gritting my teeth.
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LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
Violent, beautiful, compelling. I had to put this down a few times to calm down, I was so tense.

Terrible events are described in simple and sparse prose, it almost acted as a buffer, like watching the action through the eyes of a child - who doesn't entirely understand what's happening. This made me feel such empathy for several of the characters that I turned each page nearly dreading what I would read next.… (more)
LibraryThing member chasx
Cormac McCarthy (see also The Road) once again has scared the crap out of me and has me convinced that the apocalypse is nigh. Er, I mean that as the highest of compliments.
LibraryThing member praymont
Fans of thrillers will be disappointed by Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. In fact, they are likely to take it as an affront. I believe that's what McCarthy intended. His message seems to have been, "I know the rules for writing a thriller. Here, let me show you how it's done. And once I've lured you in, I'll change gears and disappoint your expectations, because in the end I don't want to write a thriller."

The first 240 pages (roughly) read like a great thriller in which McCarthy artfully builds up the tension. He carefully stokes the reader's expectations, sweeping one along towards what must surely be a climactic showdown between good and evil. But then McCarthy deliberately smashes it all up. After so many pages of buildup, carefully building the tension and anticipation, he cuts straight from the buildup to approximately 60 pages of anti-climax.

This will leave some readers feeling that they've been misled or tricked. For McCarthy exploits the formulas of this genre to feed the expectation of a classic 'good vs. evil' confrontation. There's the bad-a$# special forces guy (Wells), the hardworking 'nam vet (Moss), the virtuous old sheriff (Bell, a member of the 'Greatest Generation'). But none of these guys get to face off against the arch villain in any satisfying way. They're all cast aside, shown up as being no match for the great evil, the man without a history, Anton Chigurh, who sweeps past them like they're just so many yapping dogs. The climactic fight between good and evil never happens.

The author's message is one of hopelessness and desolation. By the end, all the Sheriff can feel is defeat. There's a Biblical allusion in the penultimate sentence, where Bell dreams of his father making a fire "out there in all that dark and all that cold." I think this alludes to a line in the gospel of John (ch. 1, v. 5: "The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not"). However, this image of hope is crumpled up and discarded by McCarthy. It's just an illusion, part of a dream from which Bell wakes up.

I've heard some people complain that McCarthy is too 'preachy' in this novel, but that's true only if you identify his views with those of Bell. Bell keeps criticizing the times he's living in, contrasting Texas in 1980 unfavourably with how things used to be. However, I don't take McCarthy to share that outlook; if anything, he subverts it with his references to past wars. E.g., Moss and Wells are Vietnam vets and Bell is a WWII vet. While talking to his uncle near the end of the book, Bell discusses a deceased relative who fought in WWI, and another relative who fought against, and was killed by, native Indians in the previous century. There's also a mention in that conversation of 'Coffee Jack', a 19th-Century Texas Ranger who fought against the Indians and the Mexicans. Indeed, that old war against the Mexicans seems to have continued in the form of the drug wars. Earlier in the book, another sheriff tells Bell that he'd just as soon give all this land back to the Mexicans.

In terms of the plot, there's no need for all these references to past wars. McCarthy throws them in to undermine Bell's nostalgia, the point being that violence and destruction are the way of the world, and that's how it's always been.

I gave the book three stars because I don't see anything profound or interesting in this message.
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LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Yikes! The bad guys win! This wasn't the ending -- or really the story -- that I was expecting. I guess I expected the typical crime thriller, where the good guys somehow manage to outwit the bad, and the thrill of the story is trying to figure out how that will happen before the narrator tells you. Even when the "good guys" are morally ambiguous, as in Miller's Crossing, there's an undeniable appeal to this formula.

