Stephen's Reviews > No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
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Apr 26, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: audiobook, psychos, classics-americas, 2000-2005, literary-fiction, crime
Read from February 18 to 19, 2011

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4.5 to 5.0 stars. First, a pre-emptive apology...this is my first Cormac McCarthy novel and so my gush of praise may be a tad too CAPTAIN KIRKISH in its melodramatic over the top-ness, so please forgive me. I will attempt to keep my giddiness to a minimum...but man can this guy write a novel!!!

I will start by saying without trying to sound overly stuffy or pretentious that I thought this was a brilliant, nuanced, multi-layered story that was told in extremely simple, straight-forward prose yet required the reader to sift through the dialogue and pull out the deeper meaning that McCarthy was trying to convey. Or, put another way...THIS BOOK WAS FULL OF ENOUGH WIN TO PUSH IT UP INTO UBER TERRITORY.
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I have a read quite a few books in my life with a large portion of them being read over the last five years when I have been old enough (hopefully) to more fully appreciate some of the “classics” that I was forced to read in high school and as an undergrad (in between a lot of science fiction, fantasy and thrillers). I have loved quite a few of the books and have a pretty healthy bookshelf of “All Time Favorites” and “6 star books.” However, for all of the books that I have loved, there are only a handful that have actually either changed the way I think or given me a deeper insight into my world and my history. These I would call my "life-changers" and comprise a fairly eclectic group:

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and John Adams (both inspirational figures who demonstrate greatness to me);

American Psycho (the loss of empathy and consequent brutality resulting from the isolation, shallowness and loss of true identity that resulted from the rampant consumerism of the 80’s);

The Old Man and the Sea (the power and beauty to be found in a man’s simple determination to persevere and not give up);

The Sparrow (a superb story that illustrates the battle a good person can have with their faith when they are faced with the question “How could a loving God allow such evil and pain to happen to good people?);

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (the Short Story) (the most evocative and powerful rebuttal to the utilitarian theory of ethics I have ever read...it still gives me chills when I read it);

Night (the stark reality of man's inhumanity to man is something I will never forget);

Lost Boys (the short story) by Orson Scott Card; (as a parent, this was the most devastatingly emotional piece of literature I have ever read).

To that list I now add this amazing book which if I was annotating it like the stories above I would say: the most concise, piercing and spot on description of the rapid, cataclysmic escalation of violence in America beginning at the start of the 1980‘s and the absolute inability of the previous generation of leaders (in all areas of life from education, to spiritual, to law enforcement) to respond to, cope with (or even understand) the new breed of criminal that arose during that time. I would also say that the fact that the reader (i.e., a regular person of today) is not as shocked or confused by the actions of people like Anton Chigurh as Sheriff Bell is in the book is a powerful statement about how numb and accepting we have become of brutal, sadistic violence being a part of our everyday lives. I thought the book was superb and I look forward to reading more by McCarthy very soon.

OH, and I can not end this review without saying that ANTON CHIGURH is one of the most COMPELLING, DISTURBING AND AMAZING literary characters I have come across in a long while. I was riveted to the story every single time he was anywhere near the narrative. My advice, if he asks you to call it....JUST RUN!!!!!
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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TK421 One of my favorites. Try BLOOD MERIDIAN next. A holocaust of a book with strong themes and even a (possibly) more disturbing character in the Judge.


Stephen I picked it up about a week ago on the recommendation of another goodreads friend (shout out to Kathryn) who warned me that it is among the most graphic novels she's ever read (along with American Psycho and Meat. If have now read the last two so Blood Meridian is up next.


Kemper I'm with Gavin. As disturbing as this one and The Road are, Blood Meridian and the Judge kept me awake nights afterwards.


message 4: by Kathryn (last edited Feb 21, 2011 03:16PM) (new)

Kathryn Thanks for the shout Stephen :) I'm pretty sure Blood Meridian is right up your alley. The Judge is the best character study in evil I've ever read. I've been on a McCarthy trip lately. We've been discussing him a little in Dark Fiction and did buddy reads for Meridian and Outer Dark. And I'll finish All the Pretty Horses tonight. Of them all, including The Road, Meridian is my favorite. It's in my top five favorite books ever, along with American Psycho. I'll have to get to No Country For Old Men sooner.


Stephen Kathryn wrote: "Thanks for the shout Stephen :) I'm pretty sure Blood Meridian is right up your alley. The Judge is the best character study in evil I've ever read. I've been on a McCarthy trip lately. We've been ..."

With all of the comments I am totally intrigued by Blood Meridian and am going to have to move that to the "on deck circle." Can't wait to meet the Judge.


Stephanie I've read this one and The Road.....both are favorites.


Stephen I haven't read the Road yet but I do own it. Given the comments above, I think I am going to read Blood Meridian next and then will probably read the Road next.


message 8: by mark (new)

mark monday great review. i especially like this part: "I would also say that the fact that the reader (i.e., a regular person of today) is not as shocked or confused by the actions of people like Anton Chigurh as Sheriff Bell is in the book is a powerful statement about how numb and accepting we have become of brutal, sadistic violence being a part of our everyday lives"

so true!


