Tim Pendry's Reviews > No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
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's review
Mar 23, 08

bookshelves: thriller, crime, five-star, north-american
Recommended for: Anyone

** spoiler alert ** This is a great book on two levels - style and content.

You have to enter into the laconic vernacular of the border country and see how McCarthy uses it to show how a few words in the right context can get you deeper into the emotions (or lack of them) of the main protagonists than long-winded description of feelings.

He manages the rare feat of showing how a basic decency, a sentimental decency, triumphs morally over cunning and intellect. He reminds us that 'sentiment', that is feeling one's values as givens without too much analysis, is not to be despised by those whose default mode is knowing irony. There is nothing post-modern about this book.

As for the content, this is a deeply political book without once mentioning politics, as most readers would understand it.

It implies not so much the regret for lost values that other reviewers have noted and which may be obvious in the text (but which it is arguable provided a mere interlude of integrity between the normal condition of self-centred violence in the American West) but a gentle questioning of patriotism when your country has drifted far away from your own ideals and understanding, when you don't know what you are fighting for (and putting ourself at risk for) any more, when it asks too much and gives so little in return.

The American working man's experiences in America's wars overseas is a running theme 'sotto voce', underpinning the account of one incident in what is really a civil war in all but name, one in which government agents and drug runners seem to be fighting over who actually represents the will of the American people.

The Sheriff seems to sense that urban America has chosen the other side to his by providing markets for the 'criminals'. The killer Chigurh is almost a parody of the Ayn Rand libertarian in his peculiar a-social determination to 'succeed' on his own terms. He is out of the 'Fountainhead' but with crime rather than architecture and art the model. He should be fascinating but is merely chilling - a half person compared to the much weaker hero.

This book might appear to be an elegy for an older America which has been left behind (that is how most would like to interpret it), but this reader detected a darker mood, an implied anger that the betrayal of simpler souls in matters of war and peace starts to return home at the border between America and the world outside.

A cold hell (represented by Chigurh) has seeped into the homeland, looking for opportunity. Of course, nothing is made quite that clear - but that is what happens in great art, and this is great art.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Ophelia (new) - added it

Ophelia Hello Tim,

I've read your review of "No Country for old men".
I like what you say about politics in the book, and about patriotic values and the working man.

I belong to a group , BOOKTALK.ORG, who are currently discussing this book.

I wonder whether you would feel like having a look at our discussion and then possibly feel like joining us.

Thanks again for the review.



message 2: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Pendry Dear Ophelia

Thank you for the invitation.

I looked at www.booktalk.org (which seems like fun for literati) but, being caught up in business matters at most times, I suspect that it will be hard for me to engage.

I was tempted to respond to the criticism of my review at that site but realised that I would be spending an hour going back to the text to prove my point and then turning a short review into a major critical article.

Interesting to do but time taken from reading the next book. Still, the criticism might get someone to read the book for themselves and see who is right!

The only point I would add is that I did not want to suggest that the book is about politics - it is far more sophisticated than that.

What I meant was that books often have unconscious political aspects as authors reflect within themselves on the 'state we are in' (like American but not European popular culture often reflects 9/11 themes without always doing so consciously).

I felt that this book had a strong sense of crisis that was more than the usual inward-looking literary 'crisis of the person' that often dominates American writing.

Europeans (I am English) are often aware of a very self-conscious 'literariness' in American writing in which getting the exact description of a moment, a mood or a place are important but where big political and social issues are avoided or merely alluded to.

It is as if politics as ideology must be avoided for fear of where it may lead and partisan politics is just too damn crude for art.

At its worst, it can be writing about writing for writers - and becomes so self-allusive that it is almost a way for college graduates to define themselves as both American and as educated against the seething masses.

An egalitarian society finds it difficult to talk in terms of superiorities and so it becomes an assertion of difference, but as an almost aristocratic refinement of taste.

This book struck me as moving to a new synthesis in which the careful crafting of language to get precision was matched by allusion to the wider conditions of life - and those conditions are necessarily historical, social and political.

It was not blatant or crude or partisan just a redirection of mood about conditions in private life to an indirect consideration of the public conditions that affect private life - a subtle but important difference.

Anyway, it is an opinion and not a theory to be proved or disproved.

message 3: by Ophelia (new) - added it

Ophelia Dear Tim,

Thank you very much for your detailed answer and for your time.



message 4: by Mummy (new)

Mummy Criticism on a 5-star review! Whatever next?

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