Well. No Country for Old Men turns out not to follow that formula. (McCarthy cleverly sets up at least three different plot formulas and torpedoes all of them.) Every sympathetic character is either dead or existentially defeated by the end of the novel. Several unsympathetic characters meet the same fate. Everybody falls prey to a mythic "most invincible man," and at the end this novel says a lot about how our lives are shaped by the cruel hand of chance. You wouldn't be too far off thinking of this novel as a modern, bloody retelling of Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy.
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LibraryThing member wordygirl39
I read this book in under 24 hours because it absolutely gripped me--and not as a lesser thriller might, though I did want to know what happened next. This book is a modern classic. And those who compare McCarthy to Faulkner and Steinbeck are on target except that their language was of their time and McCarthy's is of his. I don't know if he's our greatest living writer, but he's one of them.… (more)
LibraryThing member mtnbiker1
I wanted to read this before I saw the movie. Since I like the Coen brothers, I knew I would like the movie, but I wanted to read the book first and see what the original story was like. The story moves right along, not at a blistering pace, but pretty quickly. I was saddened by the way the story ended, but it seemed to be an appropriate ending for the story. I wished Moss could have made it as even after his death, there seemed several points where he could have been still alive. Holding Chigurh up as a nearly superhuman villain in the story seemed like an odd way to portray a bad guy, but I did not feel it was the worst way to portray him or like it was a mistake to have him belike that. Having Bell as the narrator makes him the main character I guess, so I can't really feel too bad when I discover that Moss has been killed still I was saddened by his loss, even though you sort of knew he would have a hard time making it out of there in one piece the way the pieces were laid out throughout the story. All in all a great read!… (more)
LibraryThing member Nandakishore_Varma
This is started as a one-star book, then progressed to four slowly as the story unfolded. The novel grows on you.

No Country for Old Men starts out in a thoroughly disjointed way. Multiple POVs, total lack of punctuation, dialogue rendered exactly as the characters speak it... the reader is utterly confused as to where the focus is, who the protagonist is, and what the story is about.

It could be about one Llewlyn Moss who stumbles upon a fortune while hunting antelope near the Rio Grande. A transaction between drug dealers has gone wrong, leaving a number of bodies, a huge stash of heroin, and a case full of cash. Moss takes the cash and runs, knowing fully well that his life is changed for ever.

Or then, it could be about Anton Chigurh, hired gun and cold-blooded killing machine. He is entrusted with the task of finding the money taken by Moss. On the way, Chigurh leaves a trail of dead bodies, sometimes philosophising to his victims.

Or it could be about Sheriff Bell, bent on doing his job of keeping law and order and protecting the citizens of his county to the best of his ability-even though most of the time, he fails.

The story moves at a roller-coaster pace. The scenes are short and mostly disjointed: the author sometimes leaves a major piece of the action behind the scenes. Characters come and go without any introduction. The sentences hit you like machine-gun fire.

If you stick with the novel, after some time, you get accustomed to the style; it loses its annoyance potential, and the real story starts coming through.

For this is not the story of Moss, or of Anton Chigurh; but of Sheriff Bell, and the country he is a symbol of. This is the country of Daniel Boone and Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kidd and Jesse James: the country of "The Man With No Name", and a hundred Spaghetti Westerns we have seen and forgotten. This country is absolutely heartless but imbued with a certain terrible beauty. This country sends forth its sons to die in Vietnam and Iraq.

It is, indeed, not a country for old men.

Anton Chigurh is a masterly creation: one of the most frightening villains I have come across, because he is not "evil" in the traditional sense. Chigurh is a philosopher, a believer in the karma of what he is doing, the karma which is unstoppable and which will find you out no matter what. The scenes of him philosophising with Carson Wells and Carla Jean before he shoots them are terrifying for the lack of emotion in them. It is also ironical that an out-of-control car driven by three junkies, an entirely chance event, ultimately proves to be his undoing.

But as I said earlier, this is the story of Sheriff Bell, who is atoning for a single act of cowardice during the second world war (rather like Lord Jim). We get to know this only towards the very end, after the whole affair of Moss and Chigurh is over and done with: then the story suddenly falls into focus, and the philosophical interludes of the sheriff interspersed throughout the novel with the main narrative starts to make perfect sense. The killers, the chase and the shootouts are all just window dressing for the story of this one man as he tries to make sense of the conundrum of the meaning of life. And he does find his answer, though maybe not the one he expected.

The image of this man, standing alone in the midst of the desert, shoulders slumped in defeat against an increasingly violent and unjust world, is a touching one: and somehow heartening. Because we know that he is the real spirit of the desert, the gunslinger of American myth who rides off into the sunset after taking care of the baddies. And because we know that finally at the end of the trail, his dad will be waiting for him with the fire burning in the dark as he saw in his dream.

Ride on, Sheriff Bell.
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Pages

320

ISBN

0375406778 / 9780375406775
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