Stephen Thanks, Mark. I always thought the story (first from the movie and then from the book) was much more about Sheriff Bell than about Moss which is why I was not surprised (trying to avoid a spoiler here) by the resolution of Moss' story-line. I actually thought it was perfectly in line with what McCarthy was saying.


Stephen M just read Blood Meridian. It's a tough read, I'll be interested to hear what you think of it.


Stephen That is my next cormac book. I have heard it is very graphic.


message 12: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Puma An additional prod toward Blood Meridian (my fav. as well, but partial to the Border trilogy and The Road). Big McCarthy fan here.


message 13: by Jakob (new) - added it

Jakob I loved the Road but I found it difficult to follow the narrative in Blood meridian. I wasn't sure if I was going to chance another Cormac book after meridian but now I think I'll check out No Country.


message 14: by Velvetink (last edited May 15, 2011 01:52AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Velvetink Really? I didn't think Anton Chigurh's character that developed at all...he's just like a killing machine, and I can't see how you can put this book in the same class as Hemingway.


Stephen Velvetink wrote: "Really? I didn't think Anton Chigurh's character that developed at all...he's just like a killing machine, and I can't see how you can put this book in the same class as Hemingway."

I can see your point regarding Chigurh's character as there was not a lot of nuance to him. However, given what I interpreted McCarthy's point to be (i.e., the beginning of the rapid, cataclysmic escalation of violence in America) I thought Chigurh's casual, unemotional use of violence as a "way of life" was perfect. As for the the comparison to Hemingway, I actually see a lot of similarities between "Old Man and the Sea" and this story in so far as both of them "on the surface" seem like very simple non-complicated stories, but have so much subtext and subtle insight just underneath the narrative that you could read them many times and find something new in each reading. From that standpoint, I think McCarthy may be a natural successor to "Papa's" sparse, deceptively simple prose style.


Jeffrey While I admire your review, McCarthy's book did not do anything for me. In my mind, his message is neither subtle nor evolutionary.

I also do not think there are a lot of layers under the story at all. Bad guys kill bad guys. Money is the root of evil. Drugs are bad. Law enforcement cannot hope to deal with the types of people involved. Bad guys hire really bad guys to get people. This is standard cop story stuff with a supposedly "new angle". But its an old angle.

Finally, I hated the ending of the novel. Was it in the same league as the Soprano's ending. Not quite. But I like a little more resolution. No, I do understand, that the lack of resolution is what McCarthy was going for. He's subtle. I get it. Just did not like it.


Stephen M Stephen wrote: "That is my next cormac book. I have heard it is very graphic."

It is definitely very graphic and there are a couple of other major differences in the style of Blood Meridian. I don't want to taint your reading of it too much, but the prose is drastically different as well. Blood Meridian is extremely dense and poetic. One of your highest praises of No Country seems to be the sparsity of the writing. While he is still subtle in a different aspect of Blood Meridian, there is no subtly within his descriptions. They were almost overwrought and overdone for me. But again, I'll look forward to your take on it.


Benjamin Dancer "...this was a brilliant, nuanced, multi-layered story that was told in extremely simple, straight-forward prose yet required the reader to sift through the dialogue and pull out the deeper meaning that McCarthy was trying to convey."

Well said! What a great story.


Jeffrey Well I, for one, thought the Coen Brothers could not have picked a better actor to play Chigurh than Javier Bardem! The Coen brothers made a movie that brought the baddest villain in the history of movies to life. Whenever I read of Chigurh I see Javier Bardem and LIKE it! "Call it, friend-o."


message 20: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Seager Have you seen the movie? If so, which did you experience first, book or movie? I'm just trying to decide which I should go for first. Oh also did you like one or the other more?


message 21: by Mila (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mila Such an amazing book and movie. I didn't appreciate either at first, but when I went back to read/watch them, I've come to understand so much more. Not only is it thoughtful but it's also entertaining. Thank you, McCarthy!


Joshua Knechtel I realize this thread is rather old, but I do hope you read Blood Meridian. BM was my first McCarthy novel, this is my eighth. I saved it till now because I saw the movie before I knew about McCarthy. Like you, I started reading more voraciously in the last few years starting with a lot of classics I skipped in school (science/math/engineering background). BM might be one of my all time favorite books, especially if you look up the history, as we best know it, of the Glanton gang.
I really do enjoy McCarthy's story telling, writing style and themes.


message 23: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Seager Joshua wrote: "I realize this thread is rather old, but I do hope you read Blood Meridian. BM was my first McCarthy novel, this is my eighth. I saved it till now because I saw the movie before I knew about McCar..."

See, I couldn't get past the second person imperative in the beginning. Is it like that throughout the book? Because I would love to love this book. It was just rather annoying at the beginning.